He Said – He Said … Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch

Directed by: Zack Snyder
Cast: Emily Browning, Oscar Isaac, Carla Gugino, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Scott Glenn

PLOT: A young woman (Browning) seeks to escape the insane asylum she’s locked up in by exploring violent fantasies, featuring her friends (Hudgens, Chung, Cornish, Malone).

He Said (Aaron Ruffcorn) vs. He Said (Nick Allen)

This new edition of “He Said – He Said” introduces TSR writer Aaron Ruffcorn to our special little gamut. The topic for this round, as you’ve noticed, is Sucker Punch. Aaron thought very highly of the movie, and his opponent, Nick Allen, did not. Thus, in honor of that scene in the film where the schoolgirl with the sword fights against that massive samurai robot thing, it’s time for another valiant episode of “He Said – He Said.” As always, plot spoilers are fair game, so you’re advised to see the film before reading on. Now, fight!

Ruffcorn Said

Sucker Punch is a nuanced film — no, really, it is. Sure, the nuance gets drowned out in the middle, and any and all subtlety gets hauled into the back seat for the most brutal of make-out sessions, as the hyper-jacked mash-up escapism takes center stage, and the film does devolve there for a bit — but the film starts out nuanced and ends nuanced. Really it does.

I feel much of this film was lost on the average film critic, much like DMX is lost on my grandfather. It certainly wasn’t made for the critics. It’s rabidly apparent that Snyder made this film as a celebration piece for juvenile horn-dogs, crazy kids well-versed in handling ADHD-spiked Code Red and persistent sexual frustration. This is the ultimate geek film. I liked it. So I’m a geek then, so what?

As universal fare, I understand that Sucker Punch has major flaws, but for what it was trying to be, for who it was designed to appeal to, it really is close to flawless.

The critics who hated this film, not so much the ambivalent ones, but the critics who hated it, strike me as anachronistic, unable to tolerate the mind-numbing overkill that’s beautifully painted upon the canvas of Baby Doll’s psyche. I’d say, if you can’t handle said overkill, then you’re not a member of the target audience.

I didn’t love this film as much as I thought I would — it lost me a bit in the middle with the empty video-gamey challenge-less challenges. But the fact that this lost me, the fact that I felt it was empty, I think that dates me. I think if I were a fifteen-year-old boy, it would have been the greatest, sexiest thing I’d ever seen — and that’s cool. Hats off to Snyder for providing today’s fifteen-year-old boys with such. Just because we jaded adults perceive something as meaningless doesn’t mean that the first etchings into the tabula rasa of a teen viewer can’t be genuinely meaningful.

I haven’t read much at all regarding Snyder’s take on his Sucker Punch, but for me, this was a film primarily about: 1) the power of imagination and 2) guardian angels. Scott Glenn played the role of angel here, both to Baby Doll and to Sweet Pea, as revealed in the final scene. I liked that idea.

I’d love to rant here about Sucker Punch and its connection with the power of imagination and guardian angels (the aforementioned nuance rears its head), but I think I’ve said more than enough here to get this battle a brewin’!

Allen Said

Yes. The demographic that you’ve pointed out does indeed like their action sequences, and their skimpy female heroines. But what do they hate? The scenes in-between the good stuff during video game playtime. These pointless scenes are always so boring with their cliches and attempts at greater storytelling, especially when such a thing isn’t possible considering the plot, or IQ at play (Sucker Punch bombs in both of these regards).

I think it’s interesting that you are trying to defend Scott Glenn’s character, and I’d be curious to hear more about why you think he’s so great. Guardian angel? Not in my book. He might be some crazy connection to reality for Baby Doll, but he’s the guy who brings Sucker Punch down. There’s nothing angelic about that. He’s the informational sequence you want to skip so you can get to the fighting, which is why you bought the damn video game (or in this case, the ticket) in the first place. He’s the loading screen. He’s the trip to the bathroom. He’s the ” … ugh this game sucks, I want to skip it and get to the explosions!”

