As a filmmaker, I am constantly disappointed by my peers and their failure to appreciate the fullness of their craft. Sucker Punch is a great example. It's a movie about a girl on lobotomy row. It's about a girl sold into sexual slavery. It's about a special forces unit of steam punk chicks that fight against hoards of Nazi zombies. Its all the above. Its shallow. And its awesome.
Ignore all piffy reviews. They're dumb.
There is no plot but In The Mood For Love has even less plot. There is no character development, but that didn't stop Goddard in Breathless. The literary criticisms are not only empty, they show a fundamental misunderstanding of the medium. Film is shallow and superficial but that does not imply that it is without beauty.
This film a high-octane parable of Jungian psychology. The Hero has five faces: Baby Doll (Emily Browning), Sweat Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung). If you read Sybil or seen the 1976 film you know that the five aspects of the single personality represent the tools for overcoming a traumatic experience.
Sucker Punch has a lot in common with Inception. It's not only a film about alternate reality but ventures into the meta-dream space. To escape the mental institution, Baby Doll enters a brothel. To escape the brothel, she enters the steam punk comic book action adventure sequence. Each sub-reality is more glitzy and less dangerous than the last and, like Inception, the dream-space action offers some psychic tools to overcome real life problems. The difference is, Abbie Cornish didn't fancy herself taking part in this generation's version of 8 1/2.
Much like the characters, even the story locations are just psychological constructs. The mental institution is no more real than the prisons Johnny Cash sang about. Enter the dark blue color palate of the theater, where the girls fight over checkerboards and the psychologist's couch is casually replaced by a bed on a stage. This is also the scene where Babay-doll's father bribes the abusive orderly to falsify the lobotomy paperwork. It would be frightening if it wasn't so surreal.
The brothel is not only an escape from trauma but it also rationalization of the absurd. Baby Doll's father figure is replaced by a Catholic priest, a villain we are much more emotionally prepared to deal with just as we are more prepared to deal with abusive sexual situations in the brothel than we are in the mental ward. Its to be expected. And there is a layer of magic to it that separates it from reality. The five girls are presented as prostitutes in the same way Audry Hepburn's character in Breakfast At Tiffany's is a prostitute - cute, charming and not a bit dirty.
Sucker Punch is secretly smart. It might not get strait A's from the critics. It's thesis is nebulous. The narrative introduction and conclusion are not intended to explain the story but simply add color to the visuals. It doesn't call upon Fellini for inspiration or offer you any such serious bylines as Christopher Nolan or Wally Pfister. The film doesn't feature a Laurence Fishborne character to spell out the existentialism. It disguises itself as the 420-friendly version of Beowulf and doesn't let on that it has anything going on between the scenes, that everything should be accepted for face value.
Most importantly, Sucker Punch doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is. This film is not literary art. No film is literary art. It's a sequence of visceral experiences aimed to illicit an irrational emotional response. There is no message except for the one you bring with you. And after the film, we reflect upon those emotional responses and supplemental messages over cocktails. But its not literature. Its fun.