Dear Millicent,

I saw Sucker Punch. Dodai pretty much summed up everything I thought, and there are tons of other reviews around calling it a mix of one operatic costume film (Burlesque, Showgirls, Moulin Rouge) plus one what-is-consciousness movie (Inception) plus fancy action (Tarantino, The 300), and throw in a reference to Charlie’s Angels and video games in general. They are all right (I am waiting for the review that reveals the movie to be generated from the lost journals of a missing cast member of the Pussycat Dolls reality show, which I watched, and it had all the same characters (Robin Antin as Madame Gorski?).

And in a movie that honestly parallels a lobotomy to rape, and sexy dancing to victorious battle, I think we have an example not of “a spank bank” as much as what happens when people (often dudes really enjoying some insane dude privilege) try to get all feminist, excited that “empowerment” can serve you, me, and the dream demographic of a major industry film: the dudest of dudes. All complexity becomes flattened, struggle becomes a simple syrup of exerted facial expressions and running, and deep meaning is supposed to be delivered by false analogy.

I imagine the development meetings for this film (maybe starring Privilege Denying Dude), and every time somebody questioned the film, the answer would make all powerless by its agressively chill and rotund logic:

Producer: “Do you think she would imagine herself in that skirt? Because, like, it’s her head, not the anybody else’s.”

Snyder: “No, don’t you see. That is the statement. She is fighting how sexualized she is, so she has to be sexualized to do it. It’s empowering because it’s degrading, but we’re saying that’s how it is, you know. We’re shitting on the system, and also showing how the system makes people, which will all look hot, promise.”

Producer: “Really, it seems like the girls are just being kind of exploited by their captors, and the director, and the audience.”

Snyder: “Exactly! You got it. We are saying that it’s hard out there to be a girl. Men suck.”

Producer: “Right, but here all the women lose, and their action sequences don’t mean anything. So….”

Snyder: “No man, it ends with hope. But, like, you can’t win with the system right now. You have to use your tits to get by, and that shit will tear you up. We’re being real, and not. You just can’t see it.”

Producer: “But we’re doing the tearing?”

Snyder: “Exactly. It’s like, the character Blondie is a brunette. Get it?  I don’t think you get what I’m saying. We are bringing this shit home.”

I imagine this is also what it is like to have James Franco in your graduate seminar. It also explains the inane narration that takes place at the beginning and end of the movie (string together the first sentences of all motivational posters, or lyrics from The Crow soundtrack, insert into film). So, what could have been something ripe and totally compelling (I really was looking forward to a kind of bad-ass bonkers version of Mona Lisa Smile), becomes something that swears it’s art because it had some ideas. It becomes the poem we all wrote when we started journaling. You’re 13, and it’s about beaches and life.

If I’m going to sit through somebody’s revelations about sex and violence, I would much rather have just listened to this song for two hours. I encourage you to listen to it while you finish this post.

Sucker Punch makes Tarantino look like a master of subtlety (a true feat), and by using the same tools that Tarantino and Luhrman rely on to create high theater, Snyder exposes how manipulative theatrics are and how well others use them. He also exposes the risk of going high gloss if you don’t pull it off: the sham is revealed and delight fades to a defensive watch.

My brain was kind of exploding during this movie (there are cell phone charms on her gun! there is man who is tan in all weathers! they prostituted a Bjork song!), but in one of the more minor strokes, I was reminded of The Other Guys. When I saw that movie, I couldn’t tell if it was good intentions mucked up, or a meaningful catastrophe. The makers seemed to be attempting the same thing as Sucker Punch does: to call out a system while celebrating that same system, and profiting from both sides of the audience.  Sucker Punch makes The Other Guys look wonderfully soft in retrospect, its insults now demoted to a sheepish array of bad jokes as Sucker Punch takes the assault cake.

It does this double-dance even in the title, warning that the movie will indeed be an un/expected attack and defeat. Snyder wins again. When asked about the title, he said it doesn’t

” even try to encapsulate what the film is, or even what it isn’t… Sucker Punch is a story of redemption, friendship, imagination and freedom – and when the curtain goes up, that’s true no matter which side of the looking glass you’re on.”

So again, all you have to do is pretend you are constructing an important paradox, collage a speech from pieces of motivational posters, assume everything, explore nothing, and there you have it. You made empowerment, and the best part is, since you’ve said nothing, you can deflect all the criticisms coming your way. Congrats!



PS: The movie ends with the line, “You have all the weapons you need. Now fight!” I had to let Mr. CF down easy that this was not a message for him. Well, except it was. Sans female body, he didn’t have any of the weapons to fight with, and I assume the line was a direct call for women to start mesmerizing their menfolk with flashes of inner-thigh while also passively imagining their violent deaths. A fight I can honestly say has never been recommended to me before (and the idea of the same speech at the end of The 300 amazes me).  It did make me think of Virginie Despentes’ take on provocative clothing in King Kong Theory, where she offers that young women dress “sluttily” because they have so much power, and a short skirt or a flash of cleavage is a way to soothe men, and to reassure them that the world is as it should be.