Oh, and another thing (see what I did there). I am not so sure Snyder deserves praise for making a movie for a specific demographic. Sure, if I was fifteen, I’d like Sucker Punch more. But even then, I’d be able to tell how boring everything else is in between, and how the movie does little to mask its stupidity. Even if I was fifteen, I’d still walk out of the theater asking, “What the hell was Baby Doll actually dancing like?! What the hell does a bomb train have to do with cooking?” And so on and so on. And trust me, some bits of action in Sucker Punch got me giddy (more on that later). Not as a man, but simply as a lover of action movies.

Basically, I don’t praise director Tim Hill for making Hop, a movie that will probably be loved by 7 year olds, and we shouldn’t give Snyder an extra pat on the back because he was able to get away with not making a movie, but basically a young man’s wet dream. After all, don’t the fantasies we have in our dreams make as much sense as this really expensive, really labored, really dumb movie?

Though it is funny – when you listed who this film was a “celebration for,” I identified with a lot of what you said. And I do think that I could have truly enjoyed this movie if it were better, regardless of whether I was seeing it with a more analytical mind or not. I don’t think that’s my inner fifteen year old speaking either.

So, as a supporter of the movie, do you think much of the non-action scenes have much merit? Was this a movie you walked out of after and tried to explain everything, or did you give up doing that after a while? (You’ve probably cracked it more than I have.) And really, what the hell could Baby Doll’s dance moves be like?

Ruffcorn Said

To be honest, I’m anxious to get right back to the guardian angel angle, and to speak a bit on free will and the power of imagination and other grandiose junk, but first I must parry your numerous condemnations, which, I’m sure you’d agree, reflect on how this film failed to make any real connection with you. Sucker Punch did connect with me, and truth be told, I’ve improved my arsenal here with a 2nd viewing. I really do think this film is deeper than many people are giving it credit for.

Snyder is an auteur — sure, the story-telling is confusing, and at times flawed, but for those who put a little time in, it’s there for the taking. There’s a nice open interpretability to it, which allows each viewer to take away what they want to take away. Check it out a second time, and tell me you don’t notice a lot more nuance and interconnectivity and sense. Though, with all that said, I do still have a lot of questions.

I’d originally thought of Scott Glenn’s character (Wise Man), as the film’s guardian angel, popping into Baby Doll’s mind to provide her with clear direction, with a focused goal. Perhaps a more potent connection here though, is Baby Doll as guardian angel to Sweet Pea. It could be that Wise Man was Sweet Pea’s guardian angel acting through Baby Doll, or that Wise Man was one and the same with Baby Doll, or all of the above? It’s confusing, and unknowable, and that irritates a lot of viewers I’m sure, but I ate it all up — I liked the mystery. Such is life.

I thought Wise Man was great, and felt his words of wisdom were well-penned, well-delivered and at times hilarious. They weren’t earth-shattering or epically original, far from it, I agree, but when you’re dealing with motivational-speaker material like this, you’re not going to avoid cliche. Baby Doll needed him, and that was enough for me. Perhaps I’m operating on my most primeval male instincts here, but even with Baby Doll’s expertise at dispensing with baddies, I felt she was insanely vulnerable, and I enjoyed the solace she seemed to take in being in the presence of Wise Man. I felt like she needed protection, and I felt like he provided that to her. I thought Emily Browning did an excellent job at conveying this.

Regarding Baby Doll’s mysterious never on-screen dancing. I thought this was an effective omission of the visual. All I’ve heard is criticism, and from the same camp that hates on Snyder’s over-use of the visual. There is much to be seen in that which is never shown. Serial killers, monsters, sharks, you name it, are that much scarier when they’re not seen, in the same way Baby Doll’s dancing becomes that much more powerful in that we don’t see it.

Also, dreamlike epiphanies come to mind here — I’m sure you’ve had that moment while dreaming where you stumble upon THE ANSWER to everything. No, not the number 42, but the real deal. You think, “Wow, why didn’t I think of that before? It’s so simple.” Then you wake up and it’s faded away, but you still feel like maybe it was something special. Being as that Baby Doll’s dancing happens only in her dream-world, I think this is a safe parallel to draw, that she only has to think, “And then I dance the most incredibly enticing dance EVER,” and it happens for her. It would cheapen the mechanism greatly to actually show the audience her dance, because even Zack Snyder would fall flat on his face if asked to deliver THE BEST DANCE EVER. It’s an impossible thing to show; but I don’t think that’s a shortcoming, I think it’s a strength. Especially in a film which is admittedly guilty of visual overkill.

