Category Archives: Opinion

Sucker Punch: What The Hell Happened?

(Warning: Hella Spoilers)

Some of you probably just think Sucker Punch is one of those smorgasbords for your eyes, but I’m here to tell you that there’s more. What more you ask? Well, besides being a complete overload of sensory input, this movie is also confusing beyond all reckoning. At least, it probably was to everyone who isn’t nearly as insightful as I. So if you’re wondering what happened, pull up a chair, sit forward, and let me tell you.

My Top 2 Sucker Punch Theories

Theory 1: The main character of this film is actually Sweet Pea. Baby Doll helps her escape, and Sweet Pea is able to start a new life.

Theory 2: Baby Doll and Sweet Pea are aspects of the same person.

Arguments for 1:

The movie opens with a narration by Sweet Pea, leading us to believe it’s her story. She tells us that angels may come in any form, including little girls (i.e. Baby Doll), but that they’re not here to fight our battles. They’re here to help remind us that we control the worlds we create. Baby Doll is Sweet Pea’s angel, and when she arrives at the asylum, her impending lobotomy reminds Sweet Pea how sacred a place the mind is, and she uses this newly rediscovered knowledge to create an imaginary world she can retreat to during her escape attempts so that fear doesn’t overtake her.

The entire burlesque layer is Sweet Pea’s creation, which makes sense, since Sweet Pea is the main dancer. We’re all the main characters of our own imagination. The question then becomes why we get a battle that contains only Baby Doll when she’s fighting those robot samurai. It’s a valid concern, but perhaps Sweet Pea is simply entranced by Baby Doll’s dancing and chooses to imagine it as a battle. If that’s true, why is it Baby Doll who meets the old man and comes up with the plan? Maybe Baby Doll really did come up with the plan, and to give it some more credence, Sweet Pea inserts a wise man into her imagined version of Baby Doll’s story.

What’s happening in the asylum this entire time? Baby Doll is brought in, rebels, and comes up with a plan. Her dancing might represent fits of mental breakdown, minor attempts at escape (like fighting guards or running through doors) or even actual dancing. But no matter what it represents, it’s powerful enough that Sweet Pea must fit it into her imaginative storyline.

Sweet Pea escapes. When we’re finally in reality at the end of the film, the female doctor tells us that Baby Doll caused quite a bit of trouble, including helping a patient escape. We should believe any information that’s actually presented in reality, for there’s very little of it. If a patient escaped, it only stands to reason that it was Sweet Pea, for she’s the only one who comes close to escaping in any of the imagined layers.

But if she really was set free, then why does the last scene look so imaginary. Whenever we transfer to another layer of reality, the camera starts on Baby Doll then does a 180º spin. In the last scene, Baby dolls closer her eyes, the camera spins, then we see Sweet Pea meet a bus driver who is none other than the wise man. If this is supposedly real, then how did any of the characters know the bus driver well enough to insert his face into their imagination? She couldn’t possibly have met him before, could she? And why did the bus driver lie, saying that she’d been on board the whole time so that the cops didn’t question her? It all seems a little convenient. Isn’t it more likely that Baby Doll is simply imagining this as well?

Arguments for 2:

The last scene of reality at the beginning of the movie is Baby Doll lying down in the doctor’s chair, about to receive a lobotomy. If we’re seeing this scene, it only stands to reason that Baby Doll has already failed to escape and we’ve reached the end of the film. In the next scene, Baby Doll wakes up in the burlesque layer, only it’s not Baby Doll. It’s Sweet Pea in the exact same position wearing a blonde wig.

Baby Doll receives the lobotomy, and her last shot at survival is to retreat into her mind where she creates Sweet Pea, the sexy, confident dancer. The rest of the film only covers a few seconds in real life, the small amount of time it takes to perform a lobotomy. In that time, Baby Doll fantasizes an entirely different situation and an escape, and as she loses her mind, the burlesque layer becomes even crazier, slipping into the crazy battle scenes we saw earlier. In this reading, we no longer have to try to match the fantasy imagery to the layer of reality, for nothing is actually happening in reality.

