My Thoughts on Sucker Punch

Flashback: Oscar night. The trailer comes on for Sucker Punch. I turn to my girls, Veronica and Katie, and say “Hey, our men had a movie night, let’s have a girls night and see Sucker Punch.” We agree Sucker Punch has to be a million times better than Robocop.

Flash forward: My Birthday. Girls night has turned into 5:10 showing of Sucker Punch with Veronica, Katie and Dan, Jason, Josh and my dad.

I’ve read the reviews. I’ve even seen my friends on facebook not dig it. Good, bad, or ugly I still wanted to see it because it’s girls kicking butt fueled by their imagination to escape the horrible mental hospital they are trapped in.

We left the theater and it appeared that all 6 of my friends didn’t like the movie. My dad, in comical fashion, tried fake puke outside the car window over his disgust with the movie. My dad, I should mention, LOVES 300 and Watchman, so he really wanted to see Sucker Punch. He even watched Watchman the night before to get into the spirit of Zack Snyder.

I didn’t like Watchman. I thought it was boring and the acting was horrible. I didn’t read the comic so I wasn’t into it. 300 I thought, was just a guy flick. I saw it in the theater with my husband and my dad who both loved the movie. I thought it was too over the top, gory for the sake of gore, sexy for the sake of male fantasizes, and just rubbish. I did however like Sucker Punch for two specific reasons. Reasons, I will explain…now…

REASON 1. Men have Rambo, Commando, Predator, Robocop, Total Recall and many more mindless action movies that they love. Women now have Sucker Punch. Before Sucker Punch we had Aeon Flux (didn’t see it), Tank Girl, G.I. Jane, and Charlie’s Angels. I’m sorry, but I consider Tomb Raider, Alien, Resident Evil, Underworld, and Kill Bill as men movies; if you can replace the female character with a man and it’s the same movie, therefore a man movie.

Take G.I. Jane. You can’t replace Demi Moore’s character with a man. The whole story is based around female strength and defying stereotypes of what females can do in a male dominated field (Navy Seals). Where if you replaced Ripley in Alien from a female to male actor you’d basically have the same movie. I’m not saying the movie would be as awesome without Sigourney Weaver, I like that it’s a strong female in that role, however, from a story standpoint, it would be the same story, male or female in the lead role. I look for movies where only a woman could have played that role because it was written with feminine strengths and weakness in mind. Women are different from men – not better or worse – just different.

In Sucker Punch, the women use “The power within their mind” (said by the Doc) to help each other survive. There was more crying then I thought there needed, but whatevs. Some have written that the film is degrading toward women, I didn’t see it and trust me, I’m always looking for it. The women were used as toys for men’s fantasies and power issues but they turned that power against them by the use of the Baby Doll’s dance.

Stop. Hammer Time.

Okay, the dance was dumb. She just sways back and forth and then we go into her mind. Bad transition, we needed to see some of the dance and not just hear about it. Dan did a great interpretation of the dance that had us all cracking up.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming….

The women were subservient when they needed to be, powerful when they could, and protective of each other always. They didn’t fall into “I’m the victim” crap. They stayed strong throughout and did what they thought they needed to do to gain their freedom. One character did crack and that made sense to the story arch.

REASON 2. The story of Sucker Punch does follow the Hero’s Journey. Hero’s Journey developed by Joseph Campbell, is a list of common elements in mythic storytelling. There are variations on the elements and more in depth points but for this, I’ve covering the basics of Hero’s Journey Elements and how it fits Sucker Punch.

