Sucker Punch (Spoilers Ahoy)

This Saturday, two of Hathor’s finest took a break from nerding it up at book stores to see Sucker Punch!, which is about a young woman’s experiences in a mental hospital. Basically, Babydoll defends herself and her sister against sexual abuse from their stepfather. The sister dies, and Babydoll is placed in an insane asylum, where she is lobotomized. As she is getting lobotomized she re-remembers her time at the asylum, but tells herself this story using a variety of fictions. In one, she is Babydoll the orphan, trying to escape a brothel before the “High Roller” comes to rape her. In another, she is Babydoll, the leader of a time of agents fighting an endless war against a fantastical array of evil beings.

Maria: First off, I want to say that I’m really jazzed we got to see the movie together! It was beautiful — lush, striking, painfully emotive — and the soundtrack was awesome. I especially liked the exploration of defiance, sexualized violence, and female friendship. 

Leigh: I was definitely not expecting what we got in this movie. From what I had read (which was admittedly very little) it was supposedly a very fluffy action movie, and instead we got a visually gorgeous and really thoughtful film that put a lot of effort into portraying its ideas without 1. slamming you over the head with them and 2. without being insulting.

Leigh: And as a music buff, I’m really keen on getting the soundtrack, by the way. They did some really great covers of Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles and Annie Lennox, among others.

Maria: Yeah — I especially liked the lack of cheesecake. A large part of Baby’s power during the stripping scenes is that she’s somehow magically erotic! But you never see that, because as soon as she’s forced to perform, her face goes vacant (referencing the lobotomy, I think) and you go into one of the adventures where she’s a heroine with friends. There’s never the ass zoom ins or tit shots so common in movies these days, either. The soundtrack was amazing — and nicely reflected the cinematography. Like, parts of it emerged like static from a radio, in the same way the action sequences seemed to flow in and out of Babydoll’s focus. That, for me, was the first give away that all this was taking place during the lobotomy, in Babydoll’s internal world.

Leigh: The people involved in making this film were conscious of the fact that it was from Baby’s perspective, and not the perspective of the male characters. So many times, movies that are supposed to be from a woman’s point of view still focus on T&A as seen from the male’s point of view, mostly because they’re trying to draw in a male audience. It was kind of refreshing that it seemed like every shot was deliberate in how it was done. I think it was actually hard to figure that out; the fact that it was all taking place during the lobotomy. It all really melded together in the end, but during the movie, at least for me, it felt a little hard to follow. That might be because I didn’t go into this movie expecting to have to think, though. And you really do have to think about this movie. It might be what turned off a lot of the reviewers from places like the Washington Post and CNN.

Maria: And I think that this focus on Baby (and stories from the powerless) was reflected through the cinematography (like how the camera focused on the “wrong” details — the spinning button from when Baby almost gets raped, the ring when Blue threatens Blondie) and the music (how echoey and distant voices were, and how any words of hope became trite cliches as soon as they were spoken). This wasn’t a story about winners. I think when you come into a movie like this, with a comic book aesthetic, women are there to have titties and shake them. This actually made me think of how in Sin City, the only characters who are allowed to be deep are male, and they’re non-sexualized. That’s what this was doing — having a deep, comic book movie about women, acknowledging their gender, without letting their rape become sexy. There’s not even camel toe in the really awkward panty shots.

Leigh: Do NOT get me started on Sin City. Or Frank Miller. I can go on for hours about how problematic his writing is.

Maria: LOL Yeah… but I think that’s what this was in response to aesthetically and artistically. Or at least to the kind of comic book aesthetics, where comic book movies are “male” stories.

Leigh: Which is interesting, because Snyder directed Watchmen, whose source material was written by someone who has massively problematic gender roles in his writing. Alan Moore is hailed as being so very good at what he does, but at the same time, it’s hard to find a female character in his books that isn’t a victim in some way, shape or form.

Maria: You were saying last night that Snyder improved on the source material for Watchmen — can you say a little about that? I haven’t seen it.

Leigh: It’s hard to convey the depth of emotion that would have made Watchmen better in its comic form. In the comics, the Comedian is JUST a monster. You just hate him, and it feels like that’s all he’s there for. In the comics Doctor Manhattan is JUST an inhuman being. The Silk Spectres aren’t given a whole lot of depth in the comic. I can hear Moore’s fans yowling in outrage over that, but, at least from my point of view, it’s the truth. Snyder took Watchmen nearly panel for panel and gave the characters a humanity that they didn’t have in the book. You didn’t want to like the Comedian, or feel sorry for him, but you DID in the movie. Doctor Manhattan’s actions, and his emotional devolve/physical ascent made you feel for him.

Also, he got rid of the giant squid at the end. Big improvement.

As for the comic book feel, I think this is a really important movie for that reason; it’s a movie with a comic book aesthetic that is about woman and NOT about how sexy they are, or what they do for male characters who are deemed more important.  In an industry that does nothing BUT treat women  as sex objects (aside from a few refreshing instances), this is important. And no one will pay attention because “wtf man, where are all the titties?”

Anyways, while Sucker Punch was definitely a story about powerlessness, and what it can do to a person, in a strange way it was always about survival. Sweet Pea gave the audience a character that had a second chance and that was important.

Maria: And I think that that’s what those aphorisms were about. Baby was getting lobotomized at the end, and probably was really traumatized in general since I think the scenes of her “dancing” were allegories for her repeated rapes. The orderly said he was going to make sure she didn’t remember a thing by the time the doc/high roller/lobotomizer came, and by the end I think he was right. All she had left were ideals and principles. So it’s not just about bodily survival but also about personal integrity. That’s why her leader in her fantasies always began with something like, “Just remember, girls: if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything!” or what-have-you: she was reminding herself.

