Saturday, May 14, 2011

well it sure does suck...

I hoped Suckerpunch was gonna be good. The trailer, to me, smacked of determined and passionate (albeit a bit simplistic and old-fashioned) feminism: a young girl is put into an insane asylum by her evil stepdad after her mum dies. To escape containment and lobotomy, the girl conjures up a battle field in her own imagination, and creatively “fights” her way out of through fantastical scenarios of war, guerrilla tactics and hand-to-hand fighting (at all three of which she kicks butt, as do the fellow female patients she includes in her escape place). The basic metaphor, I gathered, was something about the oppression of women by the evil and abusive institution of patriarchy that contains women through violence – but that women are able to “break free” through the creative power of their minds, and through banding together.

Of course, I saw problems with this metaphor – it positions all men as generically evil, and it suggests that a “freeing of the female mind” is enough to make women feel ok about the real violence and oppression they may have experienced (ie. you wouldn’t tell a rape victim to just fantasise about killing the rapist, and then assume her own trauma has been dealt with, or that “rape” as an issue in society has been removed). In any case: whatever misgivings I had about the trailer, I hoped they would dissipate through the course of film. THEY DIDN’T. (In fact, they grew and mutated in huge horrible monsters named Disbelief and Disgust).

The offending school uniform get up.
For one, the whole film was a shameless excuse to get hot chicks flashing as much butt-cheek and cleavage as possible. Babydoll (the main character) actually has two levels of escapist fantasy – apart from world of fighting in her mind, she imagines that the mental hospital is crazy burlesque brothel (!!?!) where young (underage?) fake-tanned girls strut around in corsets, fishnet tights and stilettos, each with their own electronic rotating bed. The creepy lobotomy doctor becomes a creepy pimp and the “fantasy world” of fighting that I saw in the trailer can only be accessed by Babydoll when she does a pornographic stripper dance. It is while she mesmerises everyone with her “moaning” and “gyrating” (as the other girls in the film describe) that she can distract the chief doctor (pimp), the psychologist (the madam) and guards so that the other female patients can steal a map, a key and some other objects that will help during their escape. To the film’s credit, we never actually see the notorious dance. However, equating female, imaginative freedom with self-objectification and sexualisation is totally problematic, and suggests girls can only really achieve freedom through showing their bodies (which will only work if their bodies are “good enough” to have power over men). Obviously this is no freedom at all, and I should have realised at this stage that the film probably wasn't intended as a contribution to contemporary gender politics. 

In any case, the scenes which depict the gunfights and explosions in Babydoll’s fantasyland feature the girls in revealing school-girl uniforms, encouraging some weird paedophilic voyeurism on the part of the audience. Also, Babydoll meets some random old guy in the fantasyland who gives her instructions about what objects she needs to escape. On the “real” level of the story, one of the female patients does escape, thanks to Babydoll, and when she gets out of the hospital and into the town, the same random old guy is the bus driver, who gives her a knowing wink and lets her ride the bus for free. Babydoll and this woman, then, are actually totally dependent on this guy for having achieved any level of freedom at all. And yet we never find out who the heck this guy is – he’s just another vague male white father figure with the appropriate knowledge on how a women should behave (!!!?!). I’m not saying that men and women shouldn’t work together – of course I think they should. Some might argues that as a Christian (ie follower of Christ) that I am complicit in such a narrative of a masculine archetype - but actually, Jesus’ own history and claims are extremely specific and gender inclusive, as opposed to  the film's presentation of some vague cultural idea of manhood which refuses to account for its origin, its influence, or where it gets the omniscience it claims as natural to itself.

Plus, the film made no sense narratively. How did the real girls get into the brothel fantasy? The film nowhere explained what the correspondence was between the real life of the girl and her fantasies – presumably they matched up somehow, but it wasn’t clear. Plus, the fight scenes sucked – talk about boring, and pornographic. As my good friend blogged here[Snyder, the director] could have considered the fact that us chicks would definitely not be impressed by seeing the same jump and twirl that conveniently exposes lots of creamy thigh five times in a row (and countless of other times over the course of the movie.) And for the love of all that is holy, where is the gore?

