Spoiler-Free Synopsis: A young woman (Baby Doll) loses her mother and after rebelling, is committed to an insane asylum by her step-father. Once there, she executes a plan to escape the corrupt institution with the help of four other inmates. The setting moves from the 1950’s asylum to a variety of fantasy settings where Baby Doll imagines her and her allies in elaborate action sequences that represent important parts of the plan.
Review in Short: Incongruous.
The flips between various levels of fantasy didn’t quite work to make a consistent emotional attachment to the characters, or to make particularly consistent characters in general. It was hard to know them or get really attached to them.
From the technical side, the dialogue took away an awful lot from this film. The concept is great, the visual execution is pretty interesting and the sound track is fabulous, but the script and its delivery is pretty rough. If you can get past that, though the movie is enjoyable. Expect, however, to be made uncomfortable.
Spoilers and rambling after the break.
If you were somehow curious what Girl Interrupted would have been like if directed by Zack Snyder (Director of 300) you have your answer: As I said before, incongruous.
The setting flips uncomfortably between high-flying, ultra bad-ass action and an extremely unpleasant reminder of the historical mistreatment of women. It’s not entirely clear what message the director was trying to send. I feel like he was on the verge of something brilliant and instead had two unrelated movies spliced together. I love what he was trying to do, I just wish he’d pulled it off.
The action is cool. I will definitely give it that, and it is entirely unapologetic in being as cool as possible. Being based on fantasies, the settings vary wildly from dueling giant metal samurai with Gatling guns to fighting off steampunk Nazis. Unfortunately, being fantasy, there is no real emotional investment in the outcome of the scene either. The fantasy world does not match the real world well enough for either narative or emotional parallels to be set up. They are just fantasies, separate from the events of the real world.
That brings me to another issue. Almost immediately upon entering the asylum, Baby Doll enters a fantasy where the asylum becomes something of a brothel or burlesque house. We never get to know any of the characters outside of that fantasy. We never know what happens in the real world. There is a character that dies and we never actually find out what happened to her in reality. It makes it very hard to get involved with the characters or suspend disbelief. Since we know that it is a fantasy and it is unclear in what ways it is paralleling their reality, we never quite let go of our reality. This, if you are interested, is the prime reason for my low rating.
A huge check in favour of Sucker Punch is the use of music. There are some killer remixes of excellent songs played in full through the action sequences, lyrics and all. Standing out in my mind are Jefferson Airplane’s While Rabbit and Silversun Pickup’s Panic Switch. All of the major tracks were well chosen, well integrated and added immensely to the action. I might very well pick up this CD and play it whenever I feel the need to take on the world.
Whether or not it will be successful, there is something important that Sucker Punch tries to do and that is to remind us of some unpleasant realities: Not too long ago it was possible for women that did not conform to society, those that had been abused and fought back, those that were too willful, to be institutionalized. Even within the institutions meant to protect and help them, they could still be mistreated. They could be subject to the whims of the staff and any number of inappropriate treatments in an environment that would more likely degrade their mental health rather than improve it. That was real. Those things happened. To a much lesser extent they still happen. If we forget that and become complacent, it can happen easily without notice.
Sucker Punch regularly and repeatedly hammers that home with threatened or attempted rape. It is made very clear throughout that those perpetrating the acts are evil. Not misguided, not misunderstood, no holds barred evil. I for one salute that.
I wonder if Sucker Punch will succeed at bringing awareness to a new demographic, or if the fanboys will just get annoyed that the schoolgirl-ninja action keeps being interrupted with depressing stuff.