Home » Arts & Entertainment » Currently Reading:

‘Sucker Punch’ a Feminist Perspective

April 5, 2011 Arts & Entertainment 24 Comments
SuckerPunch

‘Sucker Punch’ a Third Wave Feminist Perspective

Victoria Hungerford
Web Editor

Image Courtesy Of: www.movie-list.com

At first glance, Sucker Punch, directed by Zack Snyder, seems like your average over-sexed movie, filled with the tired image of sexy dominatrixes. Entering into Sucker Punch, I had this idea of the film, especially after watching trailers that affirmed my thoughts. As I sat in the audience staring at the big screen, I realized this movie was much more than that. Analyzing the movie from a feminist perspective, I began to understand that Sucker Punch was trying to show a tale to viewers that they don’t want to hear—a story filled with violence towards women, objectification and learning to cope in a world filled with sexual violence. Sucker Punch is forcing the audience to deal with social issues that we often want to forget about, the sexual abuse of women in mental institutions, the internalized objectification of women and the ways in which women cope with sexual violence.

Sucker Punch deals with varying levels of fantasy or reality (depending on how you look at it). We have the reality of the mental institution where women are physically, sexually and verbally abused by the male workers who are supposed to protect them. This is a historical reality; women during the early 20th century and arguably in this century as well, have experienced sexual violence in mental institutions.

Like Baby Doll (Emily Browning), women were often disposed of and placed in mental institutions when they were no longer needed, wanted, or when they transgressed what was deemed socially acceptable. Women in these categories were often lesbians, refused to be married, were gender non-conformists or were one of the other supposed mental “ills” of the time. Baby Doll finds herself in a mental institution because she was trying to protect her little sister from being raped by her stepfather. In doing so, she shoots a gun, misses the stepfather and the bullet mistakenly slides into her innocent little sister.

Sucker Punch is hard to watch at times, and its subject matter is uncomfortable. In Sucker Punch, we are faced with the reality of sexual violence and mistreatment of women. This reality is never actually shown, but the undertones are so obviously there that the average person would rather shield their eyes from the social problems of our world, as represented through the movie, than actively engage and think critically about these issues.

The costuming has been extremely problematic because the ways in which the women are dressed can be read as sexual objectification. Baby Doll is dressed in a schoolgirl outfit; others are dressed in skin tight leather and cleavage-revealing attire. These women are dressed provocatively when they are in the fantasy level of the Bordello. They are prostitutes of the 1940s and dressed as so. However, they are not objectified, and they are not gazed at through a sexualized lens. Instead, the audience never sees any element of the classic “tits and ass” shots. They wear clothes, but a desiring audience’s fantasies are never satisfied with the soft-core porn images of boob close-ups, panty shots, etc. This is where the film is brilliant because it is critiquing the very fantasy levels of nerd-boys and nerd-girls who love seeing women dressed and objectified in these outfits. Snyder refuses to allow for that form of objectification.

It’s important when watching this film to know when to take it seriously and when to sit back and let the movie take you over. In the third level of the movie in which the women must fight their way for their prize, all of us comic book/anime and video game fans can enjoy these sequences for the mere entertainment. We see these women fighting zombie Nazis, Cyborgs, Dragons and oversized Samurai. We see classic iconography that makes the inner nerd squeal with excitement. The action scenes did not disappoint.

The social commentary during this level of fantasy is complicated. On one hand, these women are controlling their life by gaining the elements of escape, yet they are told by a male authority what to do and where to get it. Even in a third level of fantasy, these women are still part of an institution of patriarchy, however, it is not without agency and they are able to navigate in this world with power.

At first watch, Sucker Punch can be easily misread as pornographic action garbage. However, once a critical lens is applied, we can begin to understand the film as a complicated historical representation of gender issues in American society. What fails is that Snyder wants to show a non-mainstream blockbuster to a blockbuster audience, masking the actual subject matter in the theatrical trailers as a mere action flick instead of showing a prospective audience what it is really about- the ways in which women cope with abuse.

