Stairway to paradise
“So don’t feel bad about killing ’em. They’re already dead.”
—from the briefing by the C.O. in the Great War (played by Scott Glenn)
Sucker Punch Movie Review
Reviewed by Everard Cunion in January, 2012
Sucker Punch by Zack Snyder, 2011, is distributed by Warner Brothers.
Having watched it four or five times, I still had no idea why this movie is titled Sucker Punch. When researching a field unfamiliar to me for this review, I came across information so extraordinary that it reversed an assumption I had made about one particular scene. Unless you are familiar with certain details of medical history, the punch comes not during the movie, but afterwards, when you discover those details. (I have placed that part of this review on a separate page with a link, so you can skip it if you have not yet seen the film.)
Notice in this photo the metronome and the bookcase. NASA was preparing to land men on the moon, but the personal computer had not been invented.
Sucker Punch is a musical action fantasy set primarily in rural North America in the 1960s. Solidly in the girls ‘n guns genre, it features young women in miniskirts and high heels fighting the wars the USA was involved with between 1917 and ’72. It is a zombie-slaughtering spree on a massive scale. However, it is not just entertainment. Like the classic works of fiction from which it draws its themes, it provides proverbial food for thought. Additionally, it documents an extreme brain operation performed on psychiatric patients in the 1950s and ’60s.
A dark and stormy night
Here is the broad plot, without giving away the ending. A well-educated and bright 20-year-old woman, steeped in the literature and images of her time, is placed in Lennox House, a mental asylum, by her abusive father conspiring with a corrupt hospital warder. Lennox House? Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics sang the original version of the intro theme, Sweet Dreams, sung for the movie sound track by Emily Browning, who also plays one of the two lead roles.
Because of her extreme circumstances, Babydoll (played by Emily Browning) lives up to her billing as a violent and deranged mental patient. Importantly, although we see the after effects of three misdemeanours that constitute the action inside Lennox House, we see none of the events themselves. What we see is an extraordinary rendition of them as imagined by Babydoll.
Babydoll’s fantasies are based, with varying degrees of looseness, on the USA’s wars of the first two-thirds of the twentieth century: The Great War with Germany in 1918 (the USA joined late), World War 2 against Germany and Japan (primarily) in 1941-45, Korea (1950-53), and Vietnam (mid 1960s to early 1970s). The central character (or rather one of two); a diminutive blond-haired woman called Babydoll, is a contemporary of the young American men sent to Vietnam. The world’s principal space-faring nation going to war with a largely iron-age society, albeit one armed by the Soviets, surely is not a ‘fair fight’. The movie depicts that technological mismatch throughout—and its ironic outcome.
In this photo, over Babydoll’s shoulder we glimpse Sweet Pea (in hood), Blondie (with the dark hair) and Amber sitting contemplating her gobstopper. In the distance the C.O. is striding towards the girls.
The war scenes take place in Babydoll’s imagination. On some of those occasions, her imagination lets loose while she dances for various audiences. We do not see the dance either, incidentally. (There might be no dance to see…) However, we do witness onlookers’ reactions, which is all we need. That is a stroke of artistic genius. (It is not a new technique, of course.)
Unsurprisingly, everyone in the fantasy threads of the movie is a caricature.
Brattleboro Retreat for the Mentally Insane
Babydoll demonstrates excellent ‘situation awareness’ and an ability to plan rapidly while under duress, which is depicted early in the ‘reality’ thread of the film.
Blue Jones (played by Oscar Isaac) is certain only of his own outstanding character and the thankless attitude of those around him. The mirror indicates the nature of the scene. Actors of the highest calibre, such as Isaac, help ensure the quality of this movie.
Sweet Pea approaches the terrorist bomb. (Abbie Cornish is Australian, but of course too young to have direct experience of her country’s involvement in the Vietnam War.) At this stage, things start to go wrong for the girls. The fantasy breaks down. Suddenly we are back in the grubby kitchen where we witness a grim event. We then return to the fantasy and the state of play is no longer in the girls’ favour. This thread ends in a catastrophe strikingly similar to the ‘nine eleven’ attacks on New York in 2001.
In the final scene, a pair of state troopers appear at a bus station. To find out who they are after, see the movie.
A strong theme throughout this movie is that of self-sacrifice, not in the service of the goal for which it seems to have evolved (the ‘inclusive fitness’ calculation) or in the service of a religion or a nation, but in the pursuit of a better future for humankind.
The reaction of the surgeon (played by Jon Hamm) represents the medical establishment’s late realization as to the questionable nature of the procedure as it was used on many patients. It is part of what the wise man/armourer, who exists only in Babydoll’s imagination, describes as a “…deep sacrifice and a perfect victory.”
Why is this movie titled Sucker Punch? I believe it refers to a realization that happens to the viewer (to me, anyway) not while watching it (unless he or she is already familiar with certain historical details) but when finding out about the reality on which the story is based.
My Plot spoiler: Why is it titled Sucker Punch? You will not believe this… contains the punch.
This review is continued on the following pages:
One last thing. A mirror flips your image from left to right. Why does it not flip you upside-down too?
Witches, gang bangers, and crocodiles, my overview of the Zack Snyder movie Suicide Squad, 2016