By sacrificing herself to help Sweet Pea escape, Baby Doll is able to find solace, realizing that though she, the physical version of herself, may not make it, Sweet Pea, Baby Doll’s imaginary self, is free, unable to be harmed by the cruelty of the world. Sweet Pea is Baby Doll’s angel, whispering the reminder that we have power over the world we imagine, and in that world lies freedom. If this is true, then who actually escaped? The doctor says someone did, so it must have happened. In this reading, we’re required to assume that we don’t know who actually escaped, just that it happened.

Also, if the whole film is simply a few seconds of a mind’s last thoughts before being erased, then how do we explain the other information the doctor gave us and its relevance to the movie. She tells us that Baby Doll started a fire and stabbed someone, actions that directly link to the fantasy world. Is it possible she accomplished all that in the 5 days before the lobotomy, including helping someone escape, and that we didn’t see any of it? That the movie flashes forward to the lobotomy, and we get to see Baby Doll’s twisted, imaginary version of the previous 5 days? That’s what I think.

What do you think? Who teaches us what’s real and how to laugh at lies?

Written by Russ Nickel

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OPINION :: ON BEATING MOVIES

I hate watching movies with my mother.

Long after I outgrew the clichéd, pubescent humiliation of spending any time whatsoever with your parents (lest a friend see you together at the theater), I still hate it. When I visit her North Florida condominium for the holidays, I’ll express disinterest in her wanting to rent DVDs. If we go to the theater, I need to make sure my brother on break from college sits between us. That’s not to say my mother is not my friend; rather, I’m proud to say I maintain what I consider a very good relationship with her. It’s just movies. Because, if I’m caught with her in a film neither of us have seen, without fail, she’ll lean over fifteen minutes in and say something along the lines of, “The lieutenant’s the killer, just watch.”

My mother, along with countless other people with whom I’ve shared a film, needs to beat the movie. As if it’s a fucking Sudoku puzzle that’s timing you on how quickly and accurately you can predict its plot. I’m all for puzzles, but paying $11 to sit in the dark trying to anticipate the screenwriter’s subscription to and/or intentional deviation from Hollywood tropes is not my idea of fun. While I’m ostensibly bothered by my mother and similar friends obnoxiously insisting on sharing their genius (to make sure there’s someone to whom they can say “I told you so” when the lights come on), I have a more principled disappointment with her apparent approach to motion pictures as a mental conundrum with an answer rather than as an emotive experience with an aftermath. Full disclosure, I used to be guilty of this same flaw; I was also twelve years old.

Likewise, I’m in ninth grade, eating lunch in the cafeteria of my humid youth. I had just been broken the night before by the soul-crushing execution scene in The Green Mile. I’m declaring unequivocally to my friends, in the voice of a 14-year-old who knows everything, that, if you don’t cry at the end of The Green Mile, you don’t have a soul. A few of my friends, ones whose having older siblings granted them access to R-rated pictures by age nine, shrugged. “I didn’t cry during that scene.” “Me neither.” “I didn’t cry.”

Nick chimes in, “I jerked off to it.”

I don’t know what else I was expecting. These were the “cool kids,” and it’s not cool to cry at the movies, duh. Why is that? Because crying is a sign of weakness? Of childishness? I would argue it’s more immature to spend two and a half hours and an amount of money just to sit there and prove that you’re tough. What a waste of time, simply because you are unwilling to let yourself go and enjoy the experience. The same with horror flicks, the same with comedies. Why must a movie be defeated with the awful weapon of stoicism or the dismissal of a faux-sophisticate? Have you ever ridden an insane roller coaster and stumbled off smiling, loose and light-footed, only to have your buddy dismiss it with a “Meh. It was alright, I guess. Didn’t do anything for me.” To go into a film trying not to be scared, not to cry, not to laugh, not to be surprised! Does the sensation of genuine emotion make you feel vulnerable, or do you just wish to convince yourself that you’re above something?

Admittedly, the most open mind in the world can’t make some things powerful, scary, or unexpected; some movies just suck. No matter how much you try to ignore story conventions, no matter how much you try to view a film on its own free of outside influence — no matter how stupid you make yourself — some twists will be obvious or nonsensical. Jokes will fall flat; scares will become jokes. But allowing oneself to experience every film to its fullest, whether it be a revelation or a trifle, simply allows you to enjoy life more. The alternative is pointless. Furthermore, having a low threshold of enjoyment does not lessen one’s taste for masterpieces. Liking Ratner does not forbid me from appreciating Kubrick.

