OK, I promise this is my last post on media for/about teenaged girls for, I don’t know, at least twenty-four hours. But, SUCKERPUNCH! SUCKERPUNCH! SUCKERPUNCH!
I thought this movie was tons of fun, and I had no idea how much people were hating this movie until my friend Tom Piccirilli mentioned it on twitter. Since then I’ve been skimming the reviews, which are abysmal. Fine, don’t like it. But what strikes me here is the strange and assured claim that this movie is sexist, misogynist, anti-girl, and has set us women back thirty thousand years. “Snyder is just a big boy with lots of toys. These, unfortunately, include his actresses.” I can’t imagine referring to my fellow grown women as “toys,” but we are, as always, assured that it’s the filmmaker, not the critics, who has a problem with women. “There certainly are no characters…It’s as if Snyder saw Inception while drunk or high and immediately sat down to write Sucker Punch…The actresses were apparently chosen more for their physical attributes than for their thespian talents or box office appeal.“ First, I admit I’m astonished that someone thought Inception had characters. Second, I’ll say it again–it’s the filmmaker we’re supposed to think is misogynist here? Seriously? I mean, true, very little dialogue here, but I was thinking that was because it’s an action movie, not because the girls weren’t good actors. The filmmaker, Zak Snyder, hired these women and paid them presumably millions of bucks to be in this film. It’s the critic, not the director, who has dismissed them in one clean stroke.
I think the critics are completely wrong here. Yes, there are girls in cute outfits, sexy girls, hot girls. It’s saddening to realize for how many critics, professional and amateur, the girls are now somehow reduced or degraded due to their attractiveness. Sure, we’d all like to see more movies where fat middle-aged people take home the prize (or at least we pretend we do, because when people make those movies very few of us actually go see them), but this isn’t that movie, and it isn’t supposed to be that movie. More to the point, I don’t think the fact that the girls are sexually attractive means that the girls are bad, or “unfeminst” (whatever that means, and truthfully I don’t really care), or “unrealistic,” or in any other way unworthy heroines. Babydoll, our heroine, is a classic Joseph-Campbell-ian hero, a point every reviewer, even those few who liked the film, seem to have missed. She is, as all great action heroes are, on The Path.
Being an object of men’s sexual desire is an almost universal experience for young women. It’s sweet when it’s the boy next door. When it’s your teacher or the boy-next-door’s dad, it’s not so sweet. It can be frightening and it can be a very shaming experience. I don’t mean to overly simplify what can be a complicated relationship. But often inappropriate attraction from men (in part because, for mysterious reasons, no one warns you about all the creepiness to come once you hit, say, twelve) can leave a girl feeling ashamed or as if she herself is the one who has crossed a boundary or done something wrong. It’s an experience that often leaves girls feeling like they’ve been kicked out of the club–the club of “nice” girls, the club of “ordinary” teens who don’t have to deal with full-grown men and their often frightening (to a young girl) sexual desires, the club of kids who are still kids. I guess the critics would like us to think this phenomena sprung full-grown, like Athena, from Zack Snyder’s mind. Do they think men don’t hit on girls? That that’s a directorial flourish? I think it’s powerful for girls to see, up on the screen, girls who have had this experience and aren’t ruined, passive victims but active and strong agents of their own destiny.
We all know that, generally, when we see such girls in films–girls who have been sullied with the stain of male desire, as if we all haven’t been so stained–they’re victims. Even in the most compassionate film, they exist to be rehabilitated into good girls again. Megan touched on this in her conversation with Gillian Flynn in the LA times. The only hope for these girls is to somehow de-sexualize themselves, as if such a thing were possible, or desirable, for any human.
But as all of us not-so-nice-girls know, rehabilitation doesn’t always work. That’s why Suckerpunch is great. The girls in this movie are both sexualized beings and action heroes–true, in real life I hope for a wider range of motion for all of us, but this isn’t that movie. The movie takes place in a series of collapsing/alternating realities, and in one, the girls are prostitutes, forced against their will to work in a kind of brothel/netherland/nightclub, unable to escape. A new girl comes in and leads them to try to save themselves, as she does in the other realities these girls inhabit. The girls fight for their own freedom and for each other. The girls sacrifice themselves to save each other. As anyone who’s read my work knows, I do love a hooker with a heart of gold. But to see a girl who is explicitly portrayed as being a prostitute (ie, a girl who is “dirty,” “spoiled,” etc, as so many girls feel) take one for the team–not for the man in her life, not for the big brave detective (and don’t get me wrong, I love that story, too)–but for the other girls; well, I think that’s meaningful. I think it says something kinda cool and I’m not sure I’ve seen it before. Likewise the girls in this movie, though not perfect, are brave and loyal and stand up for each other. Every review I’ve seen, ironically, writes about the girls in terms of how attractive they are to teenaged boys (and the director). And yet in their accusations of sexism, they all seem to have completely glossed over the actual females they claim to be sticking up for. Because the girls in the movie, unlike the critics, don’t really seem to care about boys or sex or outfits at all. They seem to care about fighting for their mental and physical freedom, which develops into a fight for their lives. That seems to be where the girls are. It’s the critics who seem nearly obsessed with the fact that these girls are “hot,” and therefore somehow–what? Not feminist enough? Degraded? Impossible to take seriously? I don’t feel that way about attractive human females, and I bet you don’t, either.
The other really cool thing in this movie is the whole set-up, from beginning to end, is a bit of a trick–who you think is the star, isn’t. Again, one of the girls has/will sacrified herself for one of the others. A lot of reviews I read trashed this story line for its “fake profundity.” I rarely read criticism but in the little I do, this clever li’l analysis to be rearing its head a lot. An early review of my own book, in fact, called my detective “self-important” (thanks, Kirkus!). It’s somewhat shocking how you can pretty much guarantee at this point that any attempt in pop culture to go even an inch deeper than, say, a typical episode of Matlock will result in a steady stream of insults. I actually think this narrative twist was, if not profound per se, thought-provoking, and certainly a little narrative jag I haven’t seen before.
Suckerpunch? Yes, SUCKERPUNCH!