A few days ago, I was innocently scrolling through my facebook feed when I came across a clickbait article I really couldn’t not investigate: “15 Most Offensive Movie Characters”. The title itself wasn’t what really got me. It was the thumbnail picture for the article:
***I’m not going to put the link for the article here, partly because I am only talking about one section of it, and also because its Grade A crapola all the way through. If you really want to you can Google it, but please spare yourself the waste of 10 minutes it will be.
It has been 4 years since the release of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, and sadly, I still have to see crap like this. I’m just going to come out and say this now, so that if you disagree with me you can close the page and go about your life:
If you think Sucker Punch was an awful, misogynistic, geek fan boy wank-fest, YOU DID NOT UNDERSTAND SUCKER PUNCH.
Here is a trailer to refresh your memory.
Upon its release in 2011, critics slammed the film, with many regarding it as the worst film of the year. Idiots. The exact reasons for which critics hated it are the exact reasons for why it had to be made, and why it is actually one of the smartest feminist films in the last decade.
We live in a very interesting era of feminist politics at the moment (when is it not interesting, honestly). On the one hand, we have post-feminism, the idea that feminism is no longer necessary and we are all living in harmonious equality. On the other, we have third wave feminism, a movement which takes all of the successful methods of the second wave and integrates them with a more accepting and inclusive attitude towards femininity (sometimes referred to as ‘lipgloss feminism’). In regards to feminism in geek culture, particularly in gaming and comic books, the main concern is female characters wearing revealing and unpractical clothing or costumes in order to feed the fantasies of male fans.
On the surface, this is what Sucker Punch looks like; young attractive women in short skirts, leather and corsets wielding machine guns and katanas. It also seems to be all that the critics saw.
But let’s take a closer look.
First of all, we need to discuss the three layers of ‘reality’. Each layer corresponds to a particular wave of feminism. The first layer, the mental institution, is set in roughly the 1960s, during the second wave.
This layer is the one where the girls have the least amount of control, at least to start with. All of the girls are at the mercy of the warden and the guards, and Baby Doll literally has everything taken from her when she is lobotomised. In order to escape their awful predicament, the girls escape into their own minds into the second layer – the dance club.
This was one of the first points in the film critics kicked up a stink about. The dance club, set in 1920/30s during the first wave of feminism, obviously has the female characters wearing the typical hypersexualised, barely-there outfits dancing for the johns. While at first this layer seems pretty misogynistic, as the film progresses, the girls use their sexuality to overcome the males; the men can overpower them physically, but the women can overpower the men psychologically. They use their sexual confidence to continue their escape into the third layer of reality – the fantasy war world.
This layer reflects the situation today in pop culture vs feminism. The girls are kicking ass but it apparently doesn’t count because they’re wearing revealing impractical and revealing clothing. But here’s the thing guys: It’s their world. It’s their choice. That’s the whole point of the film.
And before you say “But Lauren, Zack Snyder was misogynist because he made all the girls wear those outfits, and he was intentionally sexualising them!” I want you to remember Snyder was also responsible for 300, the most visually beefcake-y ab-tastic experience since gay porn. No one complained about how those guys were wearing hypersexualised outfits. It was their choice to go into battle dressed like that, so why the double standard for these girls?
So are we good on that front? Now I’m going to blow your mind even further. Baby Doll isn’t even the main character of the film.
It’s Sweet Pea.
If you look closely, you will see that the character of Sweet Pea is the embodiment of Sweet Pea’s mind, and Baby Doll is the embodiment of Sweet Pea’s body. Baby Doll doesn’t exist as a character, she is Sweet Pea. When Baby Doll is lobotomised, that is Sweet Pea’s body being lobotomised, and Sweet Pea has already escaped to the dance club and the fantasy war world realities, where she is able to be in control.
So not only is Sucker Punch one of the best feminist films of the decade, its also super complex, with a kick ass soundtrack and an amazing cast. If you don’t like this film, maybe you need to sit down and analyse why that is. Most likely its internalised misogyny battling against your inner social justice warrior. And that’s fine, let it play out, and watch the film again.
** A special thank you to fellow honours student/sci-fi fan Bridgette, who helped me to wrap my head around feminist theory.