Skip to content

Further Notes on Sucker Punch, 300, and Ironic Sexy Failure

2011 April 15

It’s funny because someone asked me about why I dressed the girls like that, and I said, ‘Do you not get the metaphor there?’

… You can say what you want about the movie, but I did not shoot the girls in an exploitative way. […] As long as you’re self-aware about it, then that’s okay.

Zack Snyder

In this article, I discuss the abuse portrayed in Sucker Punch. I don’t discuss it in detail, but what I do discuss could be triggering for some.

Gather ’round, internet. Sit about me in a circle while I tell you a tale. Open your belief-flaps.

You know that the gorgeously wonderful Sarah C has already reviewed Sucker Punch. I know that, too. We both know that together. But what I also know is that I went to see it, too, and my face exploded with woe. Intergalactic space woe from the woe tubes. You know the stuff.

Like Sarah, I felt I was the target audience. I’m a pubescent boy who likes ladies, dragons, guns and stuff going on fire. There was no ingredient that went into this that, in theory, I wouldn’t like. But I hated it. I was blisteringly disappointed. Let me assail your faces with why.

I am not the person this film was made for. Neither was Sarah. The person this film was made for is a person that fetishises abuse, and likes their women best when they’re woefully underclothed and sobbing in fright.

Still from Sucker Punch showing a young white blonde girl being led down an asylum corridor by male orderlies and a tall older white man in a suit

This is not Sparta.

That’s a harsh paragraph. I realise that. But it really is the only way I can describe this film. It’s chock-full of abuse (implied rape and explicit beating) and the way it’s handled is emphatically not empowering in any way. The film is ostensibly about women battling their inner demons (quite literally, in this case – I see what you did there, Mr Snyder) and surviving, but it fails at every possible hurdle. The only way the characters can be powerful and dangerous is if they’re laminated in glitter, leather and fishnet. And the only way they can survive their abuse is if they cry and scream on screen and track mascara down their faces. Fear is sexy, you see.

I can’t put it better than if I just quote what one of the characters says (not verbatim, but it ran along these lines): “They act it all out up there [on a stage]. It’s quite a show, you know, when they’re acting out who touched them or hurt them or whatever.”

It is quite a show, yes. It smacks of Snyder trying to make the film self-aware and clever – he does it quite a lot, like the bit where we traipse right into Baby Doll’s inner world and there’s this line (again, paraphrasing, but Zack himself paraphrases similarly in the interview linked at the start of this post):

Wait, wait, wait, back up. This is meant to be sexy? Sexy school girl, I get. Frightened mental patient, yeah, okay, it’s a bit weird, but I kinda get that, too. But lobotomised vegetable?!

Hi, Zack, I see what you did there, too. You’re trying to make us think that this over-sexualised portrayal of abuse survivors is ironic. You’re trying to tell us that all this dribbly mascara and all these panty shots are ironic. That this wall-to-wall objectification and infantilisation (hell, the lead character’s name is Baby Doll and she constantly dresses like she’s 13) is all in the name of ironic, clever, snappy feminism. It’s a lancing, sassy criticism of objectification, you say.

Well, let me tell you something, Zack. There is nothing sexy, sassy or ironic about rape. There is nothing clever, witty, edgy or cool about showing us terrified, crying girls dressed like they’re 13 years old, getting abused in a way that is clearly meant to be titillating. It was about half-way in, and there was another scene of a weeping, shaking girl being hit in the face by a man who – it was strongly implied – at least attempted to rape her, when I realised that I just didn’t care what clever, witty, ironic message Zack Snyder was trying to send. The fact of the matter was that I was being fed images that anyone with even a hint of abuse in their past would find nauseatingly upsetting to watch and I was meant to be sitting there, revelling in how darkly sexy it all was, and going, “Hmm, yes, well done Mr Snyder, this is certainly a very clever comment on the sexualisation of women!”

Fuck that. I’m furious.