The elements of this film that I most enjoyed, I enjoyed to the point where I was entirely willing to give Snyder a pass on the flaws. The only real flaws that I’ll concede here: a confusing story, action scenes too syrupy, and at times paper-thin characters. But in the end, this is all taking place in the head of a lobotomized girl, so it all makes perfect sense to me. Call it a cop out, call it what you will, I think it worked fine (for what it was).

I feel the target audience will greatly appreciate this film, non-action bits and all. Sure, some kids are spoilt enough to complain about the “scenes in-between the good stuff,” but I personally feel this film has very little of that.

I did think the non-action scenes had merit, yes. And yes, especially after seeing the film a second time, I realized there was a much more decipherable tale being told. There’s a lot more going on here than most people will notice. This is probably Snyder’s fault, as he’s incessantly socking the viewer with beauty and cut-cut-cut and blistering music — it’s easy to miss the many subtleties of his story with the ongoing visual/sonic assault.

Allen Said

What? Snyder is an auteur? While I do believe in directorship when it comes to categorizing and further understanding, I have never really thought of Zack Snyder to be a person who could immediately claim such a title. However, yes, because he has directed movies, I suppose that makes him an auteur. The same can be said then, just as easy for Spielberg as it is Uwe Boll.

Okay, if Snyder is an auteur, what is he really an auteur of? Confusing or lazy storytelling? (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, 300 and now this?) Or perhaps his directorship is written by the need to portray testosterone, in the form of slow motion that is used gluttonously. Either way, I respect that way you have defined Snyder, but my brain hurts a bit when I consider that THIS is his first original script. What would his authorship really be as a director without relying on previous material, especially material with a fanbase? More directly, what does it say about a director when his own original script is his worst?

This Sucker Punch debate is coming down to a point that is familiar but never wrong in the He Said/He Said column, especially. Though we see the same “visual/sonic assault,” we see very different things in it. Your second viewing of the film gives credit to “giving it a chance,” but I feel that even giving the movie a 5/10, that was my own form of giving it a chance. So yes, I do think the idea that the story doesn’t make sense because it’s during a lobotomy is a cop-out. And I do think that even the concept of “Guardian Angels,” as you have been respectfully working on, is also a lazy cop-out from Snyder, who just wants flat action figures so he can play with them on a massive budget that Warner Brothers is probably not going to give him any time soon.

As for the dance, sure, it could be something as elusive as the meaning of life, but then again, this isn’t a “Macguffin” like the suitcase in Pulp Fiction, or the suitcase in Ronin even. This is just an example, as seen rampantly throughout Sucker Punch, of Snyder running out of ideas, and trying to blind his audience with an onslaught that he hopes will play into our simplest of movie-enjoying impulses. Instead, our brains have been destroyed too much by his movie. Sucker Punch is in one way or the other, a lobotomy in itself.

Now, to wrap this thing up – I gave this movie a 5/10. What would you have given it score wise, and what did you think of the soundtrack? Anything else you’d like to say before this chapter of He Said/He Said is brought to a close?

Ruffcorn Said

OK, I’ll admit I threw “auteur” out there as a bit of bait, but I do believe Snyder is an auteur, at least in the sense that his films are visually characterized by his creative influence — I don’t think that’s arguable. The moniker may be premature, but I think he’s well on his way to deserving the title.

I wrote in my first entry, that the film lost me during some of the action segments, but that wasn’t the case the second time through, at all. I was dialed in.

Contrary to some reviews I’ve read, the film does differentiate between what happens in the asylum and what happens in the brothel. I didn’t get that as much during my first viewing, but going in knowing what to expect, my mind was better primed to pick up on the subtle hints here and there — and they most certainly are there.

My take on the film is now: Baby Doll was committed to the asylum, learned that she had just five days to escape before a scheduled lobotomy, and in those five days she somehow stole a lighter, a knife, the map and the key, and freed the girl we know in the brothel as Sweet Pea. How she does it all is not the two hours traffic for our stage — how her lobotomized mind recounts it, that is what we are shown. There is no happy ending, there is only Baby Doll in “paradise” imagining the guardian angel further helping Sweet Pea to her freedom. There is only Baby Doll’s mangled mind hoping that Sweet Pea actually made it all the way back home.

