Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Big Picture: "You Are Wrong About Sucker Punch - Part I"

Overly-combative headline not withstanding...

37 comments:

Sam Robards, Comic Fan said...

I watched this movie after seeing your Escape to the Movies review of it a while back, and I found it to be neither terrible nor great.

It was entertaining at the time but ultimately forgettable.

Still looking forward to the remainder of your breakdown, though.

Razmere said...

Valid points all around.


My major problems with Sucker Punch are the tone and pacing.

It was like having a TV with only two channels playing. One had a top ten greatest episodes of POWER RANGERS marathon and the other had a Holocaust movie double feature.(Or any other GREAT but depressing films)

One minute I'm all pumped and excited and having fun, but the next I'm more depressed than I should be. And it just keeps GOING on like that, back and forth, for the whole movie.


All that said, I still DIG the flick. I'll take Zac Snyder and his worship of S L O W M O any day over Michael Bay's "Stuff a plastic box full of army toys and shake it in front of a camera" style that EVERY action movie seems to love these days.

Rowdy C said...

Your commentary actually made me think of yet another movie - Last Action Hero. According to a book I read that dissected good scripts vs bad scripts, that movie was meant to be a deconstruction of the big dumb Schwartzenneger-like action film - and that's why it failed, because peopel either didn't get it or were turned off by that type of deconstructive concept.
What you say about the movie makes a lot of sense; howevr, while I agree that not a lot of people would get that, it still makes sense that this film would bomb even if more people DID get it. Especially among the target audience; the majority woul dnot get its point and see it as just a poorly done fantasy film, while the few that did would be thoroughly pissed for what the movie is saying about them as you have eluded to.

Still, very nice introspective into the movie, and I see where you're coming from. You don't have a problem with people disliking this film, just wanting the mto know what it''s really about before they decide.

Jacob Beck said...

Excuse me while I shelter myself from incoming shitstorm.

Pat said...

I think the big issue is the difference between intent and result.

Based on what you say, it is true that the film is intended to be an indictment of the type of fetishized "empowerment" on display. The problem is that Zack Snyder decided that the best way to criticize this artistic practice was to use it and then tell us that we should feel bad about liking it.

The action scenes take up a large portion of the movie and it's clear that Zack Snyder put a lot of effort into them. They are clearly meant to be enjoyed at face value. But then the movie tells us that if we enjoy them, we are objectifying women. So what are we supposed to do? Not enjoy them? And since they make up the majority of the film, should we also not enjoy the film as a whole? Did Zack Snyder make a film that you can only enjoy if you're a bad person? In that case, doesn't it accomplish the opposite of what Zack Snyder intends?

Much like how fetishized "empowerment" is presumably just a way for artists to enjoy cheesecake while being able to claim "feminism", isn't this film possibly just a way for Zack Snyder to do exactly that but with an extra layer of bullshit on top? Like, he's doing the same thing but because he's acknowledging how awful it is, that makes it OK?

I do agree that anyone who calls this movie misogynist is missing the point, but I don't think it's unreasonable to consider the movie sexist, whether or not it intends to be.

Aiddon said...

the film is a classic case of the writer trying to have their cake and eat it (something Francois Truffaut displayed in his commentary on "anti-war films"). It's No More Heroes but without a GOOD writer who knows what they're doing. This proved that Snyder should NEVER write scripts.

Anonymous said...

I think the audience it intends to mock had the last laugh since this bombed at the box office.

lemonvampire said...

My girlfriend was a lot more excited about this film than I was. She was really looking forward to finally seeing someone make an action film starring women that actually looked good. Instead what she got was a film that was about women being abused who were only able to be strong in their fantasies, and according to Bob, a film specifically intended to be for men and about men.
So yeah. Good job.

Mr. Gone said...

That intent leaves a sour taste in my mouth, similar to the movie "The Condemned." The indictment intent is all well and good, but they're still making money off of giving people exactly what they're mocking them for wanting.

So yes. A striptease is still just a striptease. Even if you're doing it "ironically."