Currently there are "24 comments" on this Article:

  1. Tim Brown says:

    Excellent review and observation of the movie!! This movie is so much more than just an over the top action flick, I completly agree with you on your take of the “anti-objectification” that Zack Snyder was trying to get across. Being a 43 year old man, husband, and fathe,r the thought of what baby-doll was going through in reality when she was “dancing” was heart wrenching. This is not a film to be dismissed, its unfortunate that so many critics have panned it. But like most “classics” it take a few years for the general public to see them for what they really are. Again wonderful post.

  2. John says:

    Finally, somebody that sees this film for what it really is – absolutely bang on the nail! An excellent review then of a film that has much more going on than is immediately obvious. Seen it twice now and absolutely love it.

  3. Michelle says:

    Wow, thank you for this review! I walked away from the movie with similar thoughts & feelings, but kept reading reviews that spoke of how terrible a movie it is (including a couple from feminists). I really agree with you – there was a message to take from this movie, and I really felt it as the movie was closing and the sole remaining female character talks to the audience about the power being within you. I really felt like the movie was saying – yes, the world is full of this violence and objectification against women, but you can either try to overcome by playing within the men’s rules (the first level of fantasy, which didn’t work out well for everyone involved) or you can overcome it through the strength that is inside you (the second level of fantasy, where they were more powerful than most the evil in the world). Maybe that’s a stretch, but it was one of my first thoughts leaving the theater. anyway, thanks for the great review!

  4. Babydoll is NOT WEAK! says:

    I’d like to say that he wasn’t about to rape her sister. The father WAS sexually abusive to both girls, but he was trying to murder her and then he was going to come for Baby after. He knew it would cause her pain, so he went for her first and it just so happened that she tried to shoot him (it did not HIT the sister – this makes me mad when people think this because it makes her look like such a weak and stupid character!) because the richote of the bullet hit the pipe as you see in that shot that trails upward. The steam moving out of it, proves it. When she runs toward her sister, her sister is already dead – she’s been beaten to death by her stepfather. She was too late. The reason why she drops the gun then is so she can tell the cops what’s really happened, or get help. Unfortunately for her, while she’s telling her story to them (in the silence) they pretend to believe her but actually believe the step father. That’s why she’s drugged and put to sleep when they put her in the car to go to the asylum. Just figured I’d clear this up.

  5. Babydoll is NOT WEAK! says:

    Also, I just want to say thank you because I do love your review and agree with it. I can’t say thank you enough.

  6. Darren says:

    Nice… very impressive take on this breathtaking film.

  7. Emily says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I absolutely cannot stand these negative reviews that this film is getting – they’re all of them unwarranted, because simply put, this movie is fantastic. It’s operating on so many levels, I have no idea how anyone can say it’s “plot-less”, and the theories and things which are going on that we can’t see (rape, violence etc) make this a very chilling, gripping film.

    Every time I see a positive review for Sucker Punch my heart does a little leap of joy, because this is one of the best films I’ve ever has the fortune to see, and all this bad press is in no way indicative of the true nature of a deep, heart-touching plot.

  8. [...] nicely into the issue of feminism… I’ve heard some people describe Sucker Punch as a feminist flick. It’s not. Not one fucking bit. All the “ass kicking” and “girl [...]

  9. [...] that got it right… At The Movies: The Sydney Morning Herald: Los Angeles Times Salon.com “A feminist perspective” A lesbian perspective “In defense of Sucker [...]

  10. ZombieGirl says:

    I agree with all the other comments here on what a wonderful, refreshing review this is. Thank you for taking the time to write it out, there needs to be more thinking involved with such a brilliant film as this.