What’s interesting though, is that in a less capable director’s hands, Sucker Punch would still be about victims. Instead, I think it’s about a last ditch attempt at survival/defiance. Like… even that last scene at the end, when Blondie and Amber are lobotomized/shot in the head, I wouldn’t say they were passive victims. I would say that they were rape survivors, that their crying wasn’t pretty, and that the twisted power dynamics of rape were very much present, WITHOUT the sexiness of it that you so often see in comic book movies. What’s crazy to me about this is that it seems like a lot of critiques are upset at the lack of affect/emotion the actresses were showing, and the flatness of some of Babydoll’s scenes. To me, this goes back to last week’s discussion of obligatory smiling. It’s NOT A TITILLATING MOVIE, because it’s about rape, the forced incarceration of a teenager in a mental institution, etc. So no, it’s not a happy movie, filled with coy smiles, erotic defiance, etc. It’s more about fear and desperation. Again, I think that the refusal to show the dances emphasizes that, because Babydoll using her body to help her friends is not the point of the film…

Leigh: It really was a last ditch effort at survival, and I can see how going into a movie with the visuals it had in the trailers you would expect at lot of smiling, winking girls, and not the detached emotionlessness we got in some of the scenes. Like I said, I hadn’t read any summaries for the spoilers, I had only heard it was “bad” so I went in expecting to sit there and mock this thing to death. But there was nothing TO mock. I think that was another thing the critics were expecting; a “so bad it’s good” film without any substance. Something hilariously bad. And that’s not what they got. They got something that actually made you think. And it’s hard when you’re not expecting it. It took a good night’s sleep for me to decide that I actually really liked this movie, because I was blind-sided by having to put thought into watching it.

Maria: Plus, I think the way her “dancing” face matched her post-lobotomy face was brill. What I also liked in this one, is that neither Blue nor the step-father is redeemable. I think you’re sometimes cued to empathize with male rapists, and in this one you very much weren’t.

Leigh: Yeah, that is really good. There is so much victim blaming in real life, that it was kind of refreshing that you weren’t given that option in the movie. There was nothing remotely redeeming about these guys. The writing and the direction didn’t give you any cues that there were any positive qualities in either one.

It was very poignant for me that the only male character in the movie who wasn’t looked at as a villain was the one she made up in her own head; one that reminded her how to be strong. If it weren’t for that last scene with Sweet Pea and the bus driver, I would almost think that the leader in Baby’s fantasy’s took on the appearance of her birth father, but it actually makes the story better if it’s just the form of Some Dude; it makes Baby stronger if she’s not clinging to any male from her past.

Maria: And what I kind of dug about that scene is that the orderly’s confession makes that scene with the bus driver, where he covers for Sweet Pea with the police… not useless but almost anti-climactic. Blue/the orderly’s already lost power. Even if she was taken into police custody, Blue is already in the process of confessing to having raped the girls, taken money to silence/molest/punish “bad” women, and Baby has already rescued Sweet Pea by continuing to survive long enough that her body can be a living testament to the orderly’s dastardly ways, so that Blue/the orderly can be caught in the act. Like, it’s NICE that the bus driver keeps Sweet Pea from getting hassled while she’s running away, but it’s not a necessity. So yeah, I liked that it was just Some Dude — he’s not the point of the story, just a reminder that human decency exists outside the insane asylum. Like a mcguffin. :)

Leigh: Yeah, I liked that too. That the bus driver just thought “Oh a nice girl who looks like she hasn’t slept in days, and needs to get the hell out of dodge.” And helped her out. It was a nice way to end the movie, but you’re definitely right, Sweet Pea had already been saved.

That’s the other thing that might have gotten this movie a bad rap, and we talked a little about this last night. “Dancing” was an allegory for rape, and the rape was portrayed as being horrific and not the least bit romanticized. It’s very realistic, but for the average movie-goer, expecting a staight-up action flick, that’s a hard pill to swallow.

Maria:  Haha, for the comic book reader, expecting a movie where rape is a synonym for erotics, it’s a hard pill to swallow. These were the least sexy corsets, bustiers, fishnets, etc., ever!


  1. Shannon says

    1) Ah, the dialogue format worked; huzzah!

    2) In addition to all the points you two made here, I’ll reiterate what I said at dinner: I’m glad to see a movie about mental health patients that gives them some agency.

    3) There’s something so meta about male reviewers not liking that this wasn’t a straight-up sexy-women-on-parade film, but one that both involves thought to enjoy and has the audacity to say that rape is violence. It makes me think of the men that complain about being criticized for sexual harassment. Like men that feel a woman’s right to be left alone is somehow lesser than his desire to hit on her, some of these reviews seem offended that their “right” to cheesecake in a movie about women is denied.

    • Maria says

      And something I think really elitest about some feminist writers dismissing it AS a cheesecake movie because of its genre stylings. Like, as you were saying when we were out, several of the shots during the warrior/fantasies are direct callouts to schoolgirl animes, etc.

      • Shannon says

        To those reviewers, I’d have to ask “what movie were you watching?!” I could understand if they’d only seen the previews. The battle outfits do show skin, but because it’s a metaphor! Not for some inexplicable young-ladies-don’t-wear-armor-into-battle-because-it-will-disappoint-male-viewers 4th-wall-breaking production choice. It makes sense in the dream-with-in-a-dream.

    • Maria says

      Could you talk a little more about the agency of the mental health patients? I wanted to put that in too but you said it a lot better.