Anonymous said...

I perfectly understood that Sucker Punch was meant to be an indictment of how pop culture fetishizes women; nonetheless I felt that the movie fails to get that point across in any meaningful way.

It just so happens that I saved a post that someone else made on another forum, way back when the movie came out. This seems like a good opportunity to share it:

If Zack Synder wanted to make a point about how movies exploit women, this was a lousy way to go about it. If the goal of the movie was just to make male viewers who find nubile young women in skimpy clothes feel bad about themselves, then it succeeded. But if the goal was to show that women; even nubile skimpily clad ones, are people too, then its a dismal failure.

Instead of actually featuring some realistic, well developed female characters, who have minds of their own and are not obsessed with the sexual attentions of men (either seeking or avoiding them) he filled his women who are fetishistic archetypes (in both appearance and temperament) and men who are unapologetic rapists. It portrays women as powerless in the face of male evil (except in dreams within dreams), and unable to resist except at great personal cost (up to and including death). Women's only hope is ultimately for men to take pity on them, as illustrated by the last scene (no spoilers, you know what I'm writing about if you saw it). How is that for a moral? "Hey guys, stop objectifying women, because after all, they're weaker than you and it really hurts their feelings."


That's pretty much how I felt about Sucker Punch.

Sam said...

Huh.

I actually loved the movie when I saw it in theaters, largely on your recommendation, and my thoughts since then have been less well-put versions of your video. It's also admittedly a movie that's right up my goddamn alley: visually creative and fun while having a lot of criticism/thought behind it (See: Kickass, Charlie Kaufman movies, District 9, even Speed Racer)

Anyways, the comments here are amazingly well thought out, and offer a really good counterpoint to Bob's thoughts. I like Mr. Gone's last line, for sure. Maybe this film needed to be a bit more blatantly disparaging of the cheesecake scenes, once it already tricked people into sitting down to watch it? I remember following the sucker punch fine, but I also didn't understand it as fully as Bob does, so I can see where people might fall on that spectrum of "getting it" in the movie's current state.

This conversation is putting me in the mood to watch 2 things: Sucker Punch and next weeks episode!

alverant said...

OK I have to ask, how is Starship Troopers an anti-military film? The enemies are alien monsters that appeal to our primal fears who want nothing more than to rip every human to shreds. There can be no negotiation or compromise in a fundamental us vs them war. In other words, things that can be killed en masse without regret.

If anyone tries to make the argument that the bugs are a metaphor for whatever enemy the gold olde US of A fought/fighting now leaves out one important thing. The behavior in our human enemies is LEARNED behavior. People can change, it's part of being human. Any fundamentalist or extremist who would eagerly give up their lives for a cause can learn to dial it back and find better solutions. (It's possible, I didn't say likely.) The bugs can't. Their hatred for humanity is an inherent part of them that they can no more change their species.

Sam said...

alverant: I generally understood the aliens to be a one-minded ridiculously aggressive force to juxtapose the humans, who are a one-minded ridiculously aggressive force.

True, they strike first, but all of the human-civilization scenes are dripping with this gross military-state vibe.

Sarge said...

watch Starship Troopers again. The bugs don't really strike first, the news reports are an unreliable narrator.

Anonymous said...

I think this is all a bluff. Zack Snyder cannot possibly assemble this cast, make this movie look this good, and then call me a misogynist for enjoying the scantily-clad action heroines, stylized violence, fantasy monsters, etc. etc. He'd have to be so totally self-un-aware that I have trouble imagining how he could engage in such intrapersonal activities as writing and directing films at all.

Also, as anonymous above points out, his version of feminism is SUPER DUPER STUPID if that's really his point. I mean, according to Bob's explanation of Snyder's thesis, women have no agency in their sexuality, no actual power at all when faced with the "male gaze", aka the objectification of women into sexual or aesthetic commodities. Men who look at women this way are as good as (fat, old) rapists, and women who in any way invite this sort of attention are either wanton or desperate. That's not feminism (aka "The idea that women are people"). That's just bullshit sex negativity.