ORDINARY WORLD – First off the main character is not Baby Doll (the blonde in the Sailor Moon outfit) our main character is Sweet Pea. We establish Sweet Pea’s ordinary world in the “Theater.” The theater is a lounge inside the mental institution where the Polish doctor plays music to allow the girls reenact their problems. The head of the facility, “Blue,” talks about how their reenactments are so real (hence a set up for the worlds we will enter). Sweet Pea is on stage of the theater, she comes down to have a face-to-face with Baby Doll thus showing us the ordinary world for the girls. The music plays and for the rest of the movie we are in the imagination on Sweet Pea. It’s Sweet Pea that creates a world where the girls are not mental patients but dancing strippers with a pimp boss (“Blue”) and a dance coach(The Polish Doc). This world is safer for Sweet Pea. It’s in the world that Sweet Pea is the top dancer and brings in the High Rollers, but then Baby Doll is asked to dance… Without this imaginary element we have Girl Interpreted where Sweet Pea is Angelina Jolie and Baby Doll is Winona Ryder. Seriously look at the poster, it’s so close.

CALL TO ADVENTURE – Baby Doll is our conduit for this call to adventure. When Baby Doll is asked to dance, she transitions to world in her mind (Sweet Pea is still the puppeteer of all this) where she finds “Wise Man” (played by Scott Glenn). When asked what Baby Doll wants, she half-ass says, “Freedom.” Why? because she doesn’t want freedom, Sweet Pea does. The Wiseman tells her that a “High Roller” is coming for Baby Doll in 5 days. Therefore giving a sense of urgency. The Wiseman gives her tools – a gun and a sword – and tells her she needs to find 5 items (map, fire, knife, a key and a fifth to be discovered later) to gain her freedom. Thus setting up the plot points of the movie.

REFUSAL TO CALL – Baby Doll tells the girls of this encounter. Sweet Pea doesn’t want to go on this journey and makes the girls agree that if she wants to call it off they will. Why? because she’s the main character, and in this format, that is what they do.

MEETING THE MENTOR + CROSSING THE LINE OF THE ORDINARY WORLD INTO THE SPECIAL WORLD – this happens when Baby Doll does her dance and Sweet Pea steals the map to the Mental Institution/Brothel. The entrance to this special world is actually special. When Baby Doll closes her eyes when she begins to dance she is now transported to a WWII/steampunk/Prussian War type place where all the girls must fight these mechanical Germans to get the map. In the special world is where Sweet Pea meets the mentor, “Wiseman.”

TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES – This can be boiled down in to gaining the items needed for the quest, they get the map from the office of the Mental Institution, the fire from the Mayor’s lighter, the knife proves harder…  This is also my guess where people start to dislike the movie and start to relate it to Transformers 2.

In Transformers 2 (which I only liked because there was a Camero in it) there is talk-talk-talk followed by fight-fight-fight. The ratio I remember is about 5 minutes of talking followed by 20 minutes of crap blowing up. You get into this rhythm and you get bored. The same thing happens in Sucker Punch. Baby Doll dances then we are in a fight-fight-fight world for about 15 minutes. It’s the same intro and out-tro so it can become repetitive and expected.

***NOW HERE ARE SPOLIERS***

ORDEAL, DEATH and REBIRTH – We didn’t need Baby Doll to dance to get the knife. Earlier in the story the cook tried to attack Rocket (Sweet Pea’s sister) for stealing chocolate and Baby Doll got the cooks knife and put it to his throat. I don’t understand the complicated dance number when the story already proved that Baby Doll has that skill. -Anyway – the dance goes crappy because water shorts out the electrical cord to the song before Sweet Pea gets the knife. The cook realizes what’s she doing and Rocket  get’s stabbed and killed. Amber does get away with the knife. Before Rocket dies, she tells Sweet Pea to tell their parents that she’s sorry for running away. Sweet Pea is locked away in a closet. Blondie cracks and tells Blue the girl’s plans. Now it’s the day of the “High Roller” and the girls need the 4th and 5th item to gain freedom.

REWARD, SEZING THE SWORD – Blue kills a couple of the girls, and tries to rape Baby Doll. Here’s the problem – It should be Sweet Pea who comes and saves the day getting the last item – the key around Blue’s neck. But it isn’t. Baby Doll overcomes her fear of Blue and stabs Blue with the knife before grabbing the key around his neck. Baby Doll then frees Sweet Pea. This is a confusion of who’s story we are watching.