      • Shannon says

        Well, I tend see mental health in-patients in films & plays as falling into 4 major categories:

        1) objectified helpless victims of the system (usually the back story for horror movies set in former asylums)
        2) little broken things that need help (I found the play David & Lisa cringe-worthy for this reason)
        3) dangerous or otherwise non-sympathetic “crazy”
        4) supposedly humorously “crazy”

        So I appreciated the following in SuckerPunch:

        1) Rocket seems to have a genuinely troubled history, Sweet Pea is a character with some mental and emotional complexity, and Baby Doll is losing her ability to discern reality from fantasy. However, none of these characters is written off for having genuine mental health concerns. This isn’t just a film about a wrongfully committed character: even though the characters had issues that lead them to be the mental health system and/or developed issues as a result of the trauma of the abuse they endured there, they are still worthy protagonists whose cause the audience believes in.

        2) They achieve something without help from, and sometimes in spite of, non-patients. Sweet Pea physically escapes and Baby Doll does so emotionally without being rescued. Obviously this is great from a feminist perspective, but I feel that it’s worth calling attention to this as a victory for mental health consumers/patients as well as for women.

        3) The way the doctors discuss Baby Doll’s case at the end of the film, they’re neither antagonists nor all powerful. They made an error trusting the orderly, they only just discovered the abuse that the patients knew about and foiled. They try to help, but not inherently more capable than the main protagonists.

      • says

        I’ve seen a lot of feminists decrying the movie as using rape to titillate and/or exploiting rape for amusement. I think there’s confusion about where the line between using rape and addressing it is drawn.

  2. says

    I… wow. This totally changes my perception of the billboards which featured a typical action movie image with the words:

    “Sucker Punch
    You will be unprepared
    Experience it in IMAX Whatever”

    Based on that, I thought the whole point of the movie would be some massive 3D punch that the audience can’t help but flinch at.

    Instead, the sucker punch is, “So you thought you’d see a T&A comic movie, but instead you have to think. Sucker!” Right?


    • Shannon says

      Actually, we had a really great discussion about all the ways in which the title apt.

      Since the term has both the connotation of an attack made in an unexpected way/on a vulnerable person AND (as Maria pointed out) a method of fighting employed by someone physically weaker than their opponent it applies equally to what is done to the protagonists and what they do to their attackers in return.

  3. says

    I thought Blondie might have been coded as Native American; in the fight scenes she has long, buckskin-like fringes on her outfits and fights with an axe that looks like a tomahawk. Plus she kinda looked like Hollywood’s idea of a NA with her long, straight, dark hair. Anyone else pick up on that? If I’m right, the protagonists are 40% characters of color, which is cool all its own. Granted, they’re the two characters without backstories, but they still got awesome fight scenes and weapons to play with.

    • Maria says

      I read her as Latina, and thought the axe was a generic throwing one… but I see she’s said that it was a tomahawk.

      Hmmm. I don’t like that if she’s being coded as Native, since she got a lot of flak for wanting to play a Native woman in the Twilight movies. She herself is Philipino/Chinese/White, and her father claims Irish and Native ancestry, but hasn’t said what tribe or anything like that.

      • Maria says

        I did like how mean her nickname was — Blondie and Amber for the two brown girls, and Babydoll for the virginal one. Yeah, you weren’t supposed to like Blue.

        • says

          It was primarily the foot-long fringes that drew my eye. That’s a style I haven’t seen on anything except buckskins and maybe a 70’s jumpsuit or two. The tomahawk and the hair were just confirming details to me.

          • Maria says

            TBH When I first saw that I thought it was like the fringes you see on female fighter costumes like Yuna’s hip thing in Final Fantasy or Chun Li’ hair things in Street Fighter — but i hadn’t realized she was using a tomahawk.

  4. Anemone says

    I was originally going to see this but changed my mind when I found out it was Zack Snyder, because of things I read about Watchman. I do believe that all these layers are in the story if you look. But I guess, as a survivor of sexual abuse/being trafficked into prostitution who has always lived in fear of the chemical lobotomy, I need my stories to be somewhat less “artistic”, if that’s the word for it. The plot isn’t metaphor from where I’m sitting.

    • says

      Teenage abused kids getting institutionalized is also nowhere near as uncommon as people want to believe. I haven’t seen stats, but I’ve known a number of people it happened to (who strike me as heroically together, given what they went through), and lately I’ve been coming across stories of it online – when I wasn’t even looking for it, which makes it even more disturbing.

      I can totally understand why you don’t want to see it. I’m not sure I could see it without feeling triggered. But maybe it’ll insinuate itself into the minds of unsuspecting viewers who have had the good fortune never to HAVE to think about these things, and some good will come of that.

      • Gategrrl says

        Do you remember Born Innocent (1974)? I suck at HTML, so here’s the wiki link:

        Abused 14 year old girl sent to reform school, and is explicity raped (by the other girls). It’s the movie that caused the instituting of the “family hour” on television. I don’t know how controversial it would be today.

  5. says

    thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. thank you so much for this review, and for watching the movie with sympathy toward survivors. i saw sucker punch exactly two years from the day i was raped, and it touched my heart and made me feel powerful for the first time in a very long time. since then, i’ve felt attacked from almost all sides (except my closest friends) — told that i’m stupid, brainwashed, projecting, shallow, perverted, all kinds of things, for getting something out of it. i’m so grateful i could cry.

  6. Shaun says

    I haven’t seen this movie yet and I don’t know if I will. When I saw the previews my reaction was a mix of “That looks awesome!!!” and dread. I’ve seen a couple of wildly different takes on the movie and I’m not sure how I’d feel about seeing it.

