My interpretation of Sucker Punch
by Mr. Nobel
After watching Sucker Punch for the third time, I realized that I had been too quick to dismiss Zack Snyder’s film when it came out. Yes, the film’s still a failure – anything that turns off that many critics and viewers can’t be called a success – but it’s, at the very least, an interesting failure.
See, Sucker Punch, at heart, is the feminist tale that Snyder and company had been pitching but with a modern twist. Despite the ostensibly 1950s setting of the actual plot, Sucker Punch is actually about how sexism and gender biases have migrated from the real world into the internet, similar to how The Social Network explored how classism and socioeconomic hierarchies translated onto the internet. I bet that’s the first time you’ve seen Sucker Punch compared to The Social Network in a sentence with no punchline.
To break this down further, consider how the plot is organized. We are presented three, separate strands of reality for Baby Doll and company: there’s the Tim Burton meets A Tale of Unfortunate Events style mental asylum, there’s the blue-balling brothel slash raunchy cabaret and there’s the video game/anime inspired dreamscape. Borrowing some terminology from Inception, let’s label the transition from the asylum to the brothel Jump 1 and the transition from the brothel to the video game/anime Jump 2.
Jump 1: From the real world to the internet
The jump from the asylum to the brothel is, bizarrely, presented as an escape for all those making that transition. Which is to say, the women make that cognitive leap of their own volition. Bizarre logic, if we’re to consider the film literally, but, within the context of this interpretation, it kind of makes sense. The first jump in the film is a metaphor for going on the internet – folks are able to leave/detach themselves from their physical and real identities and assume a wholly self-made one.
That’s why the fat cook suddenly becomes the mayor, and the sleazy orderly assumes the role of head pimp.
Where this jump assumes value as a feminist argument is in how the female characters emerge in this heightened reality – the women go from mental ward patients to…cabaret dancers and prostitutes. Once this jump is explicated on paper (or on your monitor), it sounds a lot more…satirical, or at least pointed than it felt while watching the movie. Here, in Zack Snyder’s brothel version of the internet, the men are able to be freed from their earthly shackles while the women, or at least those who still self-identify as women, remain objectified and subjugated.
Jump 2: From the internet to pop culture
This second jump is a little trickier to piece together, but the clues are in how these narrative jumps are introduced in the story. Baby Doll (and the audience) shifts from the brothel to the dream world when she starts doing her thang, i.e. dancing (allegedly, very) sexily off screen. This, being a cabaret, is what the men in the audience are paying to see. Hence, the dreamworld loosely represents what we go onto the internet to view. In this case, it’s anime and video games.
So, the interaction in the brothel world analogized communication between genders on the internet. What’s the purpose of this third world?
The third world has a stunningly similar literal purpose to the second world: it’s all about watching women be exploited for our entertainment. That’s right, Snyder’s trying to say that not only do we bring (and perhaps embiggen) patriarchal tendencies to the internet, but that the crap we do on the internet is all about degrading women for our amusement as well. In other words, girls get debased by internet geeks on the internet so that they can consume pop culture material that’s all about how girls get debased by people for the audience’s entertainment. And, we, the audience, are forced to assume the role of the high roller watching Baby Doll and company dance and then fight waves of baddies while scantily clad to appease our sick, twisted fantasies.
Yet, with this expanded interpretation and appreciation of Sucker Punch’s thematic content, I still wouldn’t call Sucker Punch a good film. Snyder’s biggest gaff is that he made the whole film far too impenetrable and oblique, to the point that the movie resembles the exploitative cultural diarrhea it’s making a stand against. Snyder and crew took the story far too seriously and literally for this expanded interpretation to be obvious on the first view.
All of this meticulous plotting is then wrapped around some really clumsy storytelling gambits (e.g. the Inception style cold jumps between the multiple realities and the crappy narration) so that the film feels less like a carefully thought out experience and more like the contents of Snyder’s masturbation material projected onto the film reels. Sucker Punch is ultimately a film with some interesting ideas that never manages to figure out quite how to communicate those ideas to the audience, and if it really wanted to be a thought-provoking drama or a gonzo bit of escapist pop culture.
Definitely worth a second chance, if only to admire the movie’s dense visual composition and artwork.