Released back in March, Sucker Punch became one of the key indicators of just how moribund and sad the first months of 2011 truly were when, despite being directed by a commercially savvy director and boasting ads focused almost exclusively on the twin spectacles of grandiose dreamscapes and women running around in barely there clothing, it tanked rather definitively at the box office. And it isn't hard to see why. A deeply unpleasant, sexist, masturbatory film masquarading as escapist fantasy, Sucker Punch is the sort of wildly misguided project that can only come when a studio gives a director, in this case Zack Snyder, enough rope to hang themselves with, but not before they've woven the rope into the form of a creepy model of a slutty schoolgirl. It's the movie equivalent of Glenn Beck; undeniably crazy, but in a relentlessly dull way. But just because Sucker Punch is bad doesn't mean it can't teach us something. People learn about bubonic plague in school, so why can't we learn something from Sucker Punch?
Things I Learned from Movie X
By Edwin Davies
August 18, 2011
Imagination isn't all it's cracked up to be
Sucker Punch centres around the character of Baby Doll (Emily Browning), a young girl who is placed in a mental institution after she fails to prevent her step-father murdering (and assumingly raping, because *implied* rape is classy as shit) her younger sister, and also makes the mistake of not killing him. After hearing her father and a creepy orderly (Oscar Isaac) talk about how they have arranged for Baby Doll to be lobotomised, she starts to fall into a series of fantasy worlds, in which her everyday traumas are recontextualised as epic adventures. It's complete nonsense obviously, and...
Wait, what's going on? I had just put the DVD of Sucker Punch on, and suddenly find myself standing in a gothically exaggerated version of my own living room. The red curtains have turned into waterfalls of blood, filled with robot fish with flashing kaleidoscope eyes! The cats that occasionally run through my garden have become giant tigers with machine guns for eyes and grenades for teeth! And the asshole neighbour across the street has become, well, he's the same. I guess he really is the worst human being imaginable. It's almost as if my mind took things that already existed, then exaggerated them to the point where they are just ridiculous and have nothing in common with the real objects that inspired them. How inspired!
I need help. I run out into the street and head straight for the eldritch prison that has suddenly sprung up at the end of the street. Once inside, I discover the prison to be a peculiar mixture of orphanage and brothel, as imagined by someone who has probably seen the inside of the latter, but not the former. Some of the scantily clad workers/captives lead me through the byzantine corridors until I meet the doctor/madam in charge.
"Hey, Carla Gugino, what's going on?" I enquire. She begins to reply, but stops when I double-over laughing at her accent. "Wait, where are you meant to be from, exactly?" She stares at me, her face contorted in an indignant pout. "I am Russian, or sumsink." After another fit of giggles, I manage to choke out a response. "Oh, so you're really going to go with that accent? You're really going to play the role of a Russian dance teacher? Are you also married to a cop on his last day on the job? Did you guys meet at a cliche mixer? Okay, fine. Anyway, what's going on?" Carla Gugino tries to compose herself, despite the anger still flaring across her face, and waves her hand. "This is a safe place. You are free to do what you want here, as long as you dance." This last word is delivered with a theatrical flourish, probably intended to be magnificent, but campy in execution. "First off, that didn't answer my question, and secondly, can't I *not* dance and just be imprisoned and in constant peril?" I reply. "That sounds like it'd be more my style." Wielding a walking stick, Carla Gugino lunges across the room towards an old timey radio. "No! You must dance, you slutty little orphan you!"
Carla Gugino sticks on "Army of Me" by Bjork, and since that's my jam, I start to sway sensuously...
If only they'd included some cowboys and come aliens in there, maybe then the film would have worked
As I look around, the landscape has changed completely. I'm no longer standing in the brothanage, but on a barren plain under an indifferent sky. My eyes pass over the distant fields and hills, and I can make out the shapes of ninjas, robots and a dragon cavorting merrily together. "Great," I say to myself, "I got a free trip to Comic-Con."
A gruff voice floats through the ether, "You're not in Comic-Con, kid." I turn, and standing before me is a samurai who, for reasons passing understanding, looks like Scott Glenn. "Your shoes," he says. When I don't understand, he repeats it again. "I'm not wearing any shoes," I reply. "I know, why don't you put some on you goddamn fucking hippie? It's disgusting," Scott Glenn screams with barely concealed disdain. "For a samurai, you're not very composed or dignified," I shoot back. "I'm also a grizzled army captain and a saintly bus driver. There are many facets to my role in this story, and I'd thank you for not pigeonholing me as just a sage samurai." After hurriedly donning a pair of Converse, a process made difficult because my actions are depicted in hyper-dramatic slow-motion, I try to get Scott Glenn to give me a straight answer, only for him to reply with a series of self-important nonsense, filled with constant reference to "keys" and "tasks", like I'm the lead character in a second-rate platformer.
After a few swift smacks to his head, Scott Glenn becomes a bit more malleable, and I am able to coax an answer from him. "This is another layer of reality. The one you started in was your own, and you have travelled through subsequent ones, each of which has less and less to do with the one before." Huh, I think to myself, I'm pretty sure I remember seeing a film very similar to that, but one that wasn't absolutely terrible. "This is the result of someone trying to take everything that geeks obsess over and trying to cram them all into one place. It's a veritable clusterfuck of niche interests, each piling on top of the next, struggling to breathe." As he says this, a 20 foot tall Ninja decides to have an arm-wrestling contest with a similarly large robot which has a bright pink bunny face painted onto its front. Considering how awesome that sounds, it's actually surprisingly dull, and takes a very long time. "But why is ait all so boring?" I whine pathetically. "All of this stuff, it's so cool!"
At this point, the dragon decides to perch atop a cathedral and start singing Tainted Love in a fine piercing tenor. "It's cool individually, but when you put it all together it becomes meaningless," Scott Glenn replies. "It's like trying to eat pizza on a rollercoaster. Separately, those two things are great, but when combined they make you want to vomit." The dragon joins with a group of undead World War I-era German soldiers in an a capella rendition of Love Is The Drug. "But everything about this seems so crazy, why wouldn't it at least make for an entertaining mess?" The cathedral explodes for no reason. "Because if you try to make everything look cool and epic, it all just winds up looking samey. If you try to make everything impressive, then nothing is."
As the Ninjas and the Zombie Germans form a conga line, I decide the only way to deal with this is to bang my head slowly and repeatedly against a brick wall until my skull splits open. As soon as my forehead connects, a flurry of images run through my head, and I am jolted through layers of reality...
Terry Gilliam called; he wants his ending back
"Wait, where am I now?" I think to myself. I look around the room, and where once was an overly green gothic orphanage, now I see an overly green operating theater and an array of medical implements, whilst a doctor who looks like Don Draper leans over me. "Thank goodness!" I cry. "I thought I was watching Sucker Punch, but it turns out I was just being lobotomised." With a sigh, I relax, and surrender to the numbing void.