Thursday, April 7, 2011


I went and saw Sucker Punch last night. I know it's a bit late in the game, most people have seen it and it is leaving most theaters soon (we saw it on its 2nd to last showing). I don't have too much to add to what has been said about it already so I'll just post a few thoughts.

The film starts off in "reality" although it is presented in a highly stylized, music video way which makes it seem more dreamlike than the fantasy that follows. That would be our "Meta-reality"

In the half-second before the hammer drops on the lobotomy pick we are plunged into a fantasy which is presented in a more realistic fashion. I think this is the cause of much of the confusion about the movie. The majority of the movie takes place in this fantasy but it is presented in a way that is more realistic than the "Meta-reality" of the framing sequence.

This is where the movie started to lose me. Perhaps if it had started here I would have enjoyed it more but I kept having this nagging feeling that what I was seeing was not real and that interfered with my willing suspension of disbelief.

So Baby Doll is such an awesome dancer that the only way to represent this fact is to enter into her mind and these sequences of even more heightened fantasy -- the "Meta-fantasy" -- which is where the movie really starts to rock-and-roll.

I enjoyed the battles with mythical oriental statues and dragons and steampunk nightmare nazis although I found my willing suspension of disbelief again being challenged. I knew these were fantasy seqyences but why was it that these pretty, dainty girls in schoolgirl outfits were such kick-ass warriors when the grizzled soldiers all around them were such schlepps? I minor point. This is a fantasy and, more importantly, it is Baby Doll's fantasy.

As the movie moved along I got into the rhythm. The songs re-presented during the fantasy sequences were also some of my favourites -- I've got them all on my iTunes -- so hearing them being co-opted for the fantasy sequence didn't help with my suspension of disbelief. Rather than helping me
"in" to the fantasy for me it became a barrier.

Another point: if Baby Doll's reality takes place in the 1940's (which it seems to do) then how can she know about songs by The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane and Queen?. A minor quibble, but again, you really don't want to be interfering with that willing suspension of disbelief.

Fanboys and other pundits have been talking about SuckerPunch in terms of comic books and video games -- not surprising given director Zach Snyder's other films, WATCHMEN and 300, both of which are based on popular comics. This film was conceived and written by Snyder himself and, although it is saturated with images derived from video games and comic books, I got the sense that the story that he was trying to tell was much more personal to him. At times it felt like the overwhelming images were dwarfing a smaller, more personal, symbolic story -- an idea that seemed important but one that I think kept getting lost in the Sturm and Drang.

Actually I'm surprised that critics like Ignatiy Vishnevetsky don't seem to make the connections between this film and European cinema. At its heart Sucker Punch is clearly more akin to Ingmar Bergman or Luis Bunuel than the comic and video game derived images would suggest.

Unfortunately for me it was those elements that dwarfed the very small and, I suspect, Personal story that Snyder wanted to tell about courage, strength and self sacrifice. The final points were made to images that were uber-American: A bus stop in the midwest. This is symbolic filmmaking being handled by a master -- he has recreated the Norman Rockwell, Saturday Evening Post America.

Unfortunately I think this message gets lost in the cascade of images that juxtapose WW2 elements with sword and sorcery and fantasy like Ralph Bakshi on steroids.

However, it wasn't until this morning that I realized what fantasy film Snyder was riffing on and I was surprised that I didn't recognize it while I was watching it or even before because once you realize it it seems so obvious.

Sucker Punch is Snyder's paean to THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Think about it -- Baby Doll

is based on Dorothy Gale

here played by Judy Garland.

It is so obvious and it was right there in front of our noses all the time, even before the film was released. Take a look at the iconic Sucker Punch logo:

Compare this with the classic title card from The Wizard of OZ:

See the similarities?

There's more. Characters from the "Meta Reality" show up in the fantasies -- Sweet Pea, Amber, Rocket, Blondie, Blue, Dr. Gorski, Scto Glenn's character -- just the same way that the characters from OZ all have counterparts in the scenes from Kansas, especially Miss Gulch who wants to destroy Toto. In Dorothy's "fantasy" of Oz she is made manifest as the Wicked Witch of the West.

Sucker Punch is gone from my local theater now but I think I will probably pick it up when it comes out on DVD. I think watching it in light of its correlation to The Wizard of Oz will probably make it more enjoyable. And I suspect, just like The Wizard of Oz, that Sucker Punch's estimation will rise with time and it will eventually overcome the lambasting that it has taken at the hands of critics.

That's the way I see it anyway.

I've been here and there. I've drawn a lot of pictures. I've written a bit, too. I'm not good at this self-promotion thing. Look, you want to know about me? just visit these websites. Okay?


Kal said...

I very thoughtful and excellent review. You made many points that I hadn't thought of. I think you are totally right about being taken out of the story by the harsh juxtaposition of themes and idea. I am sure there was a better way of doing that and that is something that Snyner needs to learn. Maybe a continuous stream of music like from the Asylum's speaker system would have given us something to hold on to whenever fantasy became reality and vice versa. Snyder has strong source material to work with with '300' and 'Watchmen' so those segways were already built in for him. I don't look at this movie as a failure. He did more to entertain me than any ten directors working today do. I am excited to see how he develops as a filmmaker because what he does RIGHT he does SO VERY WELL that only with slight tweeks to his story telling technique he can be one of the greats. Although I HATE 'The Wizard of Oz' I recognize it's importants in histor.

Also please dont talk about that punk from 'Ebert at the Movies' in my presence again. He is unworthy and you might get a reflexive slap meant for him.

M. D. Jackson said...

Cal, I only mentioned Vishnevetsky because I wanted to needle him for not seeing something so obvious. When he stumbles across my blog (as he inevitably will) and realizes what a mistake he has made (as is obvious to any who have eyes) he will be so embarrassed he will hang up his film review career and slink off back to Russia.

Did it for you, buddy.

Pat Tillett said...

I haven't had a chance to see it, but I sure do want to. It looks like art to me...

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