    I will say this, though. Without fail, a fucked up institution is ONLY a problem when an able person gets sent there. If the movie is good from a feminist perspective that’s cool and all, but Baby Doll is not actually disabled, and from what I’ve heard all the disabled girls get killed in the movie (or otherwise suffer horrible fates).

    • says

      Without fail, a fucked up institution is ONLY a problem when an able person gets sent there.

      Hmm, I always thought this trope was at least partly a result of the reality that “crazy” people are never believed, which is so unfair because most of them are not delusional, and there are no more liars among the mentally ill than among the general populace.

      • Shaun says

        While that’s true, I have yet to see any media depiction of an asylum where a legit disabled person (of ANY variety) gets sent there and it’s a bad thing. Every time a popular character in a TV show gets sent to an asylum, wakes up in an asylum, you KNOW s/he doesn’t belong there because s/he’s “not crazy.”

        • Maria says

          But didn’t the girl in Girl Interrupted try to kill herself before being committed? I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just wondering how this changes when the protagonist is a woman and depending on the genre. I think Chloe in Gothika was schizophrenic as well. Again, in Requium for a Dream, Sara gets committed, and it’s again a critique of the mental health insustry, like in Princess and the Warrior.

          Then there’s House on Haunted Hill, where what was being done to the inmates was so bad it, like, put a curse on the whole asylum.

          • Maria says

            The only films I can think of where the person was “sane” and involuntarily committed are Shutter Island (I think he’s drugged or something?), 12 Monkeys, and 1 flew over the cuckoo’s nest

            • Casey says

              I don’t know if it counts but on Futurama, Fry and Bender were sent to a robot-asylum (for some reason, I don’t remember). Since Fry wasn’t a robot and the doctors didn’t believe him, their treatments turned him “insane” and he thought he was one afterward (Bender did just fine pretending to be Napoleon and milking a fake mental illness for all it was worth, of course >_>V).

              • says

                Speaking of mental health patients not being delusional, in the Rosenhan Experiment, fake mental patients were sent to hospitals to determine how long it took the doctors to notice they were perfectly sane. Not a single doctor noticed anything wrong. But plenty of the other patients not only noticed they were sane, but called them out on their behavior like journaling as proof they weren’t legitimate. When the patients are better diagnosticians than the doctors are, there’s something wrong.

                • says

                  Actually, that doesn’t surprise me. I’m a huge fan of psychology as a field of science that gives us the tools to understand each other better, but as a practice, it has many shortcomings. Diagnostics is a big, big issue, and people who’ve actually been mentally ill or grown up amongst the mentally ill usually ARE better diagnosticians (at least of the disorders they’re familiar with) than someone who merely went to school to learn this stuff.

                  What concerns me even more is that these doctors weren’t looking for signs that some of the people there didn’t need institutionalization. I would think you’d always be looking for signs that someone had reached a point where they could function elsewhere.

                  • says

                    In a related study, doctors were told they would be sent fake patients in the next six months – came up with impressive set of numbers for possibly faking or almost definitely faking. Of course they’d never sent the fakers at all, these were all real patients.

                    Having family & friends who are neurodiverse…I’m not at all impressed with the state of the USAian mental health system.

            • says

              SPOILERS Shutter Island SPOILERS
              It’s very clear that he belongs there, and by the end it’s implied the MC chooses lobotomizing over living with his insanity/memories.

              • Maria says

                Yeah, I just got the movie from Netflix and was going by the description on the envelope. Fortunately I like spoilers because I’m a big scaredy cat and like knowing what to expect.

            • Gategrrl says

              Shutter Island (SPOILERS, stop reading here if you don’t want to know)

              On Shutter Island, DiCaprio’s character had had a psychotic break because he blamed himself for ignoring his wife’s condition (manic depression) and allowing her to get so bad that she murdered their three young children. The book is more explicit in why he ignored her mental state; it was because he considered his wife part of *himself* and if she was so bad, that meant HE was flawed like she was.

              The entire scenerio in the movie and the book were part of a psychotic delusion of his because he couldn’t face his reality. Plus, he was committed there because he was genuinely dangerous, what with his military training combined with the delusions.

              At least, that’s how I interpret the movie and the book.

        • says

          Actually, I really appreciate Fringe for not doing that. Walter (a main character) is definitely mentally ill and was before he was institutionalized, but it was still a horrible and damaging experience. Later, he’s afraid of being sent back, and Olivia (the hero) tells him that she won’t let that happen.

  7. M.C. says

    Girls, this is the first positive review I read of Sucker Punch. And you just totally gave me back hope that Snyder knows how to direct female characters and will do justice to my childhood heroine, Lois Lane, in the upcoming Superman reboot.

    • Leigh says

      After seeing Sucker Punch, I wonder if Snyder takes on problematic material like Watchmen and Miller’s work to try and balance out the gender rolls in them.

      • says

        I don’t know about Watchmen, y’all…the book wasn’t perfect in terms of gender, but I wouldn’t say the movie was better, and may even have been worse. I, personally, found both Sally and Laurie to be more interesting in the book than in the movie, and the casting decisions for both characters were poor.

        300, on the other hand, while a terrible movie from a race perspective (and not good on gender terms either), did greatly improve on Gorgo’s role from the book.

        If Sucker Punch is as good as it sounds, then wonderful, and I’ll give Zach Snyder another chance, but I still wouldn’t be totally hopeful about his depiction of Lois Lane.

  8. Cassandra says

    Where your review gives me pause to consider the movie again, it still bothered me how poor a job the girls did at escaping. Only one of the girls was able to escape (physically, anyway). I don’t see how it can be a story about survival, if practically no one is surviving. But maybe it’s something I didn’t understand about the whole story?