Baby Doll’s “paradise” is a world where she dreams she has the power to dance incredibly, and in her dreams twice-removed, has the power to defy any and all forces opposed (gravity, time, death). Her dream-worlds are not without kinks though, as this is her mind recounting her last five days of reality, amplified tenthousandfold.

I enjoyed the music in the film a lot, enough to purchase the soundtrack. In the same way the film appealed to me more after a 2nd viewing, the soundtrack grew on me as well. Emily Browning lent her voice to a few of the songs, and I think she has a really nice voice. I also enjoyed the remixed Bjork (which played over my favorite scene). Overall, I found the soundtrack to be the working man’s version of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. Quite a few rungs below such, but still really good. Snyder must be a big fan of Baz, seems fairly obvious.

I’d give Sucker Punch an 8/10. It’s not perfect, certainly, but all in all I was very impressed with Snyder’s creative vision. I was surprised as to how successfully the critics stopped this one in its tracks. Sans critics, I think this film would have done at least twice as well at the box office. In the end, it’s certain to garner a huge cult following — that’s another comment you can file away under “unarguable.”

Apparently, there’s some countless number of jaded/bitter critics out there — not to include my Scorecard Review brethren, you guys were fair — but this film received so many biting reviews, mean-spirited and soulless, I’d call ’em. I was entirely shocked as to how many critics truly hated this film. I cannot relate in the slightest to the critics who called this film exploitative, demeaning, or misogynistic. It’s as misogynistic as Twain’s “Huck Finn” is racist. Get over it.

Thankfully, I’m still fresh enough to this world where beauty (feminine and otherwise) and satisfactorily employed music do act as effective stand-ins for story and depth and dialogue. “Sacrilege!” Many will call for my head.

Allen Said

Bravo, Ruffcorn, for providing a tangible explanation of Sucker Punch. I agree that some critics wrote it off far too easily, some of them grossly exaggerating how unbearable it is. I remember one critic saying he wished he could have killed himself early on in the movie, and hearing later that another critic had remarked that “I’ll have what she’s having!” during the lobotomy scene at the end. Amusing gestures, but I’m not entirely sure this movie really deserved it.

I think it’s possible that people are easily turned off by their “confusion,” especially for something that may or may not look like it immediately warrants extra thought. You think Sucker Punch is worth extra thought, and it seems you’ve debunked some of the confusing aspects of it. (Or maybe not, but I definitely have a better idea of the connections within the story because of what you have said).

Sucker Punch does have some things going on in its head, but it’s mostly startling because it’s so inane. I personally don’t like Snyder’s technique of making action movies into mixtapes, as he does with 300 and as he does with his material here.

Again, I gave this movie a 5/10, something that I feel also allows me some leeway to continue to wrestle with this movie. That being said, I’m not sure when and why I’d rewatch it again. Maybe a couple of action sequences, to admire the choreography, but … eh. At least it’s not Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. I’m not sure anyone can really enjoy that movie.

10 Comments

  1. Arcanadromeda says:

    Hey guys
    I wonder if you could add your stance on the film’s message about being heroic in the do-gooder way.
    Doing sacrifices.
    I read that by Zack the film was intended to have another ending.
    There was a wooden cross (dare I say crucifix) being nailed in front of a black hole in the wall which to me looked like the burned out corridor .. the escape tunnel.
    So yeah there’s a wooden cross and Baby Doll being the martyr.
    Just my imagination about what this stands for when talking about what Zack wanted for the film’s ending?

    Another thing I’m constantly missing in pretty much every review is the not-too-subtle message of Zack about “It’s a man’s world”.
    Could that and the fact the protagonists are females pose a thorn to many critics written by men?
    Probably it’s all too obvious to touch that matter …

    Thanks for your quality feedback

  2. Hi Arcanadromeda. Thanks for the comment.

    There’s so much to discuss about Sucker Punch, and I would have liked to address more in the article proper, but it was already of epic length, so I had to call it there. I wanted to speak more on free will, and on employing such to do good, and on guardian angels and the notion of self-sacrifice, etc. You raise some good points/questions along similar lines. I’d say this film is definitely about sacrifice; personal sacrifice for the greater good. I loved the scene when Baby Doll re-envisions their attempted escape from the brothel, when she becomes the beautiful diversion allowing Sweet Pea to skate through the heavily guarded front gates. I liked Baby Doll’s words there too. “Go home and live a normal life. Love. Be free. You have to live for all of us now.”

