**TRIGGER AND SPOILER WARNING**
After watching Sucker Punch for the first time tonight I found myself disagreeing with almost every feminist’s review of the film, as well as most mainstream critics, may of whom I don’t believe understand what the film is about. Nor must they understand certain mental illness like dissociation identity disorder, disassociation or shock. It’s also certainly not a film about “womens empowerment” as many critics claimed (who must not have even been watching the movie)- it’s a story about surviving impossible situations and what that can do to the mind, body and soul.
I don’t think this movie is inherently sexist- In fact I think this is a rather acurate representation of what many survivors of sexual abuse and dissasociative dissorders go through, myself included. (Although of course not all of them) This film resonated with me on a level almost too personal. Everything including the sexualized depictions of the characters and scifi/fantasy fantasies in dissociation states.
Many of the critics thought the film was nonsensical and jumped about too much. Another big criticism was the sexual imagery in the film; many claiming it was completely unnecessary to the storyline and was sexist. Those claims I completely reject. I can tell you now; as a victim of a lifetime of sexual abuse and harassment who suffers from severe problems with disassociation; these depictions make complete sense to me.
Trying to find a good way to explain this and find an article I read to sum up things I stumbled upon this review of the film. Below are some excerpts that I think explain things quite clearly. The review sums up my thoughts better than I ever could have.
Some excerpts I’ve included headings for to make it more clearly show individual responses to critisms: I recommend reading the full review on the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center website HERE.
What sucker punch is about and why the weird zombies/hookers and robot fantasies:
The IMDB description of the movie is pretty clear: “A young girl is institutionalized by her abusive stepfather. Retreating to an alternative reality as a coping strategy, she envisions a plan which will help her escape from the mental facility.” That’s what the movie is about. There’s not a lot of confusion here. If you could followInception, you can follow Sucker Punch. There are multiple levels to her coping, sure, but they are clearly indicated by a switch in music and palette. The movie gives viewers plenty of indication when we’re moving between levels of fantasy here.
About Babydoll being so “passive”, “silent” and “blank”:
Just to recap, then - in the first five to ten minutes of this film, the main character has gone through a series of major traumas: her mother is dead, her sister is dead, she’s been assaulted and/or raped probably more than once, and now she’s being institutionalized against her will for an action that she didn’t commit. One of the major criticisms of the film from reviewers is that Emily Browning plays Baby Doll as a blank slate - she doesn’t seem to emote much, orshow reactions to the outside world. I didn’t think it took substantial rape crisis training to recognize what shock looked like, but Browning’s performance of a character, in MASSIVE shock, and who is quickly learning how to survive in an environment where she basically can’t, was compelling. She doesn’t talk much because she doesn’t have a whole lot to say, and it’s easier to play it off to the other characters that she’s a blank than to actively engage with them.
Criticism the movie is about hating men:
And here comes the part that I think most reviewers have either missed, or don’t want to consider: this movie is all about a young woman being raped. We get pretty clear confirmation of this at the end of the film (spoiler again) when, in the real world, Isaac’s orderly freaks out after some of his patients escape due to Baby Doll’s schemes. Rape, sexual assault, and maltreatment at the hands of orderlies or other staff in mental institutions was dangerously common in the period before de-institutionalization in the U.S.; this is still the case for many women under state supervision in the U.S. now. Men, in a position of power over captive women, in an institutional setting in which those women have no voice or power, will rape.
Why Babydolls “fantasy worlds” are so sexualized:
The relationship between the real world that Baby Doll is experiencing and the first level of her fantasy is not hard for me to understand. In order to survive in this hellhole of an institution where she is being repeatedly abused and likely raped, and when she’s already been traumatized by the events that led her to the institution in the first place, she choose to create a fantasy world for herself that is easier to deal with. This is where the bordello fantasy exists - it’s Baby Doll’s necessary emotional escape from the day-to-day existence in the institution. And it’s not surprising, based on her situation in real life, that this world is hyper-sexualized; she is getting a huge amount of unwanted attention from men in the real world because of her gender. Her fantasy world helps her cope with reality, but it does reflect it to some degree as well - she’s still a prisoner there, she’s still exploited sexually there; her life is still about this nexus of rape and imprisonment, it’s just got nicer drapes than the real world.
Why Babydoll (a rape and abuse victim) would use her sexuality the way she does:
Over time in the real world, it becomes clear to Baby Doll that either because of her looks, or because of the personalities of the orderlies, that she is assaulted more than the other patients at the hospital. She also learns that she can manipulate the orderlies through their raping of her. This is where the second level of fantasy comes into play: she recognizes that her fellow inmates can get away with stealing things, sneaking around, and generally making good on attempts to escape if the guards’ attentions are focusing on assaulting Baby Doll. In her mid-level fantasy, she views this as dancing - the sexualized act that will entrance the men who run her world. It’s too hard for her brain, though, to face the idea that getting raped in the real world is a form of fighting back against her abusers, and so she creates another level of fantasy where she is completely in control as a violent commando. Still sexualized, because again, in real life - she’s getting raped.
But why mosters / zombies / robots / dragons / kung-fu, gun toting ninjaness?
It makes sense to me that the bad guys in any given version of Baby Doll’s fantasy are inhuman monsters, because the men who are assaulting her in real life are also inhuman monsters. The fact that the imagery is clashing and strange makes some sense, too - this is dissociation, after all. BARCC hears from a lot of survivors that one self-defense mechanism that helped them make it through the trauma of being raped was to…go somewhere else; to let their emotional and mental self be somewhere distant, especially if that emotional place is one in which the survivor is in complete control. The reason Baby Doll is never in realistic danger during her slips into the commando fantasy world is because she’s creating the entire universe to make herself feel safe. The only time that fantasy gets broken is when someone does legitimately die in the real world and shatters Baby Doll’s ability to dissociate for a moment.