In order to REALLY get the message of the film, you'd have to think about whose fantasies these really are. In the world of the movie, who is it, really, who's imagining this brothel and these fantasy violence sequences? Men? No, of course not. These are Baby Doll's fantasies, *including* the men, and in these fantasies she's a Virgin, a Whore, a Hero, a Victim, a Martyr, a Daddy's Girl and an Ingenue...pretty much every female lead archetype available to a young woman. The movie isn't about how men see women, it's about how this particular woman wants to see herself.

So when we get to the end, that line about "you have all the weapons you need, now FIGHT!"...the question is, who are we talking about/to? Who is the "you" that's supposed to fight? She can't mean the audience. They're just happy to be entertained for a few hours, there's no fight they need to fight on account of fictional women in asylums. I guess she must mean artists and people with imagination - those are the people who create these kinds of fantasy worlds, after all, and in her mind, creating a world of fantasy is the way to fight back against an unfair world.

Well, either that, or Zack Snyder is just kind of juvenile and his version of feminism isn't much better than not being a feminist at all.

lemonvampire said...

Sucker Punch: does it pass the Bechdel Test?

Sir Laguna said...

OK Bob, You had my curiosity, now you have my attention.

Can't wait for part 2.

angrykirby said...

The movie definately suffered from being pg13 not allowing it to properly set up the whole rape = dance = fantasy premise

also the extended cut is alot better I mean they couldnt even really show the ending in the regular cut and its basically the climax of the movie.

really like the ww1 zombie germans reminded me of how hell looked in the darkness videogame

Lord Slithor said...

While you and I may vehemently disagree on The Amazing Spider-Man, Bob. It seems that we are among the few defenders of Sucker Punch and who genuinely liked the movie for what it was.

Yes, the film isn't without its flaws, and maybe falters a bit in its execution (something that I think is rectified in the extended cut), but on the whole, I "got" it. Maybe not to the extent that you did, but on some primal level, I understood what it was trying to do.

But yeah, I think a majority of its audience the first time around didn't "get" it, or if they did, were angry at Snyder for chastizing them for liking what what they were watching, and how dare he call them out on it.

Speaking as someone who has gone to strip clubs many times, to the point where some of my friends are former strippers, and as such I have a somewhat unique perspective on how the whole business works, watching Sucker Punch didn't faze me the same way it probably did most male moviegoers. So maybe that helped to a degree.

But I'll agree it's a very misunderstood movie, in much the same way that Starship Troopers was like you mentioned, as well as John Boorman's Zardoz, which also had a lot of big ideas, but fell short in conveying them due to the limitations of budget/technology/whatever.

In time, though, I think like many movies like this, it'll be more favorably looked on in the future; at the very least it will probably have a significant cult following. Can't wait for part 2.

marlowe1 said...

With Last Action Hero, Nathan Rabin best explained why that movie didn't by noting that Schwarzenegger movies are almost parodies of the big dumb action movies in their own right. Having Arnold being self-aware and winking at the audience kind of kills the fun.

That said, there were several great moments in the movie including the Hamlet bit. But overall it was a failure - a very interesting failure, but still a failure.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

See there 2 ideas here that I have to consider when ever one talks about the "intent" of a work

The first is one of my favorite quotes of all time, by some you you should be familiar with... Roger Ebert. "If you have to ask what it symbolizes, it didn't".

The second is a related idea called "death of the author".

With hose 2 ideas in mind, I have to conclude that a movie is about whatever it's audience interprets it to be about. If a large portion of an audience interprets a movie to be misogynistic, than it likely is, regardless of what the artists intent was. The work is what it is, and if it's creator didn't want the work to be that, it was his failing as an artist, but it doesn't change what the work is.

Anonymous said...

Wait, the meaning of movies is determined by majority vote? Thank God, because otherwise it would be important to think critically.

Anonymous said...

I liked Sucker Punch. Though I think it's a bit of a streach to say it's mocking the audiance to their face. I didn't feel ashamed for appreciating it's eye candy.