THE ROAD BACK -reality of the mental institution and the imaginary world of the brothel start to intersect here. Baby Doll and Sweet Pea are the only ones alive of the girls. They use the map to know how to escape, the lighter to start a fire in a closet that will trigger some of the doors to open, the knife was already used against Blue, and then the key opens all the locks. There is a clue that we’re getting closer to reality as we see the front door operator looks like the “Mayor” that Baby Doll danced for. Outside the Mental institution there are men waiting to enter the brothel. Confusing but convenient.

RESURRECTION- At the front gate, Baby Doll realized what the fifth item needed to escape is – her. Baby Doll says to Sweet Pea, “This isn’t my story, it’s yours.” In Sweet Pea’s imagination it’s Baby Doll who is the last item needed for her safety, hence why the story started in the theater and Sweet Pea’s introduction. Baby Doll dances and distracts the guys as Sweet Pea escapes.

RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR – Sweet Pea boards a bus driven by the Wiseman to Fort Wayne, Indiana. She doesn’t have a ticket and the Wiseman says something really cool that I can’t remember. The reason why I can’t remember it is because I live not far from Fort Wayne and I think it’s funny that that is where she’s escaping too.  But the meaning is that Sweet Pea is going to return home to tell her parents that Rocket really did love them and didn’t mean to run away. Therefore, in my mind, giving it the message of forgiveness.

Like it, love it or hate it, Sucker Punch does follow the Hero’s Journey of mythic storytelling with only 1 misstep.

Now so no one gets mad – the wrap up. The rest of the film is tying up loose ends of the reality vs the imagination.

After Sweet Pea escapes we’re back to the ordinary world of the Mental Institution where we need to Fight Club this sucker pretty quick to reveal what really happened. So the High Roller in the brothel that was going to take Baby Doll way is actually the doctor to perform a lobotomy. Either way Baby Doll was going to be taken away and Sweet Pea needed her to escape. The doc mentions, “she was a handful. She set a fire, stabbed someone, and allowed another inmate to escape.” So Baby Doll did all the things we saw including giving herself up to be captured/lobotomized to save Sweet Pea.

The dance instructor is now again the Polish doctor who learns her signature was forged to perform the lobotomy. She goes to search who did this when Blue, the head of the institution (who actually is stabbed) takes Baby Doll to the back room to have his way with her. It’s clear from the conversation with the guards that he’s done this to all the girls. This is where escaping to the idea of living in a brothel makes sense to me, because if you’re constantly being abused, you escape to a place where you have the illusion of power. The Polish doctor stops Blue but Baby Doll is a vegetable having already sacrificed herself.

Let me know if you agree, disagree or are indifferent in the comments. Again, I didn’t write the movie, this is just my take on it. Movies are subjective art we all get something different out of them.

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17 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Sucker Punch

  1. Mark says:

    Kate,

    Your absolutely right! Oh goddess of film story decoding.

    And … that’s why I’m stressed out over this film.

    I just feel that for all the effort spent on this film the less gifted among us needed just one maybe two more clues so we would “get” the story.

    OR why couldn’t it have been made a little more watchable so I would want to watch it again until I could say “I get it!”

    OR, and this is the worst part … I have to admit I was just not smart enough to dig the story out of this “high art” film.

    This one got by me, maybe I should be happy, it doesn’t happen that often. At least the name of the film works now.

    Thanks for decoding this thing for all the rest of us.

    Mark

  2. Veronica says:

    This makes me want to put up a review of Sucker Punch which, while visually entertaining, I still didn’t dig it quite as much as you did. I agree with (and adore) your Hero’s Journey breakdown! You know how I feel about Hero’s Journey – we should do this with more films that come out, only to illustrate how it is able to fit into every film.