    • Maria says

      I think that’s more a genre thing — for example, no one survives the Battle of Thermopyle in the movie 300 and Hartigan kills himself to save Nancy in Sin City. The goal in this kind of movie is to survive long enough to save someone else, because that’s what noble heroes do.

    • says

      Cassandra, it’s because, ultimately, destroying the institution — one that relies on the incarceration and abuse of women/girls — was never the real thrust of the action. What we are left with is the removal of ONE bad man. The doctor who carried out the orders for lobotomy, the psychotherapist who must have heard the stories of abuse within the facility but did nothing, the other orderlies who collaborated — none of those people will leave.

      And as Sweet Pea escapes, note that she was expected to be returned to the facilities by the authorities. Who sent the cops? Why, those people who believed in the value of that institution! She’s no more going back there to save the others than we viewers are expected to believe that she should. One sacrificing “angel” has saved one. That’s all we can hope for, right?

      Sick. Sad. Utterly predictable.

      In 300, the men were at least all expected to live and die for their community. (I disliked that movie, but at least that was SOMETHING that this can’t even approach.)

      • Maria says

        But the other orderlies do leave — they’re all arrested at the end.

        I keep comparing this to Girl Interrupted — what do you think of that movie? TBH I found this a stronger film because even though GI critiques gender roles, etc., it doesn’t critique the mental health system. The girls only find release through acquiescing to the system in GI, and I think in SP the system’s shown to be wrong, so wrong that in Babydoll’s fantasies she equates it with forced prostitution.

        I’m not sure I agree with your point that critique has to include a direct take-down of the institution on-screen.

        • says

          I haven’t seen the movie, so I’m just talking out loud here, but Tammi, your points are bringing up an interesting consideration:

          To me, the movie sounds horribly and painfully realistic. So many abuse victims never fully escape their abuse, whether they’re institutionalized or just haunted throughout their lives by abusive family or new abusers they lack the life skills to avoid. Just being born to an abuser is a life sentence for so many people.

          So, is it necessarily a good thing for every movie about abuse to show the survivor triumphing, and is it necessarily a bad thing when a movie tells it the way reality actually is for so very, very many women and girls?

          I say neither. I think we have to look deeper at what any individual movie accomplished. In Dolores Claiborne, for example, there is some triumph for the survivors: Dolores is finally legally exonerated (and her proxy-abuser detective is beaten, so finally the long shadow her abusive husband cast even beyond death, through other sympathetic men and their privileges, is really, TRULY gone) and there’s a chance at a new, healthy relationship between her and the daughter for whom she murdered her abusive husband. I LOVE that movie. I relate to it.

          But what of all those women who never are able to get out of it? Who escaped but haven’t found mental peace? Can this movie not speak to them effectively?

          And what of people who know nothing of abuse firsthand, who have the “privilege” to ignore it? Might not this movie slip some haunting thoughts into their heads amidst all the glimpses of pretty thighs, which maybe resonate the next time they hear an abuse story they’d normally just ignore or even disbelieve?

          • Maria says

            Maria: there’s nothing different between Babydoll and the girls and the warriors in the movie 300 — both are a small force taking on a hopeless cause in the face of certain destruction and both lose, but cause great injury to their conquerors

            Leigh: but that’s the thing. I guess the consensus is that woman CAN’T be that kind of hero. Traditionally in movies, that’s not what women are there for
            so for them to start being that, it doesn’t fit for some people. It’s like the dude who argued that Robin couldn’t be a girl, even though there had already been a girl robin six years ago. And twenty years before that, actually.

            Maria: Women as complicated non-victorious heroes…. DOES NOT COMPUTE.

  9. says

    When I first saw the previews for Sucker Punch, I knew it was either going to be breathtakingly awesome….or horrendously bad. This is the first review that suggested the former rather than the latter.

    Now I want to see it again, when I’d convinced myself to wait for the dvd.

  10. says

    I want to be on record that I found it to be one of the most shallow versions of “female empowerment” that I have seen in a very, very long time. For a take that is closer to my own, here’s a link to

    My own summary however is this: a movie in which women’s agency is wrapped up in miniskirts, high heels, bare midriffs, layered makeup, fake lashes, teased hair, and model-only bodies (fighting Nazi Zombies in a stylized it-ain’t-about-the-Holocaust-we’re-just-here-to-kick-ass-while-looking-good way) is exactly the kind of take on women’s agency I will ALWAYS reject for the misogynist crap it is. Dance dance revolution? Puh leeze. This isn’t salvation from the mental asylum, it’s the same sick place.

    P.S. Celebrating that some of those supporting-cast hotties also have to be women of color is sad, sad, sad.

    • Leigh says

      1. While you’re somewhat right about the costumes, the make-up etc. Those things were all there for a reason; they all portrayed what Baby Doll was feeling. They had their place in the movie. You could see why those costume and make-up choices were made. They were hyper-realized because they still have to sell the movie to a studio and the general public. This is Hollywood. While the costumes were kind of sexy, there weren’t any overt T&A shots which was great, since those tend to take some people out of the plot.

      2. Speaking of Hollywood, of course people celebrate the fact that women of color were featured. This is Hollywood! It’s rare for Hollywood to yank its head out of its own ass and bother to portray women of color in any kind of prominence. So, maybe it is sad, but maybe Hollywood is learning.

      3. You’re right. Those flashes to that fantasy world WEREN’T salvation from the mental asylum. They weren’t supposed to be. It was a temporary escape for a girl who was being raped, and going crazy. Baby Doll never got salvation. That wasn’t the point. She retreated into her own head for a temporary place to hide. The ONLY member of the cast to get ANY salvation in the end was Sweet Pea, after Baby Doll gave up her chances to get out.