    To the one who said that Babydoll did not actually kill her little sister – that is an interesting take on it, but I really think she did actually (accidentally) kill her. I don’t think that portrays her as weak at all – she only missed the stepfather by a hair, it went through the light bulb, and ricocheted off of the pipe (that was the reason it showed the pipe) and into the back of her sister. When she ran to her, it showed her put her hand behind her back and when she pulled it back, there was blood on her fingers. This is consistent with the bullet bouncing off the pipe and into the little girl’s back. There was no blood on her face at all so I didn’t take it that she was beaten to death. It was an unfortunate tragedy, and an ironic one as in trying to defend her sister she ended up being the one to kill her.

  11. [...] won’t say too much on the charges of misogyny; I disagree with them, and believe that Snyder set the film in the 60s for a reason, and that the cabaret setting is a more pleasant metaphor for what was actually occurring at the [...]

  12. [...] – The Sydney Morning Herald: – SBS Film: – At The Movies: – Los Angeles Times – Salon.com – The Bottom Line “A feminist perspective” – Shewired.com “In defense of Sucker Punch” – IGN.com “Why I Love Sucker [...]

  13. Colinloves says:

    AMAZING REVIEW !!!!!! – So perfect. Thank You.

  14. Melissa says:

    You’re brilliant, Tori. Loved this review and what you had to say about a movie I had held a completely different opinion of before reading this piece and understanding more of the director’s intent. Well done.

  15. An Spurger says:

    #resumetypothatdoesntimproveyourchancesoflandinganewjob

  16. Ly Chong Janau recognized this observation and hopes that more people do, too

  17. I don’t even know the way I ended up right here, but I believed this put up used to be great. I don’t recognize who you’re but certainly you’re going to a well-known blogger for those who aren’t already. Cheers!

  18. SteveDOF says:

    I agree totally that Snyder is subverting casual, fan-boy, misogyny and that the whole film is a metaphor for the way women are treated by society. Despite the numerous opportunities, he steadfastly refused to photograph the women in an exploitative way, except for the single “money-shot” close up on Babydolls thighs as she retrieved her sword and I think that was a deliberate anomaly.

    Having said that, I have a whole different take on the plot. There are a lot of clues, at least in my mind, pointing to the film being all in Sweetpea’s imagination. The fact that we start with a stage set over the song “Sweet dreams are made of this” and Sweetpea’s narration telling us that; “our angels come to us sometimes as old men and sometimes as little girls”, this last just as we see Babydoll. When Babydoll is being driven to the asylum, Sweetpea is saying “our angels come to us in the starngest of places, at the starngest of times”. Later we see Sweetpea on a stage set in the asylum which is almost exactly the same as that first stage set where we saw Babydoll, albeit a run-down version. Sweetpea sits on the bed, where Babydoll was sat, as Dr. Gorsky tells her that she is safe and has “control of this reality you made”. Later, in the switch between the asylum and the brothel, we see Babydoll about to be lobotomised and then we switch to Sweetpea, about to be lobotomised, she is dressed as Babydoll, complete with blonde wig and bangs. She then says to ‘madame’ Gorsky; “you’ve got to help me out. I am the star of the show after all”. Close to the end, just after she told Sweetpea, “this was never my story it’s yours”, Babydoll goes on, “you have to live for all of us now”. The asylum is called, Lennox house, but the master key is stamped Mt. Pleasent, a real asylum that was burned down in the thirties. The bus, at the end, is going to Fort Wayne, named after General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, also known as “The city that saved itself”.

    All this, to me at least, adds up to the plot of the film being about one woman’s recovery from mental illness; Sweetpea’s. The intro tells of how she lost her sanity, the asylum, though probably the closest thing to reality is seen through the fevered imagination of a severely mentally ill person. The intro to it was a pastiche of every clichéd intro to a gothic-horror building we have seen on film. The place itself is not just run-down it is decaying. Each time we see Dr. Gorsky’s therapy sessions, she is playing her tape machine, this points to the dances of Babydoll, where ‘madame’ Gorsky plays her tape machine, representing therapy sessions too. In them Sweetpea, sometimes through Babydoll, literally fights her demons.

