Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch [2011]

MPAA (PG-13), CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Mike Phillips (0 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Mike Phillips review

Sucker Punch, directed by Zack Snyder of 300 fame, is another recently released movie that’s probably inappropriately rated PG-13. The fetishized dress of the central (female) characters (though without any nudity), spectacular (though again stylized) violence, and "life is like an insane asylum/brothel" theme would make an R-rating seem much more appropriate. Still, the movie runs like a 2 hour music video and actually pulses with hard, head banging music throughout. So the dress and "life can suck," teenage "angst" thematics would not seem altogether strange to anyone who’s grown up over the last 40 years or spent at least some of that time as a fan of  the music television channels MTV or VH-1. Still, I wonder how much simpler/better the movie could have been if the film-makers had decided to just accept an R-rating and then used the same technology, fireworks and thematics to just tell a good story without seeking to "get away" with anything.

What’s Sucker Punch about? Well the plot could be summarized in this way: After the death of her mother, a young (teenage) girl is sent by her (step)father to said insane asylum/brothel. The movie is about her attempt, indeed campaign, to escape.

Now one could assume that this young girl was really sent by her (step)father to an insane asylum/brothel, but then one would not understand this movie at all (or understand the music of the last 40 or so years, from heavy metal to rap). The "asylum/brothel" and even "the crisis" that landed her there are _all_ best understood as symbolic.

Yes, life _can_ at times seem senseless (like an insane asylum) or a like a game (like a brothel). And anyone who’s ever listened to, been a fan of Pink Floyd / Supertramp, etc or, been simultaneously attracted to / scandalized by the sexualized lyrics of either AC/DC (heavy metal) or 50 cent (rap) would understand that teens/young people have been absorbing and utilizing this imagery since at least the 1960s. And lest one get upset about that, let us appreciate that both Desert (fallenness, senselessness) and Prostitution imagery have been present throughout the Bible from the journey of the Exodus to the Prophets (Hosea, et al) to the Book of Revelation (always disturbing and yet always one of the Christian Bible’s most popular books).

The young girl, nick-named Baby Doll (played by Emily Browning), is given two guides, one in this world (female, Dr. Vera Gorski, played by Carla Gugino), one in her dreams (male, nicknamed "Wise Man", played by Scott Glenn) to help her escape.

Her female guide in this world tells her ‘to dance,’ and _while she dances_ to see this as an opportunity to seek her freedom. This advice too, can be taken in two ways. Taken in a crass/literal way (which also assumes that the protagonist is literally in an insane asylym/brothel would understand the advice to be that given to a young prostitute to encourage her to "split" emotionally from her "work." Taken symbolically, however, the advice is far more useful. Telling the protagonist to "dance with the music," is to tell the her go on with her work, schooling, day-to-day business. But telling her to also "seek her freedom while dancing" here is to tell her to also use one's time to "work on a plan" to find a way out of the situation that she is in.

Her spiritual guide, who first appears to her in the guise of an Eastern martial arts guru sets her on a "quest" in search of (1) a map, (2) some fire, (3) a knife, (4) a key and (5) a fifth element which is "a mystery" but involves "sacrifice." Each of these elements has obvious symbolic meanings, and represent elements needed in assembling a "plan of escape."

The protagonist convinces a few of her in/brothel mates (whether or not they actually are in an insane asylum or brothel) to join her on her quest to escape the senselessness/oppression of the "insane asylum/brothel" that they find themselves in.

Each time, while the protagonist "dances" (_never_ actually shown) a fantastic battle involving all concerned takes place.

There are a couple of plot twists that take place that can’t be revealed without ruining the story but it can be said that while not all in her party are able make it free, a number do.

The whole story is played out in vivid, stylized ‘dreamlike’ sequences that make last year's wunder-film Inception look like a stick figure cartoon.  Each of these 'dream sequences' is actually a period piece incorporating both actual and popular cultural elements from the period in the sequence. They are then mixed / "mashed" in a IMHO fascinating way.  Thus one sequence has the girls appearing in a WW II British bomber in the midst of a Tolkein style battle involving dragons and orcs.  In another, the girls are sent in a Vietnam era helicoptor to disarm a cold-war style nuclear weapon heading on a train toward a target that looks very much like Lower Manhattan while fighting Terminator-like cyborgs.  Again, the imagery in this movie is often simply awesome. 

Harder questions for young adults to ponder would be: What is the nature of  the "freedom" that is sought in this movie?  And are we really strong enough to _alone_ bestow meaning to our lives?

I do find the movie far more intelligent than most critics give it credit (Mike Philips of the Chicago Tribune, a respected critic with no axe to grind, gave Sucker Punch _zero stars_).

