I had a lot more hopes for Sucker Punch then you might believe. I mean, I know what it became: a mess of heavy handed symbolism, cute girl fodder and CGI masturbation masqueraded as feminism.
But oh, the action scenes were good.
And I wouldn’t be so upset if it was simply set up to be what it was. Maybe in my mind Zack Snyder had the writing chops to match his visual flair and he didn’t. So, I don’t know how upset I ought to be. The thing is, if you take Sucker Punch back to its core concept, there is a great idea to it. In fact there’s a revolutionary idea to it.
So what is the core concept? A group of young girls in a mental health facility use escapist fantasies to help with their own individual traumas by using those fantasies to give themselves confidence. Now how would you imagine that concept being realized?
Well, for one you’d set the story in the modern era putting the girls in a modern facility where the physicians are actually competent and the staff is helpful to set yourself apart from other films and television shows that use and abuse the convention of having them be evil or incompetent. Two, you’d give each girl a unique trauma of some kind that varies but also adds to the depth and complexity of the person rather than simply being a defining characteristic. Three; in the interest of cinematic brevity each girl would have her own little fantasy mission and be given tough choices within designed by the therapist leading them through a situation which was comparable to their own real life trauma, not so close that it was uncomfortable for them but not so far away that it we couldn’t relate to it without any sense of consequence.
Hell, you want to get fancy with it? Have two casts of girls. One of the girls in real life, the other as their idealized game counterparts and have it that as each one completes their quest they switch from being the idealized women to themselves. Make your final shot all of them standing proudly facing the next adventure!
There, that’s not hard. Well, to be fair you’d need a damn crack team of writers and you’d better hope there’d be some women on your writing and directing staff to ensure that a solid female perspective was ensured. But if you’d pull it off you’d have a brilliant piece about the trials of the modern woman, the value of getting professional care for psychological problems, a strong argument in defense of pen and paper roleplaying games, and at long last a functional story that for once showed that escapist fiction in its original intended use.
Instead the situation is set in a 1930s asylum during a time period notorious for the poor treatment of women and because of the ramped up stakes you instead have a bunch of pretty girls beset on all sides but the greatest evil of all: MEN under the age of 50! Even though the majority of the film is one girl’s extended panic induced hallucination which ends in her sending off a young, defenseless girl off to god knows where without any real means of defending herself (your bullshit four items be damned) after the main character has turned the asylum into a relatively safe place. And are any lessons learned? Does the character really grow beyond simply gaining the courage to take affirmative action? Keep in mind, this is a plot device that takes a few scenes in most movies but apparently needs to take an entire film for female characters.
There is something that actually gets on my nerves when writers and critics state that escapist fiction is just for escapism because the fat, smelly mouth breathers can’t accept real life. The truth is that this method of storytelling has an entirely different design and purpose even if the people who use it forget the purpose. You see, back in the age of mythological story many tales of heroes came with a sprawling hard fact about how the hero had screwed up in some capacity which eventually lead to his downfall. Prometheus tricking Zeus, Arthur nailing his sister, these are part of the elements that make up a hero in the Heroic Cycle. (Yes I know, I don’t shut up about it, I’m really sorry!)
Why are they in there? Well the idea is that these tales are to teach people lessons through a fantastical lens by being far enough away from reality that the audience could look at them without personal bias but close enough to real world problems that they aren’t alien. It’s why Superman has a burning desire to be the righteous force of unfiltered good in a world full of cynicism and why Spiderman struggles with balancing his daily life with his persona. The refinement of this idea of realistic emotional responses set within a fantastic setting is what I’ve been told is referred to as the Romantic Method though I’ve been unable to confirm that. The only reason I give it credence is because a teacher told me.
The problem is that Sucker Punch proves where the whole idea of using stories to test the emotional quality of the audience has gone horribly wrong. Now it seems impossible for an entertainment medium, especially film (Avengers and Batman are excluded from this and I imagine Spider-man but I haven’t seen it yet) to try and actually teach a lesson within their story of adventure and excitement through character growth and change. We do get an awful lot of social commentary though.
And that’s a big problem when I can count on one hand the number of sci-fi/fantasy titles that can do that. Or maybe these films are trying to tell a moral tale through character growth but the problem is that the tale is so damned simple between good and evil and to no thought of how individual characters reconcile themselves beyond that decision. I don’t know maybe I just don’t have great luck when I pick out my books and stuff.
I’m not entirely sure. Sucker Punch is still terrible though.
So too does this work exist.