One theory I do like about the movie is that this isn't happening in Baby Doll's head, it's happening in the mind of the only girl that escaped.

Anonymous said...

I have a question for you Bob. Why should I care? I’m not criticizing your interpretation of the movie though I think it’s a flawed one. What I do want to know is why you aren’t talking about something else that talk about the portrayal and subjugation of women in a more mature and focused way. There are tons of movies, video games, comic books and television shows that have done this better. So why should I care about Sucker Punch when it stumbles at the message that is very important in today’s society? If I had to guess, the title brings in views and controversy which I don't have a problem with.

I also took the time to look at a trailer for Sucker Punch that was probably shown on Television or on ad spots. Almost all of the trailer just focused on the action and had very little of the titillation you say the movie is criticizing the audience for enjoying. The movie was advertised based on cool visuals and stuff blowing up. And I understand that it probably wasn’t Snyder’s decision, but it’s something to consider.

Ankhwatcher said...

You're making me feel like I should be smug about not having seen this.

Brendan said...

No Bob, YOU are wrong.

No-one is going to rediscover Sucker Punch in years time. It isn't going to become a cult favourite of college-goers or movie buffs.

Re-examination of every way the film fails to deliver any message is a pointless effort. It simply became everything you say it attempts to satirize and criticize.

The audience you insist the movie is designed to mock will not get the message anyway. The rest of us will continue to avoid giving this ugly, misguided flop any more credit than it deserves.

lemonvampire said...

Again, I'd like to point out that, regardless of the film's message, ignoring entirely whether or not that message works, you still have a film that portrays women as weak and helpless and reliant on men and only capable of achieving anything through sex. You still have a movie that entirely one-hundred-percent negative for women.
I'm sorry Bob, but there is just absolutely no way you can analyze this film to make it not negative toward women.

Cassie said...

The problem for me is that ultimately, there's really no "consequence" for the Male Gaze in this film that could really get a guy to stop and think "hey, that's a really good point". Using symbolism to portray sexist male behavior as bad ultimately falls flat because that's the whole point of living in a sexist society: society deems that it's okay for men to act that way ("boys will be boys", "if you don' want to be leered at, don't dress like a slut", etc.). So the intended message of this film is not going to dig at the intended audience in a visceral way.

In order to fight something that is so deeply ingrained into society it's basically the default, a film can't just say that something is bad: it has to also explain why it's bad.

Mads said...

@ Cassie:
"
So the intended message of this film is not going to dig at the intended audience in a visceral way.
"
I'm in the intended audience. It dug at me in a visceral way. It dug at my friends in a visceral way. I'm a 20-something male who changed my oppinion about what's ok in film portrayal because of this movie. About what's bad form and what isn't.

And I will, by the way, have you know that the default for my social circle of 20-something movie goers is not that boys will be boys. Leering is frowned upon and feels distinctly wrong and off-putting. Some people do it anyway, but they're socially ostracized as a result.

But that doesn't mean that we automatically know and understand just what portrayal of women in movies mean. It doesn't mean that we 'get' why this type of female portrayal is an issue.

I'm not saying this is a great work of art, but I will say that you're wrong on your assumptions about the audience and their reaction. It absolutely did get through to some of us.

@ Anonymous 2:18.

Just FYI? Movies are often advertized in fashions that are completely distinct from what they're actually about. See Bridge to Terabithia or Drive for examples of that. I think even cabin in the woods is an example of this.

smile said...

Hey, you, yeah you...

You know me? The guy torrenting the film because it got bad reviews?

Yeah...

This is me not paying for the film so your "sucker punch" was relatively weak on me.

Yeah, sucks don't it? Guess you need a good story instead of hollow symbolism.

Cassie said...

@Mads

If leering was already frowned upon in your group of friends, then I don't think the message was necessarily intended for you. But I'm kind of confused because, if this movie changed your mind about the Male Gaze, that would imply that you used to think leering at women was okay on some level. So something here is not adding up.

Mads said...

