Today I would like to present you with an amazing analysis of film Sucker Punch that gathered mixed reviews this year. The minute interpretation was penned by a passionate film lover Carlos Salinas who is also a contributing writer for TheDangerBlog.com and can be reached on Twitter. Carlos, thank you for this awesome write-up!
Dear readers, please, share your thoughts on Zack Snyder's creation and the interpretation itself.
Attention: the article includes spoilers.
AN INTERPRETATION OF SUCKER PUNCH
By Carlos Salinas
In 2011, Zack Snyder, the visionary director of such films as Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen and the upcoming Superman film, Man of Steel released the film Sucker Punch to divided opinions. Some viewers enjoyed the spectacle and Snyder’s video game-like scenarios coupled with the soundtrack and attractive young cast. Others were baffled at the “plot” or lack thereof. They didn’t understand it and wrote it off as the director’s over-the-top exercise in sci-fi and fantasy tropes. Others called it a fan boy’s wet dream. The female characters were too sexualized. They just didn’t “get it.”
The following is an attempt to explain the “plot” of Sucker Punch. It is merely an interpretation and not intended to read the mind of Zack Snyder who is the only person who actually knows what it means. It is important here to note a word used in the treatment of mental illness:
Projection- A defense mechanism, operating unconsciously, in which what is emotionally unacceptable in the self is unconsciously rejected and attributed (projected) to others.
The following is the main cast of characters in Sucker Punch:
“Baby Doll” (Emily Browning) is a 20 year-old girl who is admitted into the Lennox Insane Asylum by her stepfather after accidentally killing her younger sister. She is also suffering the trauma of losing her mother and the cruelty and likely abuse of her stepfather. She first appears lonely and afraid.
“Sweet Pea” (Abbie Cornish) A is a patient at Lennox. She is tall and strong willed with quiet strength. She does not trust strangers.
“Rocket” (Jena Malone) is Sweet Pea’s younger sister. She is more outgoing and friendly.
“Amber” (Jamie Chung) is a patient. She comes across as timid and insecure.
“Blondie” (Vanessa Hudgens) is a patient. She is unsympathetic and cynical.
Dr. Vera Gorsky (Carla Gugino) is a Polish psychiatrist at Lennox. In the “bordello reality” she is “Madam Gorsky”
“Blue Jones” (Oscar Isaacs) runs of the bordello reality. At Lennox he is a sadistic orderly.
“Wise Man” (Scott Glenn) appears as many male archetypes.
Before we get to the clues to the meaning of Sucker Punch we should go ahead and state up front what the basic scenario is: This is the story of Sweet Pea. Not Baby Doll. If there is a reality at all in this film it is that the girl, “Sweet Pea”, is insane and she is in a mental hospital. Baby Doll is simply a figment of her imagination. Baby Doll is Sweet Pea’s defense mechanism that she will use to help her escape the horror of abuse from the orderlies and eventually set her free from an eventual lobotomy.
The entire film is a performance, a play. The film opens with theater curtains opening and revealing a stage set. The bedroom is not real at first. The stage works can be seen just at the edges of the bedroom walls. As the camera moves in the set becomes a dream or illusion. We see the figure of “Baby Doll” but it is only a memory of what actually occurred to “Sweet Pea.” It is a traumatic memory, a nightmare. It is the event which drove her insane and was the cause of her being in the Lennox mental hospital.
During the opening voiceover, we hear Gorsky’s voice tell us that an “angel takes on many forms”. She tells us “angels can show up anywhere at any time”. Angels can “shout through demons, daring us to fight.” Baby Doll is one of those angels.
When we first see the “theater” at Lennox there is a stage in the back with a bedroom set. Sweet Pea is sitting on a bed, nearly recreating the same “scene” as “Baby Doll” in the opening montage. While Dr. Gorsky is working with Sweet Pea through “play acting” therapy on the stage, Blue is discussing Baby Doll’s fate with her father in law. In five days the girl will be lobotomized. Blue tells him that soon Baby Doll will be in “Paradise. And all your troubles will be over.” Baby Doll will not be able to reveal the abuse once the lobotomy is performed on her. Blue uses that phrase as a sick way of describing “Baby Doll’s” post-lobotomy condition. The word “Paradise” is deliberate here. We’ll see why later.
Onstage Dr. Gorsky tells Sweet Pea: “You control this world. What you are imagining right now? It can be as real as you imagine.”
We transition to Baby Doll’s first night at Lennox. She is crying alone in the bathroom. A song is playing. “Where Is my Mind?” The first of many Projections comes to comfort her in the form of Rocket. Rocket is a projection of Sweet Peas little sister, the one who she killed accidentally. In other words, Rocket is a separate personality that she uses to help her cope. She is the sister who is always eager to be a friend.
The scene moves to the actual lobotomy of Baby Doll. But Baby Doll is actually Sweet Pea. And from the moment the hammer is brought back and about to be struck, we are thrown into Sweet Pea’s alternate reality, the bordello. And what is the first thing we see? Sweet Pea strapped in the chair about to receive the lobotomy in a staged “performance”.
She stops the “scene” cold, almost panicking. Her complaints about the set-up, the nurses, the mental patient being sexy, and the commerciality of it are almost a direct statement of the film itself. Even the characters see the absurdity of it and from that point on we are in a staged show. Everyone is playing a character. The acting style is like actors in a play not a realistic film. Madam Gorsky is a caricature. Blue will become the mustache-twirling villain of theshow.
