The main idea behind Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” is simple – you already have the tools you need to succeed; if you can imagine a way to get what you want, reality will bend to your whim. It’s your basic call to action set upon a backdrop of steampunk Nazi zombies, giant robotic demon samurai, and tons of eye candy in the form of action and nubile young women. It would’ve been a difficult message to get, quite honestly, if it weren’t stated by both the narrator and Dr. Vera Gorski.
I’m not going to disguise the fact that I enjoyed this critically-polarizing film. You either love it or you hate it, and I’m of the former opinion. What I liked most about Sucker Punch is that it’s one of those films that’s so messy with its metaphors that it’s open to over-reading. It is in this context that I can say that Sucker Punch is a smarter flick than Inception. If you’ve already seen the film, read on to see why. If not, and if you hate spoilers, I’d suggest you stop right now and do something better than read my silly little blog.
1. Sucker Punch Doesn’t Spoon-Feed You the Mindfuck
Inception was a brilliant film; an action movie made incredibly cerebral. My main qualm with it is that the script kept explaining to the audience what was going on: you never doubted for once if Cobb and the rest of the crew were dreaming or not (save for the final scene). They constantly explained that “Hey, we’re in this guy’s dream, let’s do this to get out.” It’s a heist film in which the only real suspense is whether or not everything goes according to a plan that’s already been laid out for you.
Sucker Punch, on the other hand, plunges you straight into Babydoll’s mind. It provides the background for the images you see for majority of the movie – the theater, Blue the Orderly, the compassionate Dr. Gorski, the items on Babydoll’s quest, even the faces of her crew – but it makes no clear delineation between fantasy and reality. This is crucial to the movie’s premise, as the main driving force behind Babydoll’s character is escapism; from her abusive step-father, from the asylum in which she was forcibly committed, from her fate in the lobotomy room, from harsh reality itself. The transition is abrupt, just like what would happen when under such intense psychological trauma. You feel lost in the illusion, and eventually learn to accept it, a sensation the film was quite capable of effecting onto its audience. It fucks with your brain, but you never hear its pants being removed.
2. Sucker Punch’s Characters are Multifaceted in Their Flatness
One major gripe about Sucker Punch is that the film makes no effort to get the audience familiar with its characters. It simply tosses these girls into bizarre fantasy action sequences to the delight of fans being serviced. However, viewers need to realize that majority of the film takes place entirely in Babydoll’s mind. We’re viewing things from her perspective. With only three days to escape, there’s no way she could’ve had an opportunity to flesh out the personalities of her cohorts. This isn’t the narrative cop out it seems to be, either; the characters have their purpose in the film.
Remember that these are all illusions in Babydoll’s head. As such, there is a tendency for the character to project tidbits of her own personality into her crew. Suddenly, you see different parts of what must be going on in Babydoll’s mind reflected by each of the characters: Amber, the action-seeking go-getter; Blondie, the compassionate, scared little girl; Rocket, who shares Babydoll’s desire for escape; and Sweet Pea, the voice of responsibility and reason. Babydoll herself is admittedly and purposefully flat in the fantasy – she becomes the personification of her own will.
Even the wise man in each of the action sequences has his own symbolism. He is the father figure Babydoll never had in her real life. He offers guidance, encouragement, and life lessons that she desperately needs during these dark times. He cares for her, wanting nothing more than for her to succeed.
3. Sucker Punch Already Told You What Was Going to Happen
Sucker Punch contains one of the cleverest uses of foreshadowing I’ve seen in a while: Zack Snyder gave away the ending the moment Babydoll enters her dream-world. She finds herself in the lobotomy chair, the probe ready to strike her brain, when a voice suddenly yells “Stop!” We zoom out to see that the procedure is taking place on a stage, and “Babydoll” is revealed to be none other than Sweet Pea, who sheds her costume and leaves the performance. This tells you that the story really never was Babydoll’s to begin with: it wasn’t her on the stage. This was all about Sweet Pea’s escape.
4. The Parallelism has a Powerful Meaning
In Rocket and Sweet Pea, Babydoll sees her own relationship with her sister. As her two friends are sisters trapped in an abusive situation in the asylum, so too, were Babydoll and her younger sister trapped with an abusive stepfather. Rocket, as any younger sister would, wants nothing but to run away. Sweet Pea and Babydoll try to be responsible, not taking many risks to ensure their survival. Unfortunately, both sisters die in the course of things, both acting as a sort of sacrifice necessary for the elders’ escape.
Here’s where it gets even trickier: it is at the point that Rocket dies where Babydoll and Sweet Pea’s paths begin to diverge. In her mind, Babydoll had already lost – she went from her murderous stepfather’s clutches into an asylum where no one would hear her out. Sweet Pea, however, still had a chance. It would be through Sweet Pea’s escape that Babydoll would find her peace. Resigned to having lost her life, she enables another like her to live. Sweet Pea is the success, the happiness that Babydoll could not attain for herself. The lobotomist himself said that Babydoll looked like she wanted it. In effect, Zack Snyder has created a parallelism between doom and hope, between resignation and its sublimation.
5. The “Dances” Meant Something
The meat of the movie – the badass, over-the-top action – is widely thought to take away from the movie’s premise. These, however, are brilliant metaphors for what was going on in reality. Remember that Dr. Gorski’s brand of therapy relies heavily on role-playing, and that it takes place in her theater.
Almost each of Babydoll’s performances, then, is a role-playing session with Dr. Gorski. What does Babydoll show in her performances? Violent tendencies and the willpower to achieve her goals, but also compassion for the people she values and a strong sense of responsibility. She never kills people in her fantasies; only monsters and robots. This alone casts doubt on her ability to kill her sister. This makes her an intriguing subject for Gorski, who unfortunately isn’t given the time to consult and save this possibly innocent little girl.
The one performance in which Gorski isn’t present – the one in the kitchen – happens to be Babydoll’s only incriminating “dance”. Something falls short without the psychiatrist’s guidance; in fact, it is in the subsequent action scene in the train where the wise man doesn’t give advice applicable to everyday life. As a result, things fall apart and two people die. We can even see another parallelism here: with Gorski as the mother figure suddenly absent, the entire plan crumbles.
Tell me that isn’t a smart movie.