Dan Rather. Vanna White. Hello Kitty. All of them have one thing in common. Carefully refined neutrality. You look at or listen to them and what you see in them depends on what you project onto them. Dan Rather is just a newsman, but can be whatever your reaction to the news he's reporting is (at least, when he wasn't getting loopy during long election night coverage. Those are some fun memories). Vanna White was either a wholesome American girl or a sexpot, depending on how you wanted to view her. Hello Kitty, with her carefully blanked expression, is simply there, and whatever the view projects on to her is what her personality is like.
The point of this is to draw in a bigger audience because whatever is featured isn't advancing an agenda, a point of view, or anything. In this day of comedians wearing their political leanings on their sleeves and everyone not even pretending to be objective anymore, neutrality is a lot of work for too uncertain a payoff. But every once in a while, you get someone who tries to create something that refuses to define itself and challenges viewers to define it. And it gets even worse when, whatever the viewer defines it as, the creation assures them their interpretation is wrong.
Welcome to the world of Sucker Punch.
Sucker Punch comes from the fevered imagination of Zack Snyder. Snyder got his start as director of the 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead. He then directed 300 and Watchmen, two films long on visual style and weak on plot (sorry, I cut my teeth on the black and white comics boom, and among the books I loved was Rick Veitch's Brat Pack. The deconstruction of the superhero was old hat to me by the time I got to Watchmen. It was nothing I hadn't seen before and hadn't seen done better and I thought it blew ass. Go ahead and argue, you will not change my mind on that). He tried making a family film with last year's Legend Of The Guardians (which I really liked). Now, instead of filming a pre-existing work, he creates an original, Sucker Punch, a film he storied, wrote, directed, and produced. In other words, this is all his fault.
The plot is something like a rejected Russ Meyer film. I half suspect Snyder wrote and shot this movie with one hand, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Baby Doll (Emily Browning) has been institutionalized for being psychotic. Seems her stepfather was attempting to molest her sister and Baby Doll accidentally shot the wrong person. The stepfather pulls a scam to get Baby Doll lobotomized so that 1) she can't tell anyone what really happened and 2) she can't claim her deceased mother's money. So Baby Doll pulls a Ralph Snart (told ya I love indie comics) and retreats into her dream world to escape everyday life. In five days, the doctor will be there to rewire her. In her dream world, she's a hooker in a brothel who's virginity has been sold to "the High Roller", who will be there in five days. From there, the movie skips around different realities as Baby Doll and four friends go on an epic quest to escape the High Roller (in actuality, to escape being lobotomized).
The movie flies off the rails because the whole thing is a big stiff middle finger to audience expectations. The movie is chock full of the kinds of female sexuality stereotypes that Quentin Tarantino did in Kill Bill. The names, the costumes, the action pieces, everything is presented to the audience without any context of its own. And because of this, any interpretation you can come up with is easily reversed. It's a piece of pop culture trash with hot chicks being bad ass? No, it's actually an intelligent subversion of all those cliches and tropes. It's an art house examination of men's fascination with women who aren't actually empowered because they still function as objects for men's entertainment? No, you're taking it too seriously, it's just a dopey action flick. Is it even a movie? No, it's a video game you are watching someone else play. It's just a video game instead of a movie? No, it's a movie using video game conventions against your expectations. No matter what you think about the movie, there is some attitude or design element or something that flips it on its head. It's a celluloid tease -- everything you know is wrong.
The film's production and design has me reflecting on my idea that the art we create is a reflection of us. If I'm right about that, Snyder is one kinky little puppy. As if it was bad enough his id being projected on the screen for everyone to gasp at, it gets combined with all his bad directing instincts. There is no denying that, when it comes to directorial style, Snyder is all cliche. As much as I dump on Tim Burton for being stuck in a rut and not moving the camera for shit, he at least tries to do things original and with his own touch. Snyder is all slow motion for coolness but not emphasis and panty shots, titilation through destruction, both through the physical (all the fight scenes) and the metaphorical (all the female characters reduced to fap fodder).
I hate Quentin Tarantino. I think he's a bullshit filmmaker. I will give Tarantino credit for one thing, though -- he knows when to not take what he's doing that seriously. Admittedly, the smirk gets annoying because he revels in the outlandish that only appeals to those who groove to it. But it does come through that he's aware how preposterous what he's creating is. Not so with Snyder. There isn't a hint of irony or humor or wonder or anything here. Most of the film takes place in the brothel, and the movie only becomes interesting and borderline entertaining when it moves outside of it. Those pieces are sidebars. This is a serious film, and a sense of humor would have helped. Of course, that would also destroy the "keep the audience guessing" neutrality of the piece, and without its lack of definition to define it, the film has no identity whatsoever.
I would like to ban Zack Snyder from ever buying another song ever again. His incorporation of music does nothing to underscore the action (once again, much as I hate Tarantino, he does know how to use pre-existing songs to enhance the scenes of his movies. It was one of the few things I liked about Pulp Fiction). The mix becomes way too loud, making me watch part of the movie with my fingers in my ears.
In short, Sucker Punch is Snyder given free reign to do whatever he wants. And what he wants is to prove how much above his viewers he is. He thinks they won't understand what the movie really is. Well, I know what it really is. It's self-aggrandizement. It's artistic wank. It's him turning loose masturbatory fantasies knowing enough people share his tastes to make the movie a hit. Andy Worhol was an expert at using the viewer's expectations against them, but he did it to wake up the bright ones and prank the slow ones. Snyder is just pranking everybody with a movie that makes you feel like you've been kicked in the head. Pick a movie that actually tells you something instead of being something that impresses its creator with himself. Skip Sucker Punch.