Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch: A Dreamer's Nightmare

I just got back from seeing Sucker Punch.  Yep, opening day by myself.  I'm working on getting over the idea that the movies need to be a social event, especially since I can just come home and be social about it with people on the internet. 

While I was in the theater, a friend of mine tweeted a link to an article at i09 about how terrible the movie is.  It makes a few good points, but I look at it in a very different way.

[Spoilers both at that link and in the rest of my post.]

First let me say that there are definitely some issues with the movie.  I'm not into the school girl thing or the naughty nurse thing, so the outfits of Emily Browning and Jenna Malone sort of rubbed me the wrong way (as opposed to the right way, which I think was the intent).  But some people are into that, sort of like I'm into the Grunge-Lady-Knight of Sweet Pea or the Steampunk-Soldier of Blondie (Abbie Cornish and Vanessa Hudgens, respectively).  Their nicknames were ridiculous and seemed to come from nowhere with absolutely no explanation: a definite failing.  And I really really could not get past Emily Browning's looking like a 15 year old - but that's an issue I have with her in everything, not just this movie.  The fact that she's going to be the lead in a retelling of Sleeping Beauty is super disturbing to me.

Abbie Cornish as Sweet Pea.  Included 'cause she's my favorite.
But this is a mainstream action movie release in which all of the heroes are women.  There are no romantic sublpots.  Please feel free to let me know if there's another "big release" action movie out there with no romance involved, especially ones with supposed female leads, because I can't think of any off the top of my head.  So basically it's a pretty intense movie just for its mere existence.

This doesn't excuse it from its faults, of course.  After all, mainstream action movies, no matter who the story is about, are marketed towards dudes.  That's just how it is.  There may be women who want to go see this movie, there may even be lots of them, but the marketing machine (and therefore producers and other execs that make decisions) aren't aiming for them.  

Still, the main criticism seems to be in the form of "girl in insane asylum imagines herself into whorehouse and then imagines herself into cheesy action movies" makes no sense whatsoever.

Not gonna lie, that was pretty much the thing I had the least issues with in this movie.  Why?  Because I use my imagination to escape the often crushing anxiety and depression I face in my day to day life.  I have since I was a little kid.  And I don't face things nearly as frightening as what Babydoll (sigh) faced.  I incorporate my friends.  I incorporate my surroundings.  And I definitely make myself the superhero in my own action movie (and though I may wear more clothes, sometimes the lady I'm rescuing doesn't).  I create an augmented reality in order to process the real reality in a way that doesn't leave me completely paralyzed.

So I've got not problem with the final level of the dream.  And the whorehouse level... I think it was used as a gateway.  And this reminds me of the debates I'd listen to (and sometimes partake in) all through college and law school.  About pornography/prostitution and women's agency.  Maybe Babydoll was giving herself agency by writing herself into a story about a prostitute who gives herself agency.  Maybe in her mind - which is clearly not fully developed - it's a step up.  Maybe it's a way for her to translate the horrors she's facing into something more glamourous, but nearly as terrible.

And that is the real problem with the story:  too many maybes.  We spent a lot of time seeing stylized action, or long close ups of Babydoll's (sigh) childish face.  We didn't spend a lot of time on character development.  So this is a so-so story, but a fun action movie starring women who do their best to take their awful, terrible lives into their hands.

I'm not a Snyder apologist.  This is still a film made by a man (I often wonder what Deborah Snyder's role in making these movies is) for an audience expected to be mostly male.  And framed that way, there are plenty of reasons that this movie isn't empowering (plenty).  But I don't think it's a misogynist film any more than 300 was anti-Arab.  I enjoyed watching women kick some ass.  I enjoyed them forming bonds that weren't destroyed by jealousy over men.  I enjoyed the fact that none of them kissed each other (I know, I know).  I enjoyed the bittersweet ending, and the fantastic feel of the whole thing taken from start to finish.  I also really enjoyed Abbie Cornish and would like to see her in more action films as the lead.

Oh, small tangent: I really enjoyed the soundtrack, which was almost exclusively female-fronted bands.  It also had "Army of Me", by Björk that was in the Tank Girl film during a big moment that took place in a stylized whorehouse.  Yep.  (Tank Girl was directed by a woman, actually.  And there are a few other similarities that I noticed during the film, from animated, imagined action sequences to outfits.)

Where was I? 

Lots of issues with this film.  Absolutely.  Definitely not the most empowering movie out there (though I don't find Steel Magnolias empowering, and some people seem to).  But I (personally) enjoyed it, and my problems with the film don't stem as much from the plot as the characters.  I think Zack Snyder thinks he's made the next Buffy (though probably not consciously).  He hasn't.  But Buffy wasn't really Buffy either, if you really look at the characters and the situations they're in (that's a death-wish-laden thought for another time, though).

I don't really have a rating system.  I'm not sure if I'd recommend this film to a lot of my friends.  But I'd recommend it to some.  And I don't regret seeing it, unlike some other movies I've seen recently (cough, Jane Eyre, cough).  So.  Take that as you'd like, and feel free to let me know your thoughts.

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