VidCritz: 'Sucker Punch' Reconsidered

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by Matt Singer
January 30, 2013 12:35 PM
6 Comments
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"Sucker Punch."

VidCritz is Criticwire's home for interesting video essays and criticism. Because, really, who wants to read? 

Whether you loved or hated Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch," you didn't understand it. That's the message (and the title) of a new video essay on the film by /Film's Adam Quigley. And here it is:

Quigley's main argument is that no one has fully recognized what's "really" going on in the film -- namely that everything we see onscreen is a fantasy, including the base level of reality where the character named Babydoll is institutionalized at a mental hospital by her evil stepfather. In fact, Quigley says, that's all taking place in the mind of another character named Sweet Pea, a mind that is about to be lobotomized. And when we see Sweet Pea *almost* get lobotomized early in the film, she actually does; the entirety of "Sucker Punch" is her character's attempt to disassociate from that trauma. 

Given that line of thinking I may still not get it; if the whole movie is a fantasy, how do we know the one scene with Sweet Pea's almost-lobotomy is real? But let's assume I buy Quigley's argument. My next question: is it possible to understand "Sucker Punch" and still kind of hate it? Because I think that's where I'm at.

All of the other things Quigley says Snyder's trying to do -- upend our notions of reality and fantasy, interrogate the gender inequality of the past, encourage women to "stand together in all their erotic glory -- are definitely present in "Sucker Punch," but that doesn't change the fact that the movie's also self-indulgent, meandering, and frankly kind of boring. Even with those themes, it's still an awful lot of style for what amounts to some pretty meager substance.

That said, I love when someone defends a movie I (and lots of other people) don't care for; after all, I'm the dude that wrote a celebration of "Junior" a few weeks ago. So while I can't join Quigley in his quixotic quest to redeem "Sucker Punch" (and while the tone of his video essay seems designed to shame me into feeling stupid), I like the fact that he's trying.

Read more of "VIDEO: You Don't Understand 'Sucker Punch.'"

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6 Comments

  • Alex | January 31, 2013 4:04 AMReply

    I think you always have to consider that if nobody "gets" your deeper meaning or satire, it's hard to tell, if it's there at all. You could defend anything with the argument that people "just don't get it". That might be okay for the "lucky" few who can consider themselves initiates, but it's all the same to those who didn't like the film for whatever reason.

  • petros | January 30, 2013 6:50 PMReply

    The analysis of the film, even if we add the extra layer of fantasy does not offer anything beyond the obvious. The "feminist" idea is obviously and simplistically apparent in the film and it is as deep as it is in Tomb Raider. The extra narrative complication added by the lobotomy fantasy does not add anything to it. The critics trashed the film because it is bad, not because they didn't get it. It is really not that hard to get. The idea of Zack Snyder as a feminist advocate is really stretched. I also don't get the 300 comparison. Who ever said 300 was a good film? In my humble opinion Snyder has interesting but superficial style and absolutely no taste.
    "Because, really, who wants to read?"
    Seriously? You might want to try it sometime friend.

  • Tyler Foster | January 30, 2013 4:06 PMReply

    The problem, as I noted on Matt's fb share of this article, with Scott's argument is that even if the movie is about many of those ideas, it fails to convey any of them to the viewer on a pretty spectacular level.

    I'm not sure that I agree Snyder's trying to talk about whether women can be sexy at the same time as kicking ass, and if it is, I kind of think that detracts from the message. I think it's a more basic message about sexualization of women being used to cover up empowerment, that they could use their roles at the burlesque club as a way to escape. It's more like, "are people so blinded by the sexualization of women that they ignore their autonomy and power," but as seen in theaters, Sucker Punch fails to draw a line between the audience in the burlesque club, who are the ones being "distracted," and that base male viewer of the film. Beyond that, the amount of style and flash used in the action sequences actually invites those viewers to enjoy the film in the exact opposite way than it was intended. On top of that, it undercuts its entire message of female empowerment with the Scott Glenn character, without whom their liberation is not possible. At the end of the movie, despite Abbie Cornish's freedom, she's still a weakling, afraid to stand up to herself even at a bus station until Glenn steps in.

    (I also just plain dislike Snyder's idea of action, his color palette, the visual design of the movie, and the fact that he rips off one of my all-time favorite movies with the ending, but that's another story...)

  • Brian | January 30, 2013 3:55 PMReply

    "Sucker Punch is the result of a lobotomy" should've been on the poster.

  • Ti | January 30, 2013 3:39 PMReply

    Interesting, but I agree more with Singer on this one. However, I felt the same way as Quigley did when The Fountain first came out.

  • Scott Mendelson | January 30, 2013 12:47 PMReply

    I spent most of 2011 vigorously defending Sucker Punch on the grounds that A) its action scenes are fantastic and B) it's a brutally scathing and angry condemnation of institutionalized sexism, with an added look at how geek-culture indulges in it while pretending to be better/different from the norm. But while I think it's some kind of almost masterpiece and an incredibly challenging piece of work ('can a female action heroine be empowering when the very idea of a female doing action can be seen as sexually appealing?'), it does not entirely work as a motion picture, especially the compromised theatrical version. Having said that, I think there is a big difference between not 'getting' the movie and not liking it. Too many of the pans back in 2011 were from critics/audiences unwilling to see past the surface level imagery (young women in short skirts... it's obviously a masturbatory fantasy!) to even bother to see what the movie was actually about. In a skewed way, the knee-jerk critical response to the film was tantamount to presuming that a woman who is attractive is automatically stupid. So yes, one can certainly hate Sucker Punch for its failing as a film (however much I might disagree with that), but I do think condemnation is deserved for those who refuse to acknowledge the text and/or meanings behind much of mainstream popcorn cinema while then complaining that all big studio concoctions are brainless.

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