    The “wise-man” as the bus driver says; “we have some way to go”, presumably along the road to full recovery.

  19. sean says:

    I love you so much. I’m a 17 year old male and I discovered this movie when it came out. I’m am/was part of this so called nerd culture which is dominated by males which objectify women because of lack of their experience with females, other than those in games. The only females I actually got were these voluptuous women such as laracroft that were there for my viewing pleasure. And since I had such an emotional investment in my games and played them at such a young age I dehumanized such women and believed that in real life that is the purpose of women to be objects for men’ s pleasure.

    After watching this movie it was a big reality check and it completely changed me. It gave me the wisdom and maturity I needed to understand that women are just like us and 3 dimensional beings that deserve respect and equality.
    I realised that babydoll and her group only felt this empowerment when they were dressed in those revealing outfits, which gave me a strong message on the way I objectified women and led me to change. I’m so glad I discovered your view on film as I have not yet found anyone to agree with me on what the movie is doing and even though I belived the movie changed me I was starting to doubt whether this message was Zack’s real intention for the film and I was making it out to be something it was not.

  20. Jade says:

    Upon viewing the film I hadn’t even thought of this, but as I watch it a second time it seems so obvious! I think the fact that they never actually show Babydoll’s dancing reinforces it. However, I agree with one of the other comments which stated that the stepfather had killed the sister.

  21. Jade T says:

    I know I am late to comment on this but I recently watched the film and loved it, I was searching to see different reviews and I must say that yours was one of the only few I completely agreed with. I felt exactly the same on the feminism front of the movie and the way the girls held themself.

    The revealing outfits which I have constantly seen as being called “trashy” are, to me, a form of their control and empowerment, especially over the men. Yes, it is still objectifying women as use for sexual possession but it shows a different side where the women know what they’re doing and how to do it. They can plan their escape by using their sexuality.

    On another note I must say that i really enjoyed SteveDOF’s version of the movie as it being through sweet pea and sweet pea alone. I think it’s a great take on the storyline. While watching I understood about the old man being the guardian angel but thinking back over the original narration that a young girl could be too – who is as “fierce as any dragon” – baby doll fits that part perfectly. Fantastic!

    How can a film with so many layers be bad?!

  22. Nic says:

    This film is not nuanced, not female empowerment. Snyder objectifies these women by putting them in degrading male fanatasy outfits & giving them dehumanising names like Babydoll. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYGiKDpjwfE&feature=g-vrec

  23. PendragonChris says:

    Wonderful review but I think this movie is even much more than that! The movie is also trying to tell us that we are the ones in control of the lives we lead… the ending of the movie summarizes this so eloquently, and I’ll summarize it to a few parts of the quote, “Who is it that lashes us with whips and crowns us with victory when we survive the impossible” … “it’s you, you have all the weapons you need. Now FIGHT!”

Comment on this Article:







Twitter Feed

Arts & Entertainment

Creatures of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ Take Isla Vista Into a Time Warp

16 Apr 2014

RockyHorror04_Lorenzo_Basilio_web

Alexandra Dwight Photos by Lorenzo Basilio, Staff Photographer At the drunken hour of midnight on Friday, April 11, Isla Vista Theater was bustling with an eclectic cast of off-beat characters decked out in leather, sequins, powdered faces, thick red lipstick, corsets, glittery pasties, and spandex galore. This oddball bunch is …

Writer-in-Residence Series: Award-winning Author Gary Shteyngart Is Hardly a ‘Little Failure’

16 Apr 2014

gary03_Madison_King_web

Bailee Abell Staff Writer Photo by Madison King, Staff Photographer University of California, Santa Barbara’s Arts & Lectures, in partnership with the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, hosted “An Evening with Gary Shteyngart” on Thursday, April 10, at Campbell Hall. This event, co-sponsored by the Writing Program, is the first segment of IHC’s …