It’s no secret that I am not the biggest fan of Cheltenham’s rather soulless Cineworld. I’m hoping I can say this without fear of legal ramification, but if next week there is a free the Gloucestershire one notice here instead of the blog, you’ll know I’ve been needlessly incarcerated for my anti-corporate radicalism. Whilst under normal circumstances I would try to vote with my feet on this kind of issue, I do occasionally bow to peer pressure and turn up there anyway. They have cookie dough ice cream so it’s never an entirely wasted trip.
Thus this Tuesday I found myself shifting uncomfortably in my seat, cherry picking chunks of uncooked biscuity goodness out of my tiny cardboard tub and resisting the urge to give the chattering morons behind us a good slap. And all this for the sake of a little movie called Sucker Punch.
Let’s get this out of the way upfront. Yes, Sucker Punch has had almost universally negative reviews. Yes, it contains an awful lot of gratuitous shots of girls in tiny outfits. Yes, as a feminist I’m supposed to immediately dismiss it as misogynistic, fetishistic crap.
However, this week I have decided to wear my controversial hat (it’s stylish too y’know) and ‘fess up to the fact that actually, I didn’t hate it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m totally not buying director Zack Snyder’s self-deluding suggestion that the movie is actually some kind of critique on geek culture’s attitude to women in general. You don’t get to condemn the drooling, objectifying wank fest that is porn culture at the same time as pandering to it. But there was some interesting stuff in there, amidst the school girl outfits and the gyrating dancing girls. (I’m not even against the idea in principle that the gyrating dancing girls were pretty damn interesting in themselves).
In brief, Sucker Punch centres around the too-pretty-to-look-at Babydoll. Falsely committed to a mental institution and facing the prospect of lobotomy, she escapes inside not one but two fantasy worlds, (ever since Inception, single-layered fantasies are so passé). The first is almost as grim as reality, a brothel in which she is an imprisoned virgin, bonding with the other girls against the Dickensianly grotesque men who control their existences. The second, more authentically escapist level is a hyper-real, post-modern dystopia in which she and her fellow patients are kick-ass, Whedonesque models of empowerment who fight dragons, resist Steampunk Nazis and destroy cyborgs.
A lot of the criticism focused around Sucker Punch accuses it of a certain level of simplicity. The girls jump around in their outfits for our titillation, Babydoll as the central figure is all pink cheeks, and long lashes and lightening blond hair and the fight scenes lack any real tension. Subtle it most certainly ain’t, yet I can’t help but feel that this particular line of reasoning slightly misses the point.
Because Babydoll *is* an archetype. She is every blond virgin ever to get lost in the woods and run about defending her honour and fleeing from wolves. It is surely no coincidence that despite being thrown around like, well, a doll, in repeated scenes, she always emerges without a scratch or blood-spot or smudge on her. Her innocence has all of the unassailable power of symbolism. This is immensely frustrating if you go into the movie looking for compelling, well rounded characters but for the most part Sucker Punch isn’t a character driven film.
What it is, is a fable; a dark fairytale with all the signs of such, including the comforting, repetitive frame of the quest on which Babydoll embarks. Just like Goldilocks tries out three different chairs and Snow White evades the Wicked Queen’s tricks twice before she falls for them, Sucker Punch’s heroine plays out her own pre-ordained path, returning thrice to her fantasy world to retrieve the magically embued items that will enable her escape.
Apologies… it all got a little bit literary there for a moment. But love it or hate it, there actually is a fair amount to say about Sucker Punch, and for me that makes it at the very least cosmetically worthwhile. One of the most effective elements was the contrast between the relatively emotionally detached fantasy world of the third layer, and the closer to reality setting of the second layer. A character who suffers whilst the girls fight futuristic robots is relatively un-affecting, but when the action snaps back to the brothel chef with a kitchen knife the stakes change. In the real world, innocence is no defence against greed or lechery or violence. In the real world, girls bleed.
It’s this dichotomy that lies at the heart of Sucker Punch and ultimately, in this that it packs the emotional impact its title promises. At the very end of the film, when both of the fantasy layers once more fall away there is literally nothing left of the film’s protagonist. Snyder dangles those escape fantasies in front of us, but ultimately he snatches them back. The possibility of hope exists, but not for everyone.
The bottom line is that Sucker Punch is flawed and massively problematic. But if I’m going to put up with the indignities of chain cinemas, then I want to see a film that makes me think, and it did. It ends with a call to arms, advising us all to "Fight" as Babydoll does. And every day, life demands that we all have to. But like the majority of humanity, Sucker Punch hasn’t quite figured out which battles it wants to win yet.
This week Kate has been inhaling the smell of leather