It has now been three weeks since I saw the film Sucker Punch at my local theater. I have read more reviews of this film after seeing a movie than any other film I have ever watched. The reason for this is I have yet to read a review that explains to me successfully why Sucker Punch deals in not one fantasy setting, but two distinct fantasy worlds. Most reviewers dwell on the sci-fi-fantasy action set pieces that take place in Baby Doll’s mind as she dances, while either ignoring the nightclub-bordello imaginary setting; or completely confusing it with the real world setting of the asylum. Snyder has done such an extraordinary job of creating lasting and impactful images in the fantasy quest settings that it is almost as if the human mind is not able to retain the more dark and disturbing imagery of the nightclub-bordello. For me at least, I found this primary bleak fantasy setting at least as gripping as the later secondary dazzling quest fantasy worlds. I have still not satisfied my need to understand why the director and co-writer of Sucker Punch created a counter unreality to the harsh reality of the asylum setting. To compound the confusion, the sequencing of these two separate, yet parallel (un)realities is done in a very nonlinear fashion, so that one is forced to piece together the timing of the events taking place in both worlds after the film has concluded.
I decided that if I was going to get an answer to these questions, the only place I might get them is from the creator himself, Zack Snyder. After a fairly lengthy and exhaustive search of the Internet, I came up with many fluff pieces talking about all the surface glamor of Sucker Punch, but not anything that answered what the film is actually about; either thematically or theoretically. The closest I could find was this interview of Mr. Snyder by Jack Giroux posted on the website Film School Rejects on March 27. I’ll post some of the quotes by Zack Snyder from this brief interview that I feel give at least a glimpse as to what Sucker Punch was really about.
Jack Giroux: The film has gotten that interesting type of polarizing reaction.
Zack Snyder: It has. For me, I honestly think with Sucker Punch – it’s weird. I feel like people either see it two ways: completely in the overt version as exactly what they see, which is just this girl going crazy and then going on this adventure for no reason. That version of the movie that people see is as a super straightforward movie. Or people see it as a crazy, sort of, commentary on genre films and what is sexuality and why the girls are dressed like that. I think that’s also valid, because that’s what the movie is.
Jack Giroux: Would you say the film is a critique on geek culture’s sexism?
Zack Snyder: It is, absolutely. I find it interesting, in a lot of ways, that this movie – of all the movies I’ve made – has been universally hated by fanboys, which I find really interesting. It’s like a fanboy indictment, in some ways. They can’t have fun with the geek culture sexual hang ups.
Jack Giroux: I thought it was basically you commenting on those attendants at Comic-Con who shout, “You’re hot!” at beautiful cast members.
Zack Snyder: Yeah! 100%. They don’t know how to be around it. It’s funny because someone once asked me about why I dressed the girls like that, and I said, “Do you not get the metaphor there? The girls are in a brothel performing for men in the dark. In the fantasy sequences, the men in the dark are us. The men in the dark are basically me; dorky sci-fi kids.”
Jack Giroux: Do you feel like most people are missing that idea? Aren’t there self-referential lines about that in the film, like when Sweet Pea says the dances have to be more than titillation?
Zack Snyder: Oh yeah. There’s a few of those. She says, “The dance should be more than titillation, and mine’s personal,” and that’s exactly a comment on the movie itself. I think 90% are missing it, or they just don’t care. See, I don’t know. I haven’t had the opportunity to question people about the film, and I feel like that’s the next step with taking the time to interview people about what they saw, or what they thought they saw. The other line that I think is important is, as soon as the fantasy starts, there’s that whole sequence where Sweet Pea breaks it down and says, “This is a joke, right? I get the sexy school girl and nurse thing, but what’s this? A lobotomized vegetable? How about something more commercial?” That is basically my comment on the film as well. She’s saying, “Why are you making this movie? You need to make a movie more commercial. It shouldn’t be so dark and weird.”
This is only about half the interview, but it deals with the aspects of Sucker Punch that I’m the most interested in. Here is the first quote of Zack’s where he states, “Or people see it as a crazy, sort of, commentary on genre films and what is sexuality and why the girls are dressed like that. I think that’s also valid, because that’s what the movie is.” Is Mr. Snyder saying that the movie is just his way of pointing out the conflicting motives of genre films that both empower women and exploit them simultaneously? If that were the case, he might have chosen a far lighter tone that would have accomplished the same goal. Therefore, there must be more to the film than that.
In this next quote, Mr. Snyder seems to reinforce this theme of Sucker Punch by saying, “Do you not get the metaphor there? The girls are in a brothel performing for men in the dark. In the fantasy sequences, the men in the dark are us. The men in the dark are basically me; dorky sci-fi kids.” Zack Snyder seems to be underplaying the darker undertones of the brothel, by stating that it is a metaphor for “dorky sci-fi kids” who go to see genre films to watch girls in skimpy outfits acting out male fantasies. If I thought Mr. Snyder was being completely truthful with this comment, I might be insulted. However, I think he’s having a laugh here at his own personal joke, which he is still unwilling to completely let anyone else in on. I think like most creative people, he wants the work of art to speak for itself and he feels uncomfortable or is just unwilling to explain it to anyone else. It’s like the old adage: If you have to explain the joke, than it’s not really funny is it?
The most revealing comments of this interview is when Zack Snyder says, “The other line that I think is important is, as soon as the fantasy starts, there’s that whole sequence where Sweet Pea breaks it down and says, ‘This is a joke, right? I get the sexy school girl and nurse thing, but what’s this? A lobotomized vegetable? How about something more commercial?’” Here is where Mr. Snyder at least infers that he intentionally created a film that contrasted ugly truths with beautiful fantasies; but still, he does not address to what end! Is Sucker Punch just one glorious visual manifestation of men’s ignominious treatment of women; at least within the confines of our popular entertainments? These quotes from the director seem to indicate just that. If that is the case, than Mr. Snyder is a far shallower creative mind than I have given him credit for.
Even now I find myself wanting to better understand this dark disturbing film that is interrupted by bursts of intoxicatingly stunning visual images that should have made it far more entertaining than it actually was. I find that I’m disappointed that Sucker Punch wasn’t either a pleasant diversion or a profound exposé, but a diluted mixture of both.
Anyone who is interested in reading the entire interview with Zack Snyder can read it at http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/features/interview-zack-snyder-on-the-sexuality-and-world-of-sucker-punch.php.