Sucker Punch: review

Further to my preliminary report, which I stand by, here goes:

People seem very divided by the film, which is itself an interesting sign. Any artwork that generates strong and divergent reactions has done something. Better an interesting failure than a tame success. There is certainly nothing else like it, at least, and for this it gains some measure of sympathy.

Despite finding it awful in many ways, I had a total blast getting completely off my tits and going to this movie. The trick seems to be making the movie your victim, rather than being victimised by the movie.

What do I mean by this?

People’s confusion and dislike seems to me to stem from approaching it like it is a normal film. It isn’t. It is a deranged exercise in style.

Besides, the title tells you it is a sucker punch. The tag line is you will not be prepared. This movie warns it is going to mug you.

These are clues as to how to approach the experience.

Admittedly, I went in with a very specific mindset. The following is from the email I sent to folks suggesting we should go see it as an inquiry into the death of culture:

remove the art

and the artist

leave the machine

[…]

Snyder is a self confessed technician. He translates other’s visions to the screens. He represents the philosophy of the simulacra. Remove the artist; the machine alone remains. Sucker Punch is his first original work. The machine making machine art. The machine speaking to society, a representation of our cultural essence, unmediated by artistic sensibility.

It is going to be a terrible, even catastrophic, failure; yet it retains interest and utility; for from its gargantuan rotting splayed innards we may divine the advanced state (and workings) of the disease killing our society, and perhaps even divine the terminal date of our present culture.

While overblown and tongue-in-cheek, thus was my thinking going in.

What I got was unexpected.

Here is what must be understood. Sucker Punch is not about anything. At all. It has no content. It is making no statement. It is not even trying to be about anything. It is just a bunch of stuff stuck together to be fun. There is nothing to analyse. (Okay, maybe it is about what it tells you explicitly it is about in the voice over at the start and the end that tells you the Message in Very Big Letters. Maybe. But this is so explicit it still leaves us nothing to analyse.)

It is not saying anything about female empowerment. It is not saying anything about gender dynamics. To argue along these lines misses the point worse than people who criticised Black Swan for its unrealistic depiction of ballet. (Black Swan was about a lot of things, but ballet was not one of them.)

You can analyse the parts and get angry at this movie for its representations, but doing so seems a complete waste of time. It is not representing anything about reality.

What really surprised me is that Snyder turned out to be conscious of this.

In Snyder’s own words, “the goal of the film is to tell an artistic story that is not bound by reality or anything like that”.

And it does. In the process, it force-feeds us our culture, reflecting it back to us. Music videos? Yeah man. Computer games? Yeah man! Hot chicks in skimpy outfits kicking ass? YEAH MAN! Dragons and machine guns and samurai and zepellins and fuck yes everything all at once? FUCK YEAH MAN!

Sucker Punch is a mirror to our wayward culture. If you don’t like it, what is it you don’t like?

Sucker Punch is here, now; our culture, our images, recycling regurgitating feeding back; the emptiness of our culture in an endless loop of noise. It takes the surface-obsession of culture to its zenith, trapping us in an infinite hall of mirrors, with a pulsating soundtrack of repurposed hooks.

(Snyder again:”…someone asked me, why did you dress the girls like that? And I said, I didn’t dress them that way, you did. That’s what pop culture demands, not me. And that’s fun for me — I love that when confronted with the exact formula that they request, they get all freaked out by it…”)

Letting the machine make machine art had an unexpected consequence. A weird genius emerges. It becomes a contemplation of the void, of the degree to which we are lost, the unfathomable disconnection from anything real that we immerse ourselves in. And this is an unexpectedly entertaining process.

At least in the reading of this completely off his tits reviewer.

***spoilerville***

The weirdest thing is that in all the (admittedly limited) commentary I have glimpsed no one has commented on the ending – the sucker punch – the point. Clumsily shifting the lead character, and granting the previous point of view character a dire end, is the most technically interesting thing the film does, since it violates so much of usual storytelling sensibility.

And we get an unhappy ending. It’s not even a Brazil-faux-happy ending. It’s a gruesome nasty ending. A total downer. This never happens in a big budget feel good movie. (This is exactly what Richard E Grant’s writer character wanted to do in The Player, which was reversed by Tim Robbins’ producer character to “save” the movie. Not even in fake Hollywood could that stand.) Snyder pulled it off in the real Hollywood. It doesn’t make it any good, but it is interesting that it happened.

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