    Here’s another Sucker Punch subtlety which was lost on the average viewer: Where Baby Doll accidentally killed her little sister, Sweet Pea went out of her way to protect hers, even to the point of somehow getting herself locked away in the same asylum as her sister. This endears Sweet Pea to Baby Doll like no other, as Sweet Pea represents everything Baby Doll wishes she could be (a really great big sister). Sweet Pea is a guardian angel, of sorts, to her little sister (Rocket), and what would be more appealing to Baby Doll than someone who makes up for her most dreaded lack, someone who is living solely to protect a little sister — as vibrantly contrasted to Baby Doll, who accidentally killed hers. There’s a magical bond between Baby Doll and Sweet Pea. This is exemplified when they first meet, Baby Doll’s eyes glaze over in admiration, as if she can instantly see that this is the most heroic girl of her dreams. Baby Doll reveres the guardian angel that Sweet Pea is to Rocket, and in seeing Sweet Pea as the perfect being, worthy of the ultimate sacrifice, Baby Doll in turn becomes guardian angel to Sweet Pea, mimicking her sacrifice — in this she finds redemption for the accidental killing of her own sister. It’s a really cool relationship/device that Snyder’s employed here, and it’s too bad that it gets a little lost in the shuffle of the CGI extravaganza. But oh well, still cool.

    I don’t have too much to add to any of the gender-based commentaries. I’ve heard comments from both sides, that this film is anti-male, and that it’s anti-female. I don’t see either. Baby Doll is dressed scantily for two reasons: 1) because this is filmed entertainment, and an audience must be found, tickets must be sold, and the more the merrier, and 2) Baby Doll herself is imagining herself in these clothes, this was her choice on how she wanted to look. Girls want boys to find them attractive, heck, girls want to be attractive period — so it stands to reason that Baby Doll would envision herself in a way to garner the most attention, even if it is from cyborgs and giant demonic samurai, etc. Who knows when Mr. Right might come along, right? The men in this film, in general, are vile. This is not a commentary on men, this is a perfect device for establishing an awesome group of femme fatales. I loved watching these girls dish it out, but I’m not going to call upon the done-to-death “empowered women” cliche, I’m so tired of that, people always mention it like it’s a new idea — I love empowered women, and I love sunsets, and both have been around forever. These girls, especially Emily Browning, kicked major ass, but this was nothing shocking or new — girls kick ass, period. If any men or women were offended by the portrayal of their particular gender in Sucker Punch, I’d say they’re hugely over-sensitive fools, who need to stop resting so much of their identity on their gender. It’s not men vs. women, it’s good vs. evil.

    I’m excited for the dvd release, to check out any alternate endings, deleted scenes, commentary, etc. Snyder definitely has some explaining to do, but I think it’s cool that he’s left it up to the audience to enter their own “paradise” to figure it all out.

  3. Bob says:

    There is also a fairly dark take that her “dancing” is actually a transformation of assault in the hospital, possibly in order to help facilitate the theft of the items. The high fantasy sequences are to even further off-set these horrors.

    There is also the theme of self sacrifice and escape as BD realises she is too broken to escape and live in the real world and can only escape via lobotomy after assisting SP. Hence the (cut) scene of her voluntarily giving herself to the High Roller (Doctor).

    All in all a very disturbing but compelling movie.

  4. Hi Bob,

    Interesting additions to this post — thanks for the comment.

    Like I said, I’m anxious for the arrival of the dvd, to (hopefully) catch up on some of the MPAA-cut material, etc. I hope Snyder takes his time with all the extra features — it would be really cool if he could use the dvd format to expand on the film a bit more.