      Also…Dance Dance Revolution…?

      • Maria says

        Made me think of:

        At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to became a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world – prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal’. Living My Life by Emma Goldman

    • Cassandra says

      When I first knew about the movie I was so excited! Women, multiple women, in an action movie! But then I saw the trailer, where how they had perfect, beautiful make-up and I just …. did not want to see it anymore. I had been hoping for a bit of Kill Bill, with women being too busy with their lives to bother with eyelash extension and revealing clothes. Whether it’s pandering to the public to get viewers I don’t care. It just shows a lack of conviction.

      • Attackfish says

        If it’s her fantasies providing the action, having perfect makeup and hair actually makes narrative sense. I know my fantasies always involve being more done up than I usually bother with.

        • Casey says

          Then the advertising sure is crap. It seems a lot of movies that are actually pretty good (or I’D at least end up thinking they’re pretty good) are usually victims of obnoxious/misleading marketing (like when I thought Black Swan was just Single White Female with ballerinas).

          • Attackfish says

            This. If they actually make a movie that’s different and intelligent, they go “but we must convince them it’s like everything else!” so all the people who like different, intelligent movies are left thinking they don’t want to see it.

            Now see me? I like stupid popcorn movies. I just want to see stupid popcorn movies that don’t induce social justice RAGE. *sigh*

            • Casey says

              It’s really a shame, I’ve pretty much sworn off stupid popcorn movies for fear of social justice induced-RAGE.

                • says

                  And it makes it really weird when you try to explain that a movie is exceptional because it’s normal.

                  Me: “It was amazing! The cast was almost 40% female! And the women spoke to each other about things that weren’t men! And the women had agency and made their own decisions! They fought in the fight scenes instead of hanging back! Oh, oh, and the best part was, the male lead never once tried to boss the female lead around!”

                  Other Person: “So…the women weren’t treated differently, then.”

                  Me: “Exactly!”

                  Other Person: “I don’t get it. That’s how we’re supposed to be.”

                  Me: “Exactly!”

                  Other Person: “Whatever you say, Sylvia.” *eyeroll*

        • Cassandra says

          From what I saw in the trailer, there were some parts where she was in the asylum and all fancied up. But! This was just the trailer.

  11. Elee says

    I am glad, I read your review, because not having seen the film
    a) I had the impression, it was a more traditional fantasy plot, more like a videogame-turned-film, only with female protagonists and
    b) the overall consensus about the film was “shitty film, but the fantasy sequences were at least pretty”.
    But I sort of see why viewers would be so dissappointed in the film. The social commentary and the confrontational value of not (fully) knowing what you were going to see aside, I think it is a pretty shitty behaviour to just let people walk into potentially triggery content. Rape content alone would be enough to make me want to skip the film, but combined with lobotomy, mental asylum als background and the overall feeling of helplessness? Hell no, I couldn’t bring myself to watch Black swan for similar reasons, however wonderful it sounds. If empowerment and feminist ideas are cushioned only in terms of rape, violence, issues with mental health and selfharm, I am not going to sing praises, whether it is empowering or not.

    On the other hand, having a film about a group of female time agents, trying to accomplish a mission and return to their base, while slaying dragons and smacking down brothel-owners sounds seriously cool.

    • Elee says

      *ah, frak, I mean of course, would have sounded seriously cool.
      And finding out, that Snyder also made Sin city and Watchmen, should probably give a clue to an unsuspecting viewer, but I guess a lot of people is drawn to a film based on the trailer and/or actors, instead of directors. But then, the man who gave up The big bang theory is also responsible for Two and a half men.

      • Maria says

        He didn’t make Sin City — just Watchmen, AFAIK. The others I mentioned because they’re in the same genre.

      • Elee says

        Ah, my bad. As you probably deduced, I am one of those viewers who watch a film based on a trailer or the cast. :-) and then I wonder, what the hell I just saw.

    • Maria says

      I KNOW. I actually felt really triggered after the film, and had a hard time processing it.

      I’d sign on to see that other film too — TBH it sounds like an EPIC version of The Demon King and I, an all right fantasy novel featuring crime fighting sisters who also hunt demons and have parties.

    • says

      I think the opening scene does an okay job of warning about rape and letting you know you know that’s going to be a strong element of the film. It’d be nice if any of the promotional material had mentioned rape, but it was still close enough to the beginning that you could walk out and get a refund for your ticket (or turn the TV off and put in another DVD).

      But I saw the movie with a friend who had been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital (by her abuser, natch) who said the lobotomizing hit very close to home for her.

      • says

        But I saw the movie with a friend who had been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital (by her abuser, natch) who said the lobotomizing hit very close to home for her.

        See?? I’m not sure the institutionalization is even a metaphor. This is disturbingly common.

  12. Leigh says

    Welcome to my work day!

    I just had a conversation with a male customer, the first one I’ve had who actually enjoyed Sucker Punch.

    His big complaint was that he wanted to see Baby Doll dance. When I pointed out that every time she danced, it was a metaphor for her getting raped, he replied with “I know! But I still wanted to see it!” He also didn’t like how disjointed the plot seemed. When I, again, pointed out that there was a point to that in the movie, he didn’t seem to care much.

    *sigh* I just…what.

    The other guy who was with him in the shop seemed to understand it better, but didn’t enjoy it as much. He understood the sacrifice Baby Doll was making to try and save her friends, and he enjoyed the action sequences, but he couldn’t get into the whole plot.

    • says

      Personally, I felt the overall plot wasn’t very cohesive, too.

