Media - Film - Sucker Punch (2011)
Snyder, Zack, Director. Sucker Punch. Legendary Pictures, 2011, BluRay.
I have to admit, this was not the first time I have seen Sucker Punch. It is also not the first time I have considered the film with an attempt to view it as a piece about trauma. Part of the reason I added Sucker Punch to my film list is that I think it was created with a very direct take on how depersonalization and dissociation present.
In a lot of ways, this film takes the exact opposite track of a film like Brothers (2009). Instead of sticking to the mundane and gritty world view and outlook, Snyder has chosen to make Sucker Punch go full throttle with Babydoll and her out of body experiences. Even at the most base reading of the film it is obvious that Babydoll, traumatized by her stepdad's implied sexual abuse and the act of accidental killing her little sister, literally takes herself into various levels of reality as a coping mechanism. For instance, just after the death of her sister, Babydoll is brought to a mental hospital, slated to be lobotomized in five short days. The deal is struck between her step father and a corrupt, slimy, orderly named Blu. In a Brechtian ploy, the movie shows a brief and mundane montage leading up to the lobotomy, however just as the pick is about to enter her eye the film cuts into the next layer of fantasy - The asylum has turned into a brothel.
Interestingly, the brothel is not the only level of fantasy that Babydoll devolves into: throughout the film, each time Babydoll puts herself and her friends in the line of fire so that they can get the keys to their escape, Babydoll leaves her body. In the brothel narrative she is performing a burlesque dance that is apparently so sexual it entrances all men who look on her, yet the audience never sees it. Instead, the scenery changes once again, to an even higher level fantasy, usually of an intense battle. The references here of war trauma and Shell Shock is obvious; one of the first fights we witness occurs in the trenches of a steampunk WWI No Man's Land.
I noticed as I was watching Babydoll closely this time, that Babydoll only speaks or acts when in high intensity situations that call for a fight or flight response. Her whole goal, even, is to flee the asylum and bring the other girls with her. To note every time Babydoll takes charge while her more rational reflection, Sweetpea, is put away would take too long. However I want to note specifically that after Sweetpea's sister, Rocket, is killed, an event that echoes Babydoll's traumatic guilt about firing the shot that killed her own sister, Babydoll has a dramatic reversion to her fantasy train robbery. At the same time, Sweetpea is taken away and locked in a padded room. Babydoll then endures the murder of her other companions, Blondie and Amber in quick succession by Blu, who then proceeds to sexally assault her. She reacts in a mostly catatonic state during this scene until she finds the knife in her hand and stabs him in a cold unfeeling way. From here she goes to free Sweetpea, who has missed all everyone's violent deaths at the hands of a man in power. In the final scenes of the film, Babydoll distracts the gaurds to allow Sweetpea time to escape, sacrificing her sense of self.
The extended cut of the movie ends with a very interesting, albeit ambiguous scene between Babydoll and the mysterious high-roller. In reality, the high roller is the man slated to perform her lobotomy. In the burlesque fantasy, he has paid a pricey sum to take her virginity. The cut scene consists of an oddly empowering fantasy by Babydoll, where the high roller asks for her consent - something unaddressed in the rest of the film. Babydoll, who at this point has watched everyone she cares for die, is seduced by the prospect of the lobotomy and completing her loss of feeling. In a lot of ways, the lobotomy represents a full shutdown on her emotional state. The scene has her embrace her sexuality on her terms, and thereby willing the doctor performing her lobotomy to do it.
The last thing we see in Babydoll's head is a vision of Sweetpea, escaping on a bus. While this ending could be interpreted on surface level, as the one positive moment, where one of the five girls escapes, there are things in the scene that ring much darker. For one thing, the ambiance of the scene, with its golden warm skies and high contrast CGI, give it an unreal feeling. For another, two characters from Babydoll's fighting fantasies appear: An old man who has guided babydoll is driving the bus, protecting Sweetpea from the officers following her, and a young boy in front of her in line, who she saw in the trenches with Shell shock. In my opinion, the way this scene is shot does not signify a happy escape for a sole survivor, but represents the part of Babydoll's emotions and rationale that is lost in the lobotomy.
All in all, I love this film. However, I also recognize that it is so complex and ambiguous that the messeges are not clear. There are so many ways to interpret what is happening, both on a literal and meta level that it can be very hard to find a concrete interpretation or messege. For instance, the tag line of the film could be read as an encouragement to stand up and fight, or as the instincts moving through a traumatized brain remaining in constant fight or flight mode:
And finally, this question: The mystery of who's story it will be. Of who draws the curtain. Who is it that chooses our steps in the dance? Who drives us mad, lashes us with whips and crowns us with victory when we survive the impossible? Who is it that does all these things? Who honours those we love with the very life we live? Who sends monsters to kill us and at the same time sings that we will never die?
Who teaches us what's real and how to laugh at lies? Who decides why we live and what We'll die to defend? Who chains us? And who holds the Key that can set us free?
You have all the weapons you need.
While I love this film, I have to acknowledge that it recieved mixed reviews, and the messeges were mixed, as people did not know entirely what they were supposed to take out of the film. In that respect, I would be interested in incorporating some of the same level of stylization and levels of conciousness employed here, as well as the iterative environments that are both the same and different each time. I will strive, however, to make the messeges less ambiguous and more open to a wider audience.
If you have time I would suggest watching this Youtube video about the movie. While the premise is a little silly, there is some really concise and well stated reasons behind why this movie was good with what it tried to do:
You can watch Sucker Punch on Youtube, Hulu, Apple TV and Prime Video.