So, please, for your own sake, stop trying to beat not just movies, but any work of art. It is within your power to render yourself powerless before the emotional torrent of film. I steadfastly refuse that one universal truth: “Haters gon’ hate.”

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Comics that will Never be Films

Are you fed up with Hollywood co-opting every marketable idea in popular entertainment and releasing a cynical, half-assed bastardization of the works you know and love? Everyone’s heard that “the book is better,” but that isn’t so much a truism as a testament to the challenges of adaptation. It is possible to make an adaptation that surpasses the creative vision of the original.

For an example, look no further than the film version of A History of Violence. While the original comic book is straight up pulp crime melodrama, director David Cronenberg created a film adaptation that meditates on the nature of conflict and the motivations of violence. Where the comic exploitatively reveled in the graphic violence that its characters inflicted, the film lingered on the brief brutal moments of bloodshed so as to make you squirm at the horror of it.

The rigidity of film structure and the expense and scale of the moviemaking process make actually good adaptations few and far between. Poor adaptations are legion and decent adaptations something to be prayed for. The Last Airbender was an embarrassment. Anything written by Alan Moore (yes, even Watchmen and V for Vendetta) has been bastardized or drained of its originality. All Iron Man fans care about is whether or not they got his glowing chest insignia right.

What I offer you today is an escape. Here are four comics that couldn’t be adapted to films even if Zach Snyder was given 500 million dollars to write, produce and direct them.  They’re either unmarketable, unfilmable, or too damn smart for their own good. But they’re all brilliant.

Promethea by Alan Moore and J.H. Williams

Let’s start with the magic hermit king of comics, just to give you an idea of what Hollywood has driven the poor man to. Promethea starts off as a hilarious, exciting romp through futuristic New York and then abruptly becomes a philosophical discussion of reality. The main character, a girl who becomes the incarnation of a female spirit of creativity, starts out as a superhero and ends up as a goddess. Frankly, the middle of the series lags, as its protagonists spend most of their time walking through the multiverse talking about Moore’s trippy religion, but J.H. Williams’ art is some of the best ever seen in comics. And the insane visual homage’s and literary references are exactly what make the series unadaptable.

Weathercraft by Jim Woodring

Woodring’s latest comic in the Frank series is a full-length graphic novel, and as usual, it’s like Looney Tunes from another dimension. The whole thing is wordless and populated by symbolist archetypes that manipulate each other in alternately hilarious and gruesome ways. The series is far too weird to be made into a mainstream movie, though an Adult Swim cartoon would not be out of the question. If you like clever social commentary with a side of LSD, I recommend you start with The Portable Frank and work your way through the series.

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

Ware is a designer at heart, so half the fun of reading his work is the creative, inventive layout. Any adaptation of his comics would lose the visual juxtaposition that permeates his work. Even without that, Jimmy Corrigan is far too depressing to be made into a movie. The story follows not a smart boy but a rather underdeveloped, middle-aged shut-in as he stumbles through his sad, little life. This is paralleled by the childhood development of his grandfather in the early 1900s. The two storylines converge in a wordless, sprawling climax that confounds description. Hollywood likes a little glimmer of hope in its stories, but Ware doesn’t offer any, though the story is beautiful and should be read by anyone who hasn’t yet been convinced of the medium’s maturity.

David Boring by Dan Clowes

Clowes wrote David Boring to be a story that couldn’t be adapted into a film, and ironically, it could actually be a pretty great one. To do so would counter the spirit of the story, however, which is a self-aware commentary on the nature of storytelling and genre conventions. The eponymous protagonist is constantly avoiding narrative structure, seeking only the presence of his ideal female fantasy. The story begins as an offbeat noir, then switches from romance to horror to thriller and back again. Towards the end of the story, Boring struggles to write a screenplay that “follows all the conventions” but can’t seem to put a single word to the page.

Hollywood would like you to believe that nothing is legitimately popular until they’ve turned it into a blockbuster, but I think you’ll find after reading a few of these, that film in its current form is restrictive, and movie adaptations are mostly cynical economic ventures. If we want our movie culture to grow as a medium, we must demand higher quality, original ideas with our wallets. In conclusion, go see Inception.

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