      But not showing the dancing was brilliant in my mind because there’s nothing the actress could do on screen that would inspire the same feelings in a normal audience member that the dance inspired in her rapists. At least not without appearing to condone the rape.

    • says

      Yeah, I saw the Cinema Snob’s review of Sucker Punch (before I read this review, even), and he kept complaining that he didn’t get to see Babydoll dance. I haven’t seen the movie, and I was just wondering: “Why? What on earth is so important about you getting to see the main character dance? From your own review, it would have no bearing on the movie whatsoever.”

      • Casey says

        He’s also the kind of reviewer who didn’t notice how shite the women roles in TDK and Inception were, if at all. So…IDK. Take that for what you will?

  13. Brand Robins says

    I am now deeply confused. I knew that this was going to be a crap movie. And yet, I respect y’all’s opinions so that I now must believe it is not.

    So … hell.

  14. Patrick McGraw says

    Thanks for this review. While it sounds like SP is much better than I’d expected, it also sounds like it would be much too upsetting for me to watch, which is NOT something I’d gotten from the marketing.

  15. says

    Wow, that was a lot to take in.

    My friends and I enjoyed Sucker Punch on several different levels; as a narrative piece, it’s wonderful. The many layers sucked us in and kept us there.

    What I didn’t realise was that her dance was not just a dance. It was a rape. Which means the significance of those scenes just took a notch up.

    Thank you for writing this.

  16. says

    Thank you again for this very insightful commentary. I like it a lot, especially after seeing the film, I do not agree at all with your takes: I thought the film had a very problematic plot and was terrible. I could not empathize with any of the characters, as they seemed more like lifeless dolls to me, and the constant slow motion didn’t help that feeling. I thought the music was bad, too. The film had no stakes at all: we see right at the beginning that Baby Doll will get lobotomized, and after the giant samurai throws Baby Doll through walls and stuff, it’s clear nothing bad will happen in these scenes.

    And so to me, all the horribleness of the rapes, of the abuse were a backdrop against which Snyder posed his dolls and had them fight dragons because that’s cool.

    But you also have a point in that the cinematography does not linger (as usual) on ass and breasts, that everything *is* stylized, but not in a sexually alluring way. And I *do* think Snyder tried. This is not Brett Ratner or some other asshole. I just think it’s a hack job and a muddled mess that ends up working against itself by framing a tragic ending as a happy one. I did not find substance below the flashy surface.

  17. says

    The divergent viewpoints on this movie are reminding me of the time we talked about… oh, Facebook had gotten on one of its little kicks where 10k people do something that doesn’t really change anything, but they had all changed their avatars to superheroes to symbolize something about stopping abuse or surviving it or something. A blogger who herself had survived abuse wrote about how this really didn’t cut it for her: no concrete action had been taken in this campaign, and the only “awareness” it raised (that abuse sucks) is already established. I 100% agreed with her – I am also a survivor of abuse.

    But loads of other abuse survivors piled on her blog and complained: they thought it was wonderful and supportive. She hadn’t anticipated their reaction, and they hadn’t anticipated hers. Lots of hurt feelings all around.

    In discussing it and thinking it over, I realized: I had some support in coping with and healing from the abuse I suffered. Some people have none. Maybe that gives us very different perspectives on whether something is a worthwhile gesture or just a useless exercise designed to make people feel better about themselves for no good reason.

    Without having seen this movie, I still tend to think that just for ATTEMPTING to tackle the reality of children being raped by the very people society entrusts them to – and of said children being tossed into mental institutions to prevent even the tiny possibility they will tell someone what they’ve experienced and be believed – in a genre dedicated to explosions and titties… I’m just amazed anyone thought of it, really. Everybody is in such denial that these things even happen.

    A lot of “first steps in the right direction” go rather badly. Some even seem to reverse the cause they were trying to forward when they end up being regarded as jokes. But time will tell: if no one but us ever recognizes what the movie seemed to be attempting to do, that won’t help. But if they do, it might lead to better movies, and better inclusion of controversial themes that need to be talked about, in the future.

  18. says

    Well said. I tend to agree that it’s great someone tried to do this, and it’s a pity it was Zack Snyder :) (sorry, couldn’t help the snark)

    Also, I am really happy for how many women (and other folks) the film seems to have worked as intended. As a teacher, I hope to influence one of my pupils per class, and that is probably naive. So if Sucker Punch got to so many of its audience, it can’t be a total failure, even though I didn’t get a lot out of it.

    By the way, are there plans to write about “A Game of Thrones” here?

    • Maria says

      I just watched the first two eps (like literally finished 20 minutes ago) and will probably do a post for the 3rd. Right now I’m trying to sort out my memories of the book — like did Daenarys get raped her wedding night in the book? Because I recall really liking that couple, and don’t remember that… but then it’s been YEARS since I read the first one — and my response to the eps — like, not so sure I like how humanized Jaime is in comparison to Cersei, etc.

  19. TansyJ says

    A few things struck me from both watching the movie, and reading the reviews of people who didn’t “get” it.

    1. Apparently men who go up against overwhelming odds and fail are considered heroic while women (or girls, in this move) who go up against overwhelming odds and fail are considered failures. The odds against a woman or a girl getting out of an abusive situation in REAL LIFE especially as minors, or wards of the state are very overwhelming. And isn’t it problematic to say that if they tried, and failed, they aren’t good role models or are “fake?” I mean, what message does that send to people who were stuck in abusive situations for years? Are they supposed to worry that they are letting feminism down?