I’m going to hold it there, even though I could write another thousand words on many other aspects of badness into the film. MORAL OF THE STORY: filmmakers need to get out of the habit of writing films that position men as automatically having negative power and women automatically being on the defensive. How else will we move forward out of this thinking, to an ideology where men and women can work together on equal terms? I know I sound ranty. Soon I will find something I like and write a happy post :) To cheer you up, here is a shot from the hilarious scene in Wayne's World that inspired the name of this post, and exemplifies my feelings towards Suckerpunch. Love yas! 


  1. "...I should have realised at this stage that the film probably wasn't intended as a contribution to contemporary gender politics." Trailers and posters were enough to convince me of that, but arguing gender studies isn't my thing.

    "Some might argues that as a Christian (ie follower of Christ) that I am complicit in such a narrative of a masculine archetype - but actually, Jesus’ own history and claims are extremely specific and gender inclusive..."
    References? Timothy 2:12 and the like have been well cited by Christian (for me that term is far too broad to be useful so don't feel I am equating you with any given interpretive community) groups to keep women out. Fundamentalists - who by their very nature stick far more closely to literal readings than moderate followers - certainly aren't inclusive towards women. Please elaborate on your particular commentary re Jesus...

  2. Hello! Thanks for your comments.
    Well, regarding your first point - yes, my comment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I love action movies so much and am always on the lookout for a well-crafted heroine (quite rare in action cinema, in my opinion), so even though I had a feeling the film would be terrible, a small part of me was hoping I'd be proved wrong (obviously I wasn't!)

    Regarding your second point - I think perhaps I will write something about this on my blog, because it comes up fairly frequently (and I won't be able to do the topic justice in the limited space of this comment). You're right -unfortunately, passages like Timothy 2 (and a couple of others found in the New Testament) are used to exclude women from positions of leadership in the church. Other verses are used to determine what women should wear, or what type of "role" they should play in the family. Usually these are conservative or fundamentalist groups, but many "average" churches would use them too.
    I disagree with this reading of the Bible - it essentially takes certain verses out of their historical context to "trump" the rest of the story about women which emerges through the Bible. Included in this story are examples of women leaders (in the church, and at battle - see Deborah in the book of Judges), women who defeat the male armies (Jael in the book of Judges) female prophets who preach the gospel of Jesus to the church (Anna in the book of Luke) not to mention the three women present at Jesus' resurrection (see the four Gospels), whom are the first people he sees and the first people he instructs to spread the news he is alive again. This was an entirely revolutionary act, since at the time a woman's testimony wasn't even valid in court - yet Jesus trusted them with the basis of what became Christianity. There are tons of other examples from the New Testament, not to mention the story of Genesis, if the wording of the original Hebrew is examined. But I will speak about this in a blogpost so I can explain it properly :)
    The main point for me is making a distinction between Jesus, and the human institution of the church. The church has excluded (and continues to exclude) many people for various reasons: Jesus didn't.
    Hope that gives you a clearer idea of where I'm coming from!

  3. A blog post on the topic would make for interesting reading and I eagerly await its posting!

    There are a few specific aspects I would like to see elaborated therein:

    Firstly, what historical context are you reading the Bible in? I personally view it as a product of its Jewish origins whereby much of its meaning/intentions can be discerned from Judaic traditions and beliefs. This would likely present obvious problems for a "Christian" however, including the fact it recasts the Gospels as Midrash rather than historical accounts.

    Secondly, how does the Markan appendix figure into this? If verses 9-20 are in dispute and the oldest codex has the women being instructed (not by Jesus himself) to go forth and tell others but not actually doing so, can it be seen in the way you describe?

    Finally, it would be useful to have the specific examples of Jesus' inclusivity. From memory, he displayed a fair degree of disregard for the non-Jewish (I don’t have my Bible on me as I write this so excuse the lack of references on my part).

    On a similar note re where you're coming from: do you regard the entire Bible as factually correct in the sense that each phrase attributed to Jesus was actually spoken by Jesus, and that all books/epistles attributed to a specific author were actually written by that individual (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul)? For the most part I have engaged in discussion with fundamentalists who completely disregard the findings of modern Biblical scholarship when it comes to who wrote what and would be highly intrigued to know your views.

  4. Ha ha oh Julz, best review ever. Jayne and I were laughing about the pornographic posters for the film all over Paris. Jayne refused to go see it with me.

  5. To the anonymous poster above - I will write back, for some reason the blogger site only just let your comment show a couple of days ago :s

    Thanks for the questions though - they're great, will get onto it!