I’ve also found times during my life that have seemed dry and senseless (like that of passing through a Desert or perhaps approaching living in an Insane Asylum). For myself, I do not know how I would have been able to pass through such difficult times without a sense that God was at my side.  The imagery of the famous recent Catholic hymn Be Not Afraid comes to mind.

This movie is vivid and disturbing. I don’t think it’s appropriate _at all_ for young children. Parents of teens would have legitimate concerns about the sexualized dress and general plot trajectory of the story. But high schoolers especially in the upper grades and certainly college aged young adults and above will probably "get" the story and probably understand it better than the parents (or most movie critics).

Finally returning to the highly dramatic, stylized but often violent imagery of the movie. As always with such violent imagery, which also generally exists in Apocalyptic literature, a legitimate concern can be raised if the audience experiencing it will understand that the conflict and violence depicted, _indeed the whole story_, is to be _understood symbolically_. (Consider simply that most Muslim scholars will both passionately and sincerely say that Jihad is supposed to be understood as an "internal struggle," but tell that to Osama bin Laden and Al Queda ...).

But in the end, my gosh, would this movie make for a _great_ (and _fun_) discussion piece among college students at a coffee house, over a pizza (or at a Newman Center) after watching the film!

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  1. Wow!... One of the few reviews I've read (amongst all those trashing the film) where the reviewer gets what the film was going for! :)

    I couldn't agree more with everything you've written, and it disappoints me to see the amount of people who don't feel the same!

    Sure, the story could've been more evolved or extended, but it definitely wasn't as bad as some say it was, including that idiotic Mike Phillips review (who I've read some well-written reviews from in the past)! He gave it a 0!!!... C'mon, a 0?!?! What film deserves a 0?!

    This film was well done (no matter what people say), and it's just unfortunate that the MPAA forced a PG-13 rating, which cut 18 minutes of what people wanted to see in the film in the first place! :(

    At least we'll have the Director's Cut Blu-ray and DVD to show us what the film was truly intended to be, and then we shall see the film for what it was supposed to be. Only then will we be able to see the film's final worth.

    I honestly think Zack Snyder pulled off what he wanted to, and if some people can't see that, then that's their problem!

    I give the film 7-7.5/10, and I liked it 8.5-9/10.

    Thanks a lot,
    Mike Sorge

  2. Thank you for the review. I have already seen the movie, but I like to go read others' opinions afterward. It also helps in case some people had insight I didn't.

    I really loved some of the visuals in this, such as the one of a Saturn-like planet hanging in the sky, or the image of the train racing toward the city. When it worked, I think it really worked.

    Well, maybe I don't have anything else to add other than 'thanks" so I'll just stop here.

  3. thank god there are other people out there that love or like this movie. i have an account here on blogspot, and im going to have a review (OR RANT) of this soon. but, i gave the movie a 10/10 on imdb.

  4. Thinking about this movie maybe more than I probably should have (though as I indicated in my review above, I did, in fact, _like_ it): If the goal of the movie was to make it truly PG-13, then the movie probably should have been set in a high school. The crisis could have remained the same – a teenage girl loses her mother and her father is acting weird as a result. High School, especially when “things are happening at home” could easily seem as confusing/disorienting/senseless as “an insane asylum” so the metaphor could be preserved. Dr. Gorski could be a counselor or perhaps an English or Contemporary Lit. teacher, and the three or four dream sequences could play out as the girl, writes a term-paper for her class, based on events taking place at school – being pushed in a cafeteria, being stared down (or even ‘checked out’) in a world history class, putting together a project in ‘shop’, competing in some way in gym.

    There’d probably be some sexualization of the dress, but it’s a false choice to say that it’s “either the Taliban or the brothel.” Consider simply that “Cat woman” was drawn the way she was in “Batman” comic books in the 1940s without great problems. One does not want to make someone exclusively/primarily into a sex object, but one does not want to deny who the person is either.

    Anyway, I do believe that _this_ would have been a way to make this movie into a movie that a lot more people would understand to be _legitimately_ PG-13. I do appreciate that I don’t by any means have a perfect sense of what is right, and I also appreciate that film makers like all human beings have limits to their talents and visions.

    I just want to say that there were aspects of this movie (the dream/battle sequences) that were truly _outstanding_ and it’d be a shame if they were lost because of stupidity / “lack of vision” in other aspects of the story (setting the story in a very edgy brothel while trying to get a PG-13 rating for the movie). If the intent was to make the movie PG-13, some changes like those above could have been made without greatly damaging the rest of the story. And if the changes proved too “hokey” for the film-makers, va bene. The movie as it was, could have been a legitimately R-rated “Clockwork Orange” meets “Lord of the Rings” triumph. Instead, Snyder, et al, picked a _needless_ fight with the MPAA ratings board and critics/parents around the country/world.