    My one nitpicky argument to your blog post has to do with Alien. I believe that this character had to be portrayed by a woman because the Alien, as we come to find out, is female. Then at the end it’s Momma vs. Momma in a battle over their children. Only a mother is going to have that connection to her child and thus, character could not have been replaced by a man. Sigorney Weaver is so badass.

    That is all. Love you!!

    ~V

    1. Kate Chaplin says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong but don’t we find out the alien is female and the Momma vs. Momma isn’t until later in the series? I’m just talking the first movie for my example. But I agree with you that it’s needed for that connect and that Weaver was badass.

  3. Mel Sampson says:

    “Like it, love it or hate it, Sucker Punch does follow the Hero’s Journey of mythic storytelling with only 1 misstep.”

    Wait… you’re saying it’s good because you can make connection to the Hero’s Journey? Really?

    1. Kate Chaplin says:

      Movies are subjective, everyone is entitled to love, like or hate any film. Hero’s Journey is a way to make sense of any story. Not only “good” movies follow Hero’s Journey but “bad” ones too. Again, it goes back to the viewer whether they like or relate to the story at all. Because it was a action-chick flick and I could see the Hero’s Journey in it, I liked it. But it’s not for everyone.

  4. Lanny Buettner says:

    I am glad someone is giving this movie a proper shakedown and not dismissing it as fanboy porn. I saw the parallels to the Hero of a Thousand Faces and agree that Snyder is consciously or unconsciously following this pattern.

    I disagree that it is Sweet Pea who is the focus of the journey, however. We see Baby Doll in the normal world (albeit briefly). She is thurst into the journey rather than enticed onto the path. She finds herself in the belly of the beast and is given a choice of acquiescing to fate or fighting. She crosses the threshhold when she is on Dr. Gorski’s couch and is being prompted to take control of the world in her imagination.

    There she receives the help of the Wiseman, who gives her weapons and five items to find (tests in the cycle of the hero). She is thrust across the threshhold of the temple and forced to fight for her survival. She emerges victorious, but then has to face the task of finding the five items (and figuring out what the fifth item, the mystery, is).

    She gets the help of the other four women. They get caught and it appears the quest will fail, now the belly of the beast in earnest. Baby Doll finds the will to fight and benefits from her cleverness in taking the knife in the confusion after Rocket is stabbed.

    But then she gets to the point where they realize they cannot both escape and she understands the need for her to sacrifice herself so that Sweet Pea can go free.

    She transcends her attachment to her own ego and self and this grants her true freedom. Sweet Pea achieves a lesser freedom, albeit an important victory over the evils of the asylum.

    I think this makes more sense than trying to fit the Hero’s Journey onto Sweet Pea, whom we don’t even meet until well into the movie.

    It also helps to know that Snyder consciously included insights from Richard Bach’s book “Illuions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah,” which is all about the power of our thoughts over our waking reality. The messiah teaches the narrator about this power of belief over things like thunderstorms, the people in our lives, and even walking on water.

    1. Kate Chaplin says:

      Great shakedown as well. I don’t disagree with you. It very much could be Baby Doll’s story it’s the question of once the music play’s who’s imagination we are in. Granted, I’ve seen the movie once, but as I remember it Sweet Pea was on stage in the theater when the music played then changing Baby Doll and the characters around her into the Bordello. If I’m right, which I could be wrong, then we are in Sweet Pea’s imagination construct. But if Baby Doll hears the music (not on stage) and then we’re in her mind, then I totally see where I’m wrong.

      Love the breakdown on Baby Doll in Hero’s Journey and the insightes on Snyder using Bach’s book, very cool. Thanks!

  5. Peter says:

    Hello,

    The movie is tricky.
    What i think:
    BabyDoll kills her sister by accident when shy tries to protect her. The bullet missed the stepfather and her sister was killed. There are two hints for that in the movie.
    (Means that she finally wants the lobotomy to set herself free? And – mayby – the lobotomy is a symbol for someting else)
    When BabyDoll dances she has fantasies beeind superstrong and supersexy.
    (The opposite of what she endures in reality? Means she is beeing abused when she dances?)
    SweetPea also looses her Sister Rocket, like BabyDoll.
    (SweetPea = BabyDoll?)
    The stage of the Lennox House looks like BabyDolls room in the beginning of the film.
    (Means Lennox House also is not real?)

