Making the Grades
Female suffragettes (or anyone else who envisioned a more equitable treatment of women) must be thrashing in their graves with the release of Sucker Punch. Because a sucker punch is exactly the kind of thumping this film gives their cause.
Dont believe for a minute that this script is about female empowerment.The girls might carry big guns and slaughter countless attackers but this story is pure male fantasy—of the worst kind.
Wrongfully incarcerated in a mental institution, Baby Doll (Emily Browning), as she is dubbed inside the facility, is a perfectly sane young woman who accidently shot her younger sister while trying to fend off a rapist. Inside the dreary walls of Lennox House, unspeakable (but off-screen) atrocities befall the inmates—many of whom have been rejected by society for their errant behaviors rather than sanity issues. Dressed in skimpy little outfits that look more like a bad Halloween costume than any prison-issued jumpsuit you’ve ever seen, the captives are forced to scrub floors and peel potatoes under the leering gaze of the male employees.
In a brothel-like setting, Baby Doll and the other girls are also urged by Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) to express themselves through dance. Once their routines are perfected, they are compelled to perform for the amusement of greasy politicians, shady clients and the belligerent, ingratiating asylum director (Oscar Isaac) who pads his pockets with the proceeds from his patients’ "entertainment".
In order to survive the humiliation, Baby Doll withdraws into herself. (Think of it as Inception except that the protagonist retreats further and further into her own mind rather than the dreams of others.) In a trance-like state, she performs moves that are supposedly so erotic they can’t be shown on screen but they leave the men in the room sweating and heaving with desire. Meanwhile in her half-conscious daze, she envisions herself on a quest where she meets a Wise Man (Scott Glenn) who gives her a series of missions to complete. They are meant to help her find the power within that will ultimately free her from prison.
Joining her are four other girls, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung) and Blondie (played by Vanessa Hudgens who seems to be doing all she can to shed every last hint of her High School Musical image). Dressed in ridiculously provocative clothing and carrying enough weaponry to arm a small country, they blast their way through hosts of enemies in a fantasized world that painfully coalesces explosive video game violence with highly stylized music videos.
For much of the time it’s hard to distinguish what is reality and what is fantasy. But the suggestion that these characters are empowered is a complete fallacy. Not only are they behind physical lock and key, but they are also subjected to sexual and emotional bondage where men control everything. Even in Baby Doll’s self-imposed hypnotic stupor, it is the Wise Man, not her, that calls the shots.
If that message isn’t damaging enough for teens who are figuring out life, the gratuitous and sometimes bloody violence, along with frequent insinuations of aberrant sexual behavior, should be adequate reasons to discourage kids from seeing this film.
While this movie doesn’t hit men below the belt (except in one well-aimed kick to the crotch), it should feel like a low blow to young women who see themselves as more than fodder for sexual objectification.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Sucker Punch.
Rocket asks Baby Doll if there are things she wishes she could take back. What things would Rocket like to take back? What bad decisions did she make as a teen that put her in the spot she is now? How did those choices affect her family? Are there things you wish you could do over?
How do the girls in the institution cope with their life situations? In what other ways do people who have experienced violence or other trauma deal with the aftermath?
Are there any examples in this film where women are in control?