Well I did think it was okay on some level, but that's because I didn't realize that seeing the male gaze in a movie, and seeing it in one of my mates on the street was a similar thing.

That's the whole point I'm making. Intuitively, when you learn leering is an issue, at first, it's because it gets you in trouble when you do it - this is how 12-years-old boys learn it. Then you learn why - because it is creepy and unsettling to the person being leered on. That's also why it's ok in certain contexts - when there is a tacit agreement that it is ok to leer. Such as if you have a girlfriend, or if it's a girl you know welcomes it; or rather, under such circumstances, we don't even call it leering, but it's the same type of action.

But when it comes to theater and movies, where women are paid to be leered at, essentially, that's tricky. Clearly, the woman decided she wanted to participate in a movie employing male gaze - or with the theater analogy, she decided to participate in a role where people would look at her as a character rather than a person. That's why it's complicated; just because you have a firm grasp of what's ok and not ok in a social circle doesn't mean you have any idea what ok and not ok in the design of a movie. You don't necessarily know the similarities between something that's socially taboo and appears to be largely acceptable within movies.

That's why the Male Gaze is not merely called camera leering. It's a coined phenomenon that wasn't fully explored and analyzed for a long time. It's why it's being taught. It's why you read an article about Male Gaze, or had someone describe it to you, first time you heard of the phenomenon, rather than just saying, oh, I know what that is.

And it's not just the Male Gaze that's criticized here; it's the entire aesthetic employed. The movie does not merely critique male gaze, it goes further and broader and gets at more complicated things, and ultimately makes the allegory, you, you there in the theater, look at what your taste has wrought, and look at what it makes you look like.

I mean, maybe it's a coincidence that I was able to really grasp the sexism revolving around male gaze only after watching sucker punch, maybe it was complete incidence that I realized that some of the feminist issues with movies are real and reasonable. I can't tell for sure. But what I can tell you is, what you wrote - your summary of what this movie does nothing for noone - is wrong. There are _definitely_ men outthere who need to have a mirror held up to their face as they watch a male-gaze movie to realize what it means, and who will concequently understand the concerns.

Also - seriously - what adult men in your life think leering is a-ok? do you know of anyone who think it's ok to stare at a strangers breasts and be completely obvious about it?

La Bomba Frita said...

Riddle me this Moviebob! How can I be wrong about Sucker Punch if I am blissfully unaware of Sucker Punch and therefore unable to form an opinion on it? :P

Cassie said...

@Mads

"Also - seriously - what adult men in your life think leering is a-ok? do you know of anyone who think it's ok to stare at a strangers breasts and be completely obvious about it?"

I do, actually: most male strangers I meet on the street, who somehow think that I don't notice when their eyesight is fixed directly on my chest (even when I'm wearing a t-shirt or something else that completely covers up the chest region). But I also know plenty of guys who "don't see what the big deal is" about things like that. I mean, not to turn this into a big thing, but that's sort of what the Male Gaze is all about, and that's the reality of being female in our society.

But this is kind of what I was getting at, and why I said this isn't going to dig at the intended audience in a visceral way (note: not that it does "nothing for noone"): if you were already aware that shamelessly ogling women in public is wrong, then you were probably not really the kind of guy that this thing was trying to reach.

Basically, I actually agree with your assertion that some men need a mirror held up to their faces in order to "get it". However, I just don't think this film is that mirror, because I don't see any part of it that would punish a guy who was just there to watch young women in skimpy outfits battle monsters. Because as much as you can point to yourself and your friends, I could point to my friends who saw it and got nothing out of it other than "LOOK AT THEM TITTIES!"

Anonymous said...

Sucker Punch sucks, that's pretty much my take on it. I didn't even care for it enough to want to see it all the way through. And what little I did see wasn't good and really I don't care how much hidden messages or symbols people get from it. It will still suck.

Anonymous said...

I don't normally post comments but. FINALLY! Someone gets this movie. I liked it not for what it was showing but for what it was saying, and I'm glade someone else got this as well. Good on you for picking up on this when dam close to no one did.

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