Sucker Punch, part 2
The missions are a fascinating study all on their own, due to the girls slowly becoming less and less successful as the mission goals become increasingly difficult. For example, the old man / mission commander / guardian angel warns Babydoll in the very first (and most successful) battle to try to stay alive. She ends up destroying not just the oni, but also a temple. Later the girls are warned up front in the first mission to try to work as a team. They don’t, and several of them are isolated and almost die: Rocket & Babydoll specifically — only by heroic scrambling do they manage to keep each other alive. In another mission they’re warned to not wake up the “mother” — but the girls end up killing both an adult dragon and her offspring. The final mission, which fails and ends in Rocket’s death, is to protect an entire city — and in the end the girls cannot stop the bomb in time.
So Babydoll destroys first a temple — religion did not protect her, after all — and then later the girls slaughter a mother and infant; clearly they are all motherless and cannot empathize with either the sleeping baby dragon or the grief-stricken parent. Admittedly, the mother is a fire-breathing dragon doing her best to kill them all for the murder of her child… but what does that say about the girls’ respective parents, and the protection they should have been able to receive from family? It’s no surprise, in a way, to see the entire city go up in the final atomic blast: what is religion, what are families and communities, to girls who have been utterly abandoned by all of society?
Another small grace note that wasn’t really understandable until later was the narrator’s introductory commentary regarding guardian angels: that they can appear as an old man or a child — and as the narrator spoke, you were looking down from the ceiling directly at Babydoll’s back, where she sat tensely on her bed waiting for news of her dying mother. I suspect that was our clue that she was, at least part of the time, embodying Sweet Pea’s guardian angel. There was also a wonderfully mind-bending moment in the brothel “level” of mental escapism, where the camera was looking over the shoulders of the girls as they sat at their dressing tables in front of the big, well-lit make-up mirrors. Just as you realized what you were seeing was the reflection of the girls rather than the girls themselves… the camera swooped forward, gliding through one of the mirrors — and you were looking at the girls’ backs as they sat in front of their mirrors again! Very “through the looking glass” there.
One other weirdly cool and surprising bit: the tools for one version of the “sucker punch” — the spike and hammer — were subtly present directly up front, right from the very beginning, in the stylized writing of the poster titles. Sweet Pea also warned us at the very beginning of her first talking scene that she was the hero of the story, in a nice bit of foreshadowing that had her symbolically assuming and refusing Babydoll’s impending lobotomy.
All those things tell a little bit about why I enjoyed the movie so, although they aren’t the sum of my enjoyment. Another thing I liked, which may or may not have been deliberate on the part of the director, was the theme of the search for Paradise — both physically and through personal redemption. For example, the girls talked about their yearning for freedom even if the price was death, and at one point we saw Sweet Pea (the only girl reluctant to risk everything) had a wine bottle labeled “Paradise” on her dressing table — it seemed appropriate she’d search first for freedom at the bottom of a bottle.
Ultimately the women all won through to their versions of Paradise, though the cost was very high. Dr./Madam Gorski brought in the authorities to stop Blue when she realized he’d forged her signature authorizing Babydoll’s lobotomy. Babydoll herself not only defeated the obsessive plotting of Blue and her stepfather, but she also redeemed herself not being able to save her little sister earlier — by rescuing Rocket and freeing Sweet Pea, who had also initially sacrificed herself to successfully rescue her little sister Rocket. Babydoll’s paradise occurred because she was willing to sacrifice herself; she was no long forced to live in a world where she was utterly alone, saddled with the guilt of accidentally murdering her beloved little sister. Rocket returned the favor of being rescued, by martyring herself in saving her big sister’s life; Sweet Pea got to return home to her family, and her bus (driven by her guardian angel in the form of the old man who organized all the earlier missions) passed a 50’s style sign announcing Paradise ahead soon.
Yes, it was the lobotomy. There’s several things that fit together there that make it a complete horror for me.
I think that it needed to be there – even probably needed to be on-screen – for the dramatic impact and the story… but I really, really didn’t want to see it.
I kept hoping it wasn’t going to happen. If I wasn’t enjoying the rest of it as much as I did, and didn’t really want to see the end, I’d have left. As I said, nightmare-inducing. The idea of being trapped within myself has always been a particular horror, and having it forcibly done is truly awful.
It says something for my wanting to see the completion and the end of the film that I did stay. And I think I need to go think about other things now.
Well put! That’s sort of my point in this review: effectively, we see what we bring to the metaphoric table, and we can choose whether we are disgusted or delighted. I wanted the latter; to be inspired. :)
If you can say: was it the disturbing imagery at the end — the one that squicked you — that was the “powerful images in the film that bothered [you], and made [you] unwilling to think too deeply about parts of it”?
Hmm. I admit, while watching the film, I didn’t get any of these symbols. I won’t deny they were there, but I have a hard time concluding that this is what something means or why it was put in. I’d have to ask the director and/or writer, and that might ruin it.
Highly symbolic subjects like this are interesting because they can be interpreted by each viewer as different things and having different importances.
For instance, I didn’t place much emphasis on the death of the mother and/or child; I saw the important message there as the warning to listen and follow directions. I didn’t see the bomb exploding the city as relevant (I thought they saved the city, that the bomb blew up too soon), but the loss of a team member as the key aspect.
As I said, it’s almost better not to know what was planned, and to find your own meaning and strength from what you see. If you ask “what did you mean?” it might lessen or contradict the meaning you found, and for no reason. Each viewer brings their own perspective and can get their own messages.
That may be a reason some didn’t like the film; they didn’t understand what they were “supposed” to get, and have little experience bringing their own views to something.
Others might have been disturbed by the concepts and unwilling to find anything good about an infanticide – even if it is a dragon – or about the girls deaths.
Others might be offended or upset to see pretty girls “used” this way, and be unable to see past the idea that this is just cheesecake or action-porn. (I feel sorry for these people.)
There’s a set of powerful images in the film that bothered me, and made me unwilling to think too deeply about parts of it, but I still found it a very good movie and appreciated the incredible effort that went into it. Even if I don’t want to see it again.
Well, you certainly got a lot more out of the film than I did. I’m glad of that. I wish I could have seen the movie through your eyes, but I guess that’s what makes us all individuals. I don’t know if you listen to my podcast, but we did a show about objectification with a guest who does pin-up art and burlesque shows, and we talked a bit about Sucker Punch and the things that bothered me about it. http://www.simplysyndicated.com/sb66_86objectification/ I’d be interested in your take on the subject.