Or the complete lack of it, anyway. I considered calling this post !Irony but that irritated me as soon as it came to mind. In any case, this post contains spoilers and a review of Sucker Punch. Short version: it doesn’t really have characters as much as models. It doesn’t have a story as much as it has scenes, well, images. The closest thing to a narrator is unreliable. The gender issues addressed by the movie are to femininity what 300 was to masculinity only less subtle. There isn’t artistry as much as craft on display. A hot mess of disappointment with about 15ish minutes of stuff that looks really, really cool. Major Spoilers after the cut. Major spoilers for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest for good measure.

The movie exists on three different levels. There’s the “real world” which we see for 5 minutes at the beginning and for 5 minutes at the very end. The main character, “Baby Doll” (seriously) has been committed to an asylum for girls. We see the wicked stepfather bribe the head orderly to arrange a lobotomy and we see the head orderly agree. This sets the stage for the fantasy world in which we spend the majority of the film where the asylum is really a theater/brothel and the head orderly is really the head pimp. The rest of the movie takes place in the fantasy within the fantasy where you’ll find the worthwhile 15ish minutes. This is the portion of the movie where “Baby Doll” (seriously) and her cadre of action models (“Rocket”, “Sweet Pea”, “Amber”, and “Blondie” (seriously))  do such things as fight steam-powered zombies, dragons, mirror surfaced robots, and samurai golems (those last ones were my absolute favorites).

One of the first things I thought of when watching the movie was Moulin Rouge but Moulin Rouge had a sense of humor (or at least a sense of irony). Sucker Punch does not have this sense of irony/humor about itself. It is dreadfully, dreadfully earnest. I suppose that that makes sense, on one level… there are two ways to fight steampunk zombies and one is winking and laughing and breaking the fourth wall while you do it and the other is to be all business. They go for all business.

The problem, however, is that we don’t spend the entire movie in the hyperfantasy where the chicks are all tough as nails with katanas, handguns, jet packs, and mecha. We fall back down into the fantasy where pretty much everybody who isn’t one of the five girls is a menacing violent threat. One of the shortcuts the movie takes is not bothering to give us characters we care about but instead giving us bad guys that we know we should hate. Giving us people to boo is almost as good as giving us people to cheer, right? Well, when it’s this gratuitous, it’s not. The best setups involve us wanting to see the good guys win and not just see the bad guys lose.

In failing to give us characters that we care about, we’re left with little more than spectacle. While the spectacle is spectacular, there’s nothing underneath it. An example from the movie: We’re told that “Baby Doll” (seriously) has an absolutely entrancing dance. We never see it. The dance is what happens in the fantasy world when she slips away (and us with her) into the hyperfantasy world. When we fall back out into the fantasy world, the dance has just ended and we see the looks of rapture on the faces of the viewers.

We don’t see this. We are just told that it happened. We are never given a connection with anybody in the movie, we’re just told that we should have one. At the end of the movie, she’s given a lobotomy. In my real world, this would be cause for me to be upset (hey, I was upset when Murphy got one). In the movie, however, we’re told that she’s pleased with this outcome. It’s what she, apparently, wanted. Like with everything else in the movie, we’re not shown this, we’re just told it.

Which is the ultimate flaw that pervades everything in the film. We’re not shown anything as much as just told it.

In that, I suppose, the movie is a metaphor for itself.


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


    • The problem is that 300 had an *AWESOME* trailer.

      Sucker Punch is somewhat similar insofar as it is full of little half seconds that are amazing. Put all of them together and you’ve got yourself another *AWESOME* trailer.

      • Suckerpunch also had an awesome trailer. I remember thinking it was a must see after the trailer.

      • Put together all the funny parts of In Bruges (as the trailer did), and it’s another Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. A good film, but completely unlike what was advertised.

  1. I have zero desire to see this film, but was curious enough about the cast to check the Wikipedia page. Please tell me that the name of the asylum isn’t really “the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane.” The mentally insane? As opposed to, say, the intestinally insane? The nasally insane? Any film that names an asylum “the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane” without irony is an affront to human decency.

    Also, I’m guessing that you never see “Baby Doll”‘s mesmerizing dance because Emily Browning probably can’t dance. If dancing is an integral part of a character’s story, perhaps an intelligent casting director would go to the trouble of finding an actress who can dance. I’m guessing these chumps didn’t bother to consider that.

    • Well, I think it’s more that the dance has to be something that freaks the viewers out and mesmerizes them. Something absolutely freakin’ amazing.

      Elizabeth Berkeley didn’t pull that off.
      Natalie Portman didn’t pull that off.
      Cyd Charisse maybe could pull that off but she’s dead.