I could now continue to comment further on the film and how the characters were distinguishable only by outfit and hair, and how stating facts about characters doesn’t make us care for them automatically. I could say that the only bits that I loved in the film were the bits with the airships and the dragons. I could say that the only character that I empathised with was the Mother Dragon. But Sarah’s covered that and I agree with her, so what I’m going to say instead is this:

Promo image for 300: a shirtless muscled man roars in front of his army

This, on the other hand, is Sparta. Look at the lack of sexual harassment amongst the chaps.

Zack Snyder was the man that brought us 300 – a smorgasbord of semi-naked, oiled, unrealistically ripped manflesh and violence – and I loved that film. I ain’t gonna lie: I’m predominantly androphilic, and that film catered to my tastes. I love 300 very much, and not because it’s a man-thigh sandwich. I love it because the characters in it work as a tightly-wound, perfect humanoid machine. Also because asksdjfh the Persian army are amazing.

But it wasn’t based on something that Snyder originally wrote. And, most crucially importantly, the objectified, sexualised Spartan warriors and their acres of bronzed musculature are not abused. They struggle, fight, love and die for each other in a war, but they’re not smacked in the face and threatened with rape every fifteen minutes. When they fight as an army, the camera caresses their strength, their competence and their teamwork alongside their biceps. The muscle is part of their mechanised, physical unity and strength.

In Sucker Punch, on the other hand, when Baby Doll slices up giant samurai robots, we’re treated to her pants every four seconds, her thighs every minute and her unchanging expression of “Oh no! A penis!” pretty much constantly. It’s exasperating. It’s writhe-in-the-seat horrible. It’s as if the panty shots are put there purely to lubricate the idea that she might be physically powerful, too. In fact, one of the major themes in the film is that the only power these women have is their sexual desirability. I’m insulted on behalf of everyone I know.

And this is from someone that really enjoys thighs.

I am disappointed and sad about it. Also angry and frustrated that this film, which is a landmark work in terms of how many women it had centre-stage, had so much potential to do good, but fucked it all up by trying to play “WOOO IRONICALLY SEXY” with something as serious and horrible and real as abuse. I actually want to bill Zack Snyder for my ticket price.

But I really loved the bit where the zeppelin exploded. At least there’s that.

Here are my pros and cons to go alongside Sarah’s.


  • A zeppelin explodes! :D


  • No power in creation can justify this level of sexualisation in the handling of abuse.
5 Responses leave one →
  1. Stephen B permalink
    April 15, 2011

    Sigh. I thought if this was trying for an inner-world story along the lines of “find way out of fantasy maze = physically creeping through the corridors of the asylum” then there was a chance it could have any tension and not just be gratuitous abuse pr0n. But it seems that it fails on acceptable portrayal of women AND any craft of storytelling as well.

    Your art reminds me that Peter Mensah has the most incredible face ever, though. (Brilliant as Doctore in the first series of Spartacus, haven’t seen the second yet).

  2. April 15, 2011

    I did not find the abuse sections sexy, but then I also did not feel I was being asked to find them sexy. Just cause I can see someone’s pants doesn’t mean I have to sexualise them. In fact just because someone is naked I don’t have to sexualise them. Isn’t that the whole point of the slut walk, that skimpy clothing should not be mistaken for a statement of intent?

  3. April 28, 2011

    To Hell with the movie, let’s focus on what’s really important…

    How cool is that drawing/comic? I think it’s awesome. Congratulations to the artist. And the background… And the lines… And the woman’s hand… Just awesome.

    • Miranda permalink*
      May 2, 2011

      This was such a nice comment to get! The author’s just got back from being away on holiday so I’ll make sure he reads it – he (Markgraf) is the illustrator. He often illustrates his posts – for more of his work check out his other reviews under “Cinematical” and “Gaming”.

      He’s actually got a postcard set for sale over on our shop page that just went up this month…

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Movie Review: Source Code | Bitch Flicks

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS