Do you remember that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where we’re left wondering if Buffy really is the Slayer or whether she’s stuck in a mental facility?
Sucker Punch is like that episode, on steroids.
Sucker Punch has received some appalling reviews and I unfortunately allowed these to put me off seeing this on the big screen. I now strongly believe that the majority of those reviewers completely missed the point of the film.
Sucker Punch does not focus on plot or a character, this film is all about a message; be strong, take control, fight. A young woman (Emily Browning) who suffers sexual abuse at the hands of a man, presumably her stepfather, is committed to a mental facility which she is determined to escape.
That is a very loose premise of the film. Sucker Punch is so much more. This is a film about survival and this woman’s coping strategy with everything she has been through and everything she is going through.
I think the main problem with this film, and possibly the cause of the bad reviews, stems from the marketing the film received. Everywhere I look it is described as a ‘fantasy action film’ and yes, on a brief glance that is what this is, as our main character immerses herself in a fantastical world in order to fight her battles. What I feel this film is, however, is a psychological thriller.
The film is made up of three layers; first we meet this woman and her situation in what must be considered reality. Her dead mother, her little sister who she must protect and the terrifying figure of her abusive stepfather who, upon the death of her mother, turns his attentions onto her little sister. In trying to protect her, our heroine accidently kills her. Her stepfather has her committed, in order to destroy the only evidence of his abuse and allow him to take her mother’s fortune.
The second layer is a fantasy world that the woman then creates within the institute. Everything within this layer is symbolic of what is happening in her life within the institute and her history. She is an orphan named Babydoll brought into a brothel. Sex obviously features heavily in Babydoll’s life and all of it represents the abuse she has suffered. Along with the other girls in the brothel, Babydoll makes a plan for escape.
Layer three is the ‘fantasy action’ element. It is within this layer that she finds the key to escape and where she and her friends battle for their freedom. It is pivotal, I think, that she only goes into this world when erotic dancing within the brothel – it is another form of escapism from the second layer, which begs the question what the erotic dancing represents in layer one; reality.
Even her name, Babydoll, wreaks of control and sexual abuse. What I found interesting was the one male in the film who is a good man, known as the Wise Man. He appears in the third layer and shows Babydoll the way to freedom. At the beginning of the film there is talk of angels, so my immediate reaction was that this man was Babydoll’s angel. As he appears in the third layer, perhaps he represents her dead father; the only man she could trust. Then again, without wanting to give too much away, maybe Babydoll is actually the angel in this film.
This film is co-written and directed by Zack Synder, the director of 300. Similar to 300, Sucker Punch has a wonderful, twisted and dark comic book feel to it. It is beautifully shot with excellent use of colours. Each layer is visually different making it easy for the viewer to slip in and out along with Babydoll. The soundtrack is powerful and modern, adding character themes to each layer throughout the film.
This film is haunting and empowering at the same time and should leave you thinking hard by the end. The action sequences are well done and the film is very moving if you can keep up with symbolism (the provocative clothing that many reviewers are critical of, for example). This is not a popcorn eating, laid back, fantasy action romp that the marketing might have you believe. This film is all about survival, against all of the odds, no matter what, even if that survival isn’t quite what you expected.
You have the weapons.