  5. Dave says:

    Loved this movie, just saw it a second time. As Bob mentions, the dancing is meant to imply that she is either seducing or being raped by the guards while the other girls use the diversion to steal the items. That is her “fight” as represented by the action sequences, the fantasies that play out in her mind as the assaults take place in the real world. She is told in the beginning that she already has the weapons that she will need. Her sword and her gun are her sexuality and she uses it to achieve the necessary goals.

    But what about the ending scene when Sweet Pea is at the bus station? Did that really happen? Did Sweet Pea really escape or even really exist, or was it all part of Baby Doll’s imagination that SP got away? When the Polish psychiatrist tells Dr. Lobotomy about the trouble BD has caused at the mental ward, she does say that BD helped another patient to escape, yet the bus stop scene had all of the indications of being imaginary. Scott Glenn was there and he saved Sweet Pea from the cops (why would a real bus driver do that?), the kid in line in front of her was one of the “doughboy” soldiers that Blondie shared a moment with at the beginning of the WWI fantasy, and did anyone catch the bill-board for “Paradise Diner” that the bus rolls past at the end? Remember the guards kept saying that BD would be in “paradise” after she was labotomized? I think that the whole bus scene was also supposed to be in BD’s head just during or immediately after the labotomy. Maybe it means that Sweet Pea never really escaped, or maybe it means that Baby Doll is fantasizing about what might have happened to Sweet Pea. After all, if the rest of the movie is all from BD’s point of view or in her mind, how would she (and therefore how would we) have any way of knowing what really happened to Sweet Pea on the outside?

    And then of course there were stunningly beautiful young women in skimpy fetish clothes with assault rifles and kitanas. And a chrome plated .45 with a cell phone charm! What a great f**king movie! I can’t wait for the Blue Ray!

  6. Hi Dave, thanks for the comment.

    Nice to hear from someone else who enjoyed the film enough to see it twice. I’ve seen it a few times now, and every time I pick up on some new subtlety. I’ve enjoyed reading other forums and discussions on the interpretation of what’s really happening in this film, and I think it’s cool how open ended it is. Life is mysterious, so why shouldn’t this film be too? Heard a line the other day that really struck me: “if you gut the mystery from reality, you gut the truth.” Good stuff, and applicable here, I think.

    Regarding your 2nd paragraph, here’s what I’d written in the article proper:

    “Baby Doll was committed to the asylum, learned that she had just five days to escape before a scheduled lobotomy, and in those five days she somehow stole a lighter, a knife, the map and the key, and freed the girl we know in the brothel as Sweet Pea. How she does it all is not the two hours traffic for our stage — how her lobotomized mind recounts it, that is what we are shown. There is no happy ending, there is only Baby Doll in “paradise” imagining the guardian angel further helping Sweet Pea to her freedom. There is only Baby Doll’s mangled mind hoping that Sweet Pea actually made it all the way back home.”

    That’s my take on it anyway. Cheers!

  7. Cells3aus says:

    I seriously believe that the movie used such a beautiful concept and ruined it.
    The movie’s use of Imagination and Music to drive one’s spirit was very good, to be honest, but the movie lacked everything and nothing about it.
    You don’t play the same tune over and over and have a completely diffrent imagination from it.

    “Transfixed, like the shadow on the wall. The world around me drops away and is replaced by worlds being created and destroyed by my imagination.” -??? (Star Trek)

    And they should’ve thrown this tune in there. Could’ve made the movie MUCH better.

    Sucker Punch – Unknown Error

  8. Has anyone checked out the extended cut yet? Just came out on BD/DVD yesterday.

    Stoked!

  9. ewak07 says:

    Saw it yesterday, wish the cut scenes were more interesting…although one small scene was enlightening; when BD attempts to shoot the stepfather in the beginning, there was a second shot fired that was cut…it went through the stepfather’s forearm and this was the bullet that killed her sister. And speaking of angels, maybe the lobotomist was BD’s angel…taking her away from her horror in reality and putting her in “paradise”. Could be why she looked at him and smiled. And going off a previous comment that Snyder might have gone in a religious direction, maybe the Wise Man was God, BD was a Christ figure and Sweet Pea represented mankind(or woman kind)worth saving. Anyways, lots of details missing but more stuff to think about.

  10. Interesting thoughts, Ewak. Thanks for the note.

    I’m gonna check out BD on BD this weekend, really excited to watch all the special features, etc.

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