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.