Sucker Punch (2011)
April 30, 2014 1 Comment
This being my fifth Zach Snyder film, while I generally wouldn’t give him accolades for being a good director, I can say that in spite of the persistently violent bent of his films, they aren’t dominated by male gaze issues the way that someone like Michael Bay’s films are. Thus Sucker Punch as female empowerment film isn’t that much of a course correction, even if the film’s commentary on violence seems much more of one (one that didn’t stick).
Babydoll (Emily Browning) and her sister are left to the lascivious wants of their stepfather upon the death of their mother. When her own resistance redirects his attention to her sister, whom she fails to protect, she is wracked by guilt (of not protecting her sister better, or of letting her stepfather get away) as she is locked away in a mental hospital by her stepfather. In the hospital, which metaphorically transforms into a brothel, Babydoll meets four other young women and they hatch a plan to escape. This is as far as the plot set-up really needs to go.
There are a number of thematic points here that merit discussion. There is a running theme of control of women, from the sisters being essentially bequeathed to the stepfather in their mother’s will, to being institutionalized for not responding to society’s cruelty with docility, to being forced to dance and sexually entice men. Within the realm of the brothel, Babydoll’s dance give her a certain power over the men that helps the girls toward their quest. Interestingly, though we know she is dancing, this is generally when the film cuts to over the top action sequences. This coupling can be seen as a critique of the way society fetishizes violence or of a certain violence in its approach to female sexuality.
These scenes however, and the way they fit into the plot represent the weakest portion for me, mostly because I don’t think they tie in thematically. The girls are told by Scott Glenn’s “Wise Man” (who is kind of obnoxious in this film) that they need a map, fire, a knife and a key, along with something left unnamed. As a practical consideration, the benefit of these items toward escape is clear enough, but what they represent as symbols of female empowerment is less well drawn. How the action sequences, from a WWII-esque battle to a fantasy-inspired dragon slaying, stand in for lessons to the girls is even more obscure. I suppose it is at least something to have women being the action badasses, but it isn’t really enough in its own right.
So while I had a lot to chew on, I ultimately found the film frustratingly imprecise. I needed everything bound a bit tighter for it to really resonate. That said, the ending is extremely strong and did eke out a modest recommendation for the film. The reveal of the fifth thing they need and what follows does, unlike so much else, really align with a main concern from the first scene. These bookends leave me feeling better about the film than I feared but now that much more disappointed that it wasn’t even more.