Sucker Punch, by Albert W. Vogt III

Certain directors have a definite style to how they go about crafting the movies with which they are involved. Yesterday I reviewed Jurassic Park (1993), which was directed by Steven Spielberg. His films tend toward the epic, with dramatic scores, lots of wide-angle shots, and heroic characters. That might be too nebulous of a description for some. After all, Spielberg is not the only filmmaker who uses such techniques, though his works do have a certain flavor. What about Zack Snyder? It is a little easier to recognize when you are watching one of his films. One of which I have already reviewed, The Watchmen (2009), is a perfect example of his approach to presenting moving pictures. It is dark in every sense of the word, both in lighting and content. And they are violent. If that is your thing, and there are plenty of fans of Snyder out there, then more power to you I guess. I find his movies to be a little redundant. The most clever of them, though, is Sucker Punch (2011).

Despite being non-linear in its story-telling mode (which I typically despise), Sucker Punch tones down its complexity without being pedestrian. It operates on three levels. The first are the traumatic experiences of Babydoll (Emily Browning). Upon the death of her mother (Kelora Clingwall), her step-father (Gerard Plunkett) begins abusing her and her sister (Frederique De Raucourt). When Babydoll’s sister is killed by her stepfather, she is blamed for the death and sent to an asylum for the criminally insane. In the process of her being taken in to the facility, we see everything she believes she needs to escape and all the characters that will be instrumental in her plan. And then it cuts to her lobotomy. Just before the final blow is delivered by the doctor/High Roller (Jon Hamm), we are treated to the second level of the story. This is a fantasy world that Babydoll creates for for herself in order to deal with the anguish of being detained against her will in such an awful place. In this creation, she is a new dancer/prostitute at a club run by the facility’s warden, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac). Her strategy for breaking out involves collecting a set of items: a map of the building; a lighter to start a fire and create a diversion; a knife for protection while on the run; and Blue’s key to open all the doors. There is a fifth item that remains a mystery, but it is crucial to her emancipation. These are all revealed to her in the third level of the film, that being a further dreamscape she conjures while dancing, where a Wise Man (Scott Glenn) guides her as to what she needs to do to gain her freedom. These involve a series of adventures where her and her fellow inmates fight their way through a set of chaotic battle scenes in order to obtain the components for their hoped for liberation. The main comrade in these attempts is Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blue’s favorite. Everything goes to plan until Blue discovers the plot and begins summarily executing Babydoll’s confederates one-by-one until she is forced to act. With only her and Sweet Pea left, they make it out to the front gate where there are a group of guards gathered. It is here that Sweet Pea realizes the last piece of the puzzle: herself. She sacrifices herself by distracting the guards, allowing Sweet Pea to get away. Thus we get back to the first level where Babydoll undergoes the lobotomy. Never fear, though, because the doctor recognizes the defiance in her eyes, which was different from the defeated nature of others on whom he had performed this procedure. This causes him to question what Blue is doing at this facility, and the warden’s abuses are exposed.

The idea of sacrifice as seen in Sucker Punch is something I have covered in many films already. As such, the Catholic in me applauds Babydoll’s act to save Sweet Pea from the torture of the asylum. What I would like to talk a little bit more about instead is the fantasy realm that she creates for herself. While I would rather have seen her turn to God, there is something to be said about the coping mechanism she chooses. Then again, it could just be that she is crazy, although the film suggests that this is not necessarily the case (or at least driven to temporary insanity by her abusive stepfather). There an interesting line by Kanye West in a song by Common called “They Say,” where the former comments that, “. . . God don’t ever give me nothin’ I can’t handle,” and this before he made his Christian album. Anyway, the sentiment holds true here as well. By handling it as she does, Babydoll is able to transcend her captivity and make a triumph out of it.

Sucker Punch is not for everyone. It has a PG-13 rating, which is a step down from Snyder’s usual fare, though the way the women are dressed in the film most of the time is borderline soft pornography. No nudity, though, so that is something. As I mentioned, it is an interesting way to tell a story. It can easily be watched and forgotten about just as quickly. Nonetheless, it stands out as my favorite of Snyder’s movies.

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