      The next best thing is to say “here are some zombies, seriously, the dance was awesome”.

      • Elizabeth Berkeley couldn’t pull anything off in “Showgirls”… except her clothes! (Hey-oooooooh!) At least Gina Gershon looked like she was having a good time in an otherwise drektacular catastrophe.

        I can’t speak for Natalie Portman, since I haven’t seen “Black Swan” yet. She still gets residual goodwill points from me, however, for being contractually forced to deliver the romantic dialogue in “Attack of the Clones” and not committing Japanese ritual suicide afterward.

        And there will never be another Cyd Charisse, got rest her glamorous soul. If there were any justice, she would resume corporeal form circa “Singin’ in the Rain” and come back to craw your eyes out for mentioning her in the same blog comment as Elizabeth Berkeley.

        But surely there has be to some combination of choreographer/dancer who could have come up with something better than a gaping narrative hole.

        • Russell, you are required to write a guest post about Cyd Charisse.

          I can’t, because all it would say is, “Imagine that God exists, and his whole Purpose was to produce Legs. Cyd Charisse is what came out the other end.”

          It lacks depth. I just can’t get past her legs.

    • “If dancing is an integral part of a character’s story, perhaps an intelligent casting director would go to the trouble of finding an actress who can dance. ”

      Welcome to the dilemma faced by everyone who makes a movie with karate/kung-fu/wuxia/Asian Martial Arts fighting. Because they have to figure out how to make a ninety-pound borderline anorexic who’s never done anything more coordinated than badminton look like she’s able to punch out a burly MMA fighter.

      And it’s not just karate. Remember how Liv Tyler was supposed to show up at the Battle for Helm’s Deep? Remember how that didn’t happen after all? Yeah, that’s not because the writers decided that having an Ass-Kickin’ Babe at the fight would be an unsupportable departure from the original work.

      • they have to figure out how to make a ninety-pound borderline anorexic who’s never done anything more coordinated than badminton look like she’s able to punch out a burly MMA fighter.

        Which is what makes Michelle Yeoh so very very special.

        • Dr.Hanley, I forgot what a truly great writer you are. It is astonishing that you can so effortlessly pull this out of your head with such elegance and eloquence. Bravo!

          So how do you like your solitude at your new joint, The Bawdy House Provision? There must be some story, behind a title like that. Actually, come to think of it, “solitude” is probably not at all what you are seeking. Much more the opposite. My very best wishes, Professor.

          “Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.”

          “I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

        • I heard an interview with the lovely Ms. Yeoh once, that went something like this:

          You do all your own stunts, don’t you?

          Yes, that’s just expected of you there. In my first film, for instance, I had to ride a motorcycle down a hill and onto the top of a moving train.

          How did you train for that?

          Well, first I learned how to drive a motorcycle…

  2. The movie is a metaphor for itself.

    I’m not sure what this means, but I like it.

    Which is the ultimate flaw that pervades everything in the film. We’re not shown anything as much as just told it. I like this, too. Classic rule of play/screenwriting, “Don’t tell us, show us.”

    • Which, like all rules, you can break if you’re really good. At least, I thoroughly enjoyed My Dinner with Andre.

        • Didn’t he do the dancing in the dream sequences from Twin Peaks?

      • Oh God, you did? I found it to be two hours of the most unendurable piece of pretentious crap I’ve ever had to endure. Maybe I need to see it again. Barf bags mandatory, though. Existential whining among intellectuals about how bad, pointless, meaningless, and unfair life is makes me at once both suicidal and homocidal. It can only be topped by brain-dead Libertarian intellectuals hysterically crying that we live in a “police state”.

        Let’s toss them an inner tube and watch them paddle to Havana if they want to see a real police state.

        • Whoops–make that “homicidal”.

        • I was referring to the original text of Hamlet, sir. They are killed offstage, the news famously transmitted with that line, told not shown. If you wanna play Dennis Miller, bro, you gotta get yr chops up. Tom Stoppard < Will Shakespeare.

          Which reminds me of philosopher Edward Feser's best line [you really should look him up].

          Student 1: You make such obscure references!

          Feser: Sorry. Guess I’m the Dennis Miller of philosophy.

          Student 2: Who’s Dennis Miller?

          Feser: See what I mean?

  3. The hubby loved it, but I think only for the deep dream sequences. And they worked up some utterly terrific trailers to it; there were background stories for each of the deep dream sequences that were really good. Alas you have to dig em out of the extras section of the DVD right now but maybe they’ll show up on youtube as well.

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