    Your opinion ?

  6. Peter Ruppert (Germany) says:

    Hello,

    Great discussion !
    There is one thing you all might have overseen:
    Consider that it is SweetPea who escapes and it is SweetPea who tells the story, right?
    So how can she know so much about BabyDolls fantasies – if she is not BabyDoll herself !?
    Or Snyder simply failed as a script writer :o))

    Bye
    Peter

  7. caryn barretta says:

    Really enjoy your synopsis and interpretation of the film. To add something you might find interesting, another person wrote that Babydoll’s dancing is actually her being sexually abused. The fighting cut scenes are the fantasies Babydoll creates to mentally escape the abuse. Just food for thought.

  8. Kate Chaplin says:

    This comments came from M Brodie. It was in the “Contact Me” section so I moved it here. Great stuff!

    i want to see sucker punch because i like abbie cornish but haven t yet because i have a feeling that its just going to be a another man bashing film,,when you generalized men in listing their movies,rambo etc,these are not woman bashing films ,are they ? by your comments i see the type you are
    A naked man is natural,a naked woman is the right to be offended
    if a woman complains about female nudity shes well within her rights,if a man complains about male nudity,hes a hypocrite with a screw loose.
    A male who poses naked is high art,a female who poses naked is somebody’s daughter.
    A male athlete poses naked,it’s all in a good cause,a female athlete who poses naked is a role model setting a wrong example
    a man posts naked pics of his girlfriend online,she can have him arrested,a woman posts naked pics of her boyfriend online,he’s advised to laugh it off.
    A female tv presenter says,im better than any man,she gets a round of applause,a male tv presenter says im better than any woman,he’s made to resign.
    A pub has a female stripper booked, a woman can boycott the pub,the pub has a male stripper,the same woman books front row seats.
    A female stripper does the job because she needs the money to support her family,a male stripper is in a reputable profession
    a female stripper is degrading herself,a male stripper is a reputable profession
    a full frontal female in a movie or on tv is a glimpse of pubic hair 20 feet away in the dark a full frontal male is his sex organs
    actor who appears full frontal is brave,an actress appears full frontal is jeopardizing her career by taking a risk
    2 males in a gay love scene are acting a part,2 females in a lesbian scene are being exploited
    a naked man in a tv advert is funny or a womans fantasy,a naked woman in a tv advert is 100 poison pen letters
    a female peeks into a male locker room is a bit of fun,a male peeking into a female locker room is a sexual deviant.
    A man who sees a nurse uniform as a sexual fantasy is a disgrace,a fireman uniform is a sexual fantasy

  9. m brodie says:

    seriously kate,the films for men listed all come from the 80.s and you couldn t get more obscure than commando,where are the films for men now ?

    1. Kate Chaplin says:

      It was after a “Man Night” my husband has with this friends. They were watching Robocop and Commando. Plus what can I say, I’m a child of the 80’s. As for newer “man movies” I’d say it’s “Expendables,” “A-Team,” “G.I. Joe” “Ghost Rider” etc. Or movie and anything with Vin Diesel in it. I’m not saying women don’t like these movies either but it’s clear the target audience is men.

      Here are three links to man movies, past and present
      http://www.imdb.com/list/Lcl1c8DhUr0/
      http://www.filmsite.org/guyfilms.html
      http://www.theshiznit.co.uk/feature/top-20-manliest-movies.php

  10. Red says:

    Women and girls are horrifically abused at home, in asylums and in brothels, let’s make a film about it. OK, gritty, social realism? Nah, chicks in bikinis with guns, man! Stomach wrenching. Clearly the art of the story has passed me by.

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