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.
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.