    2. I thought the point of the various costumes were to show that they are dehumanizing i.e. a robe in a mental hospital and heels and garters both send the same message: that the wearer is less than. And that the girls were in similar costumes in the fantasy sequences because Babydoll wasn’t able to completely block out what was happening to her. So while she was retreating to the comforting fantasy in her mind of being a badass, and effortlessly slaying hordes of inhuman attackers (I also thought that was a nice touch, that generally the girls were struggling with fast armies that weren’t coded as human, so no pity for them, or – rapists aren’t deserving of sympathy, because they have disconnected themselves from their own humanity-) she’s still trapped in a situation where she has little control over her physical self.

    3. Maybe she’s just an anime geek? I mean, as a girl who was drawn to comics because of an awesome Catwoman cover, I can identify with wearing an awesome costume in your superhero fantasies that you probably wouldn’t in real life.

    4. “I couldn’t identify with the characters because they were too emotionally flat and lifeless”
    I’m sorry, but some people, when they have been in an abusive situation, for a long period of time, with little hope of escaping, they just withdraw. Eventually you realize that what the abuser wants isn’t your body, but your pain, so you make your face a mask, because it’s the only rebellion that you can manage, the only thing that you have that you can take away. I didn’t see emotionless victims when I was watching the movie, I saw women who had been abused for so long that they had made their own masks, and retreated behind them. Often abusers will use the slightest showing of your own (incorrect, according to the abuser) emotions as some excuse for what they do, making you partially to blame (in their mind, and sometimes yours) so the blankness can be it’s own form of self defense. But there were a lot of scenes with intense emotions on display from the actresses, usually when their characters were alone together, away from the abusers who held power over them, and with women they trusted, which also rang true for me. I don’t get how people watch that and say that the women had no emotion.

    I agree that it was problematic that the WoC were killed off, but I saw it as reaffirming their previous decisions to stay, to not try to escape, to not make waves. It showed that there was a real threat to be faced. Too many movies make it seem like the characters who don’t rise up against abusers are stupid and weak, by having them be caught, and then either rescued by the heroes, or escape at the last minute. In this movie it was, you know, similar to real life, where the time a woman is the most likely to die is when she tries to leave the abuse, and women do die when they try to flee abuse.

    To me, the main thing that critics were balking at was the actual reality behind the film. That the “explosions and babes” genre of movie actually had some social critiques buried in all of the action.

    I can completely understand how it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and how it would be triggering, but I’d rather watch a dark movie about the realities faced by abused minors, with cool action and explosions, then some fluff “girl power” movie.

    Sorry – I also posted about half of a paragraph of this post before, on accident.

  20. says

    Again, I didn’t see the film and might not (it sounds like I’d find it triggering), but…


    1. Apparently men who go up against overwhelming odds and fail are considered heroic while women (or girls, in this move) who go up against overwhelming odds and fail are considered failures. The odds against a woman or a girl getting out of an abusive situation in REAL LIFE especially as minors, or wards of the state are very overwhelming. And isn’t it problematic to say that if they tried, and failed, they aren’t good role models or are “fake?” I mean, what message does that send to people who were stuck in abusive situations for years? Are they supposed to worry that they are letting feminism down?

    Amen! I kept wanting to argue this all through this comment thread, but I thought maybe it really DOESN’T come across properly in the movie. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to identify with the characters either, even though I am an abuse survivor and this is all sounding painfully familiar. Thank you for saying this, after having seen it.

    4. “I couldn’t identify with the characters because they were too emotionally flat and lifeless”
    I’m sorry, but some people, when they have been in an abusive situation, for a long period of time, with little hope of escaping, they just withdraw. Eventually you realize that what the abuser wants isn’t your body, but your pain, so you make your face a mask, because it’s the only rebellion that you can manage, the only thing that you have that you can take away. I didn’t see emotionless victims when I was watching the movie, I saw women who had been abused for so long that they had made their own masks, and retreated behind them. Often abusers will use the slightest showing of your own (incorrect, according to the abuser) emotions as some excuse for what they do, making you partially to blame (in their mind, and sometimes yours) so the blankness can be it’s own form of self defense. But there were a lot of scenes with intense emotions on display from the actresses, usually when their characters were alone together, away from the abusers who held power over them, and with women they trusted, which also rang true for me. I don’t get how people watch that and say that the women had no emotion.

    I wondered about this too, and again, thank you for saying it. People think I’m cold and emotionless – well, try growing up around someone who uses your every feeling against you out of sheer petty viciousness, and see how expressive you are. I have some very good friends who find me hard to read and can’t relate to me, and that’s understandable, as they didn’t have a similar life experience.

    But maybe, just this once, a movie got made FOR people who have experienced abuse similar to what the characters experience. Maybe it’s not so easily accessible for those people who’ve been so fortunate as to never experience anything like that. Maybe for a change THEY have to work at understanding the movie, and THEY finally get to be the ones who are out of sync. Because heaven knows 90% of the people I see in movies, I cannot relate to. I can’t imagine being “normal.”

    To me, the main thing that critics were balking at was the actual reality behind the film. That the “explosions and babes” genre of movie actually had some social critiques buried in all of the action.


    I can completely understand how it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and how it would be triggering, but I’d rather watch a dark movie about the realities faced by abused minors, with cool action and explosions, then some fluff “girl power” movie.

    I will have to give this movie a try one of these days, when I’m feeling a little less easily triggered.

  21. says

    TansyJ: Apparently men who go up against overwhelming odds and fail are considered heroic while women (or girls, in this move) who go up against overwhelming odds and fail are considered failures.

    Yes, I liked this movie a lot more after I realized it was by the same director as 300. When I first came out of the theater I thought the ending was WTF and a total downer, but after putting in that context I can see how it’s about delaying the inevitable and salvaging some tiny piece of hope in the ruins.

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