Then Sweet Pea says something here that is very revealing. “I’m the star of the show.”
Every character in this “play” has an opposite in the mental hospital. But it is now all in Sweet Pea’s mind. Baby Doll’s role in this play is the angel, the savior who has come to help her escape in many different scenarios which play out in the drama. For instance, when we see Rocket’s assault attempt by the fat cook, Baby Doll represents the first appearance of an angel who rescued her.
When we move into the first “dance scene” Madam Gorsky tells Baby Doll, “Your fight for survival starts now. You have all the weapons you need. Now fight.” These are words Sweet Pea has likely heard in Dr. Gorsky’s therapy and she uses them in the bordello reality.
Then we transition to the “hyper reality”. This is like the dream within the dream. The dance is not the important thing. It’s merely a device in the bordello world to get to the hyper reality. We are never meant to see it. It’s left to our imagination if we imagine it at all. It’s yet another coping mechanism to help Sweet Pea escape. And in the “Samurai” reality Baby Doll meets the wise man. Here he is the first of many strong male archetypes: The wise sensei. After getting her to tell him what she wants, “freedom” he gives her instructions and weapons and tells her to “defend yourself”.
In stunning fashion Baby Doll defeats a trio of giant demon samurai warriors. She realizes her true power. When she returns to the “bordello reality” she is immediately looked upon as special. That night she tells the others of her plan to escape. Sweet Pea is resistant. This is her strong personality fighting with herself, always doubting. When Baby Dolls says she will escape from this place, Sweet Pea tells her sarcastically, “Send me a postcard from paradise.”
There is word “paradise” again. We will see it used once more later in the film.
The next scene is an incredible magic trick. Sweet Pea, Rocket and Blondie are sitting at a trio of vanity mirrors. At first watch we don’t even realize what we see. The camera pans from one side of the mirrors, through the mirror, and then the other side without a cut. Rocket is telling Sweet Pea how Baby Doll “saved me” from the cook. Like an angel.
Sweet Pea finally comes to terms with the plan to escape. The first thing they need is a map. A plan is set in motion. Then we enter the second “hyper reality” where modern weaponry is mixed with World War I planes and airships. Blondie lifts the helmet of a young British soldier who is shell-shocked. The wise man appears as an Army officer and tells the girls their mission is to retrieve a map. He gives them a generic motto: “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.” And then he adds “one more thing, try and work together”.
German steam punk soldiers and a demonic German army officer are killed by the dozens until a map is retrieved. Once again she comes out of the “dance.” Blue is impressed.
In the bordello reality the next item to get is a gold lighter. The third hyper reality is a castle siege of Orc-like creatures. There they are to get fire from the neck of a baby dragon. This time the wise man is a World War II bomber pilot crewman. These male archetypes are most likely Sweet Pea’s idealization of her real father with the sage advice and homespun sayings.
The fourth “hyper reality” is a futuristic train with a bomb on board, which represents the next item on the list: a knife. Here the plan goes horribly wrong. In the bordello world, Rocket, the little sister is stabbed. In the future reality she sacrifices herself and sends Sweet Pea to safety. The first of her personalities is now dead. This goes back to Baby Doll losing her little sister in the opening montage. In Sweet Pea’s real life, it was the loss of her real sister.
Things have come to a head now in the bordello reality as Blue tries to regain control. He puts Sweet Pea away while he kills two more of her personalities, Amber and Blonde. Madam Gorsky is distraught and tells Blue, “I teach them to survive you...“ In other words Madam Gorsky teaches Sweet Pea and the others to cope with Blue’s treatment. (Simultaneously in the mental hospital Dr. Gorsky is teaching her to survive the effects of her abuse)
All that’s left is her angel, Baby Doll, who helps her fight back by stabbing Blue and getting Sweet Pea out of the closet. They use fire and the key to escape and when it seems they are trapped outside the bordello, it is then that Baby Doll realizes that she is the fifth thing. This is not her story. It was never her story. It was Sweet Pea’s story.
Baby Doll tells Sweet Pea (herself) “You go home… Love… Be free… Live for all of us. You’re the strongest.” Here Baby Doll is telling Sweet Pea she is the strongest of all the personalities and she will escape.
Then the angel Baby Doll makes one last sacrifice to help Sweet Pea’s escape. Baby Doll then closes her eyes to take the final blow. The lobotomy is done and for the longest time we do not see the face of the girl in the chair. It is finally revealed to be the face of who we perceived as Baby Doll. But it is the face of the angel Sweet Pea has left behind.
When we see Sweet Pea get on the bus we see the wise man one last time in the guise of a bus driver. Police attempt to detain Sweet Pea just as she is about to board the bus. (Note the boy in front of her who turns around is the shell-shocked boy on the World War I battle field in the first hyper reality)
The bus driver intervenes on Sweet pea’s behalf and the police allow her to go on her way. Once on the bus she admits she doesn’t have a ticket but the bus driver assures her he knows and that it’s okay. He tells her to go sit in the back and get some rest. He tells Sweet Pea, “We have a long way to go.”
As the bus drives off down the road to the right is a billboard which reads, “Paradise Diner”.