Suckerpunch: Objectification Masquerading as “Empowerment.”

When I first saw a trailer for this movie, it was many months away from release, so there wasn’t very much information out there about it’s content other than a simple teaser trailer. I hadn’t really formed much of an opinion on it yet. However, the closer it’s release date came, the more I learned about it, and the more I started to form a solid opinion of the film. And it’s not a good one. I chose not to see it when it was finally released, much to the criticism of others, who seem to think that I cannot possibly have formed an opinion without wasting my money on this drek. Not so. If it weren’t possible to have your own personal opinion of a movie without seeing it, no one would ever be able to decide if they wanted to see it at all in the first place. My good friend, Charlie, pointed out that if my information on the film’s content comes from an accurate, unbiased source, and the source correctly describes the film’s content, then there’s no reason for me to see it. I did get my info from accurate sources, as well as from reviews from professional critics. Here is what I have to say.

1) Empowerment through…seduction?

The characters in this film are all (very young I might add) women who are trying to escape the confines of a horrible mental institution run by tyrannical men. They use their vivid imaginations to escape the terrible harshness of what’s around them while they try to actually escape in the real world. How do they get to this amazing fantasy world where they kick ass and destroy giant robots? By imagining it while they are doing sexual dances to distract the leering male guards.

Yup. All that ass-kicking and robot-fighting isn’t even real. It’s all in their heads. Where they hold any REAL power is in their ability to effectively seduce the guards long enough to distract them from their duties. This is a classic example of the typical media idea that women only have any real power in their sexuality. But not in a good way. Empowering of women’s sexuality should not be based in how good at pleasing men they are. Any measure of strength, endurance, or straight up ability to fight is just “all in our heads.” Also, the girls are lead by a mysterious guardian spirit that tells them how they can get to freedom…and it’s a man. We only have power through our sexiness, and we need men to save us, so says the almighty Suckerpunch. *SPOILER* It should also be mentioned, that only ONE of these girls actually escapes, and when she does, she has to be rescued by a man on the street. She can’t save herself in the real world. The man who saves her? The “mysterious” guardian from their minds.

2) Stripper names.

Come on. …COME ON. Do I really need to go into detail with this one? “Baby Doll,” “Sweet Pea,” “Rocket,” “Amber.” Now, Amber is actually a pretty normal name. But having one normal name doesn’t negate that the rest sound like strippers. In fact, “Rocket” was the name of a stripper character in Kill Bill vol. 2.

“Hey, before you leave, go see ROCKET, she has a job for you.”~Bud’s Boss at the stripper bar.<< Here she is.

Personally, I hate being called “babe,” “baby,” or “baby doll.” It feels condescending and patronizing. I’m a grown woman, not an infant or a toy made to look like an infant.

3) Impractical outfits.

Well, they’re only impractical if they were actually being used for the robot-smashing depicted in the ads. But for seducing guards with sexy dancing? You bet. A teeny sailor suit is the staple of the main character, Baby Doll’s, clothing. Cropped v-neck top and pleated miniskirt. Pigtails add to the “sweet young girl” image, but she still sports heavy makeup that makes her still “fuckable” (can’t look TOO young now, can we?) And she’s never without that pouty, come-hither look on her lips.

Now, where have I seen little sailor suits like that before? Oh, yeah, Leg Avenue.

All this is wrapped up with the idea that, simply because it’s about women escaping a prison, it’s somehow empowering. It’s the same, tired, overused image of the scantily-clad woman with the faux “empowerment through sex” message bubbling right under (and sometimes over) the surface. “Oh, but the soundtrack is awesome!” Maybe so, but that doesn’t change anything I just mentioned. Good music doesn’t cancel out bad sexism.

Join the Conversation

  • Clacy


    Actually the girls weren’t using their imaginations. One girl, Babydoll, has retreated into the layers of her own mental landscape. The mental institution was so impossible for her to cope with that she didn’t. The idea of being in a brothel and having her virginity sold, was to her, bad, but not as bad as waiting around for your lobotomy while the head orderly assaults you. The stripper names, all part of the fantasy, the same with the clothes. Nothing in the brothel was real, there was no show, bar or anything like that. We, the audience, know absolutely nothing about the other girls in reality. We have no idea how they reacted, what they were told or even their real names. Yes, the movie is all full of bad sexism, but with the exception of the very beginning before she’s taken to the institution and the very end after her lobotomy, the entire movie is levels her delusion. The names and clothing are supposed to be unrealistic so you know it’s not real. Did they have to be that sexist, probably not, but there is the argument that parts of her delusion that are overtly sexy is the real assaults bleeding through her consciousness. But that’s just a theory and I’m not sure I agree with it.

    There are lots of reasons to critique why a adolescent girl would be having such delusions, but if you don’t realize they are delusions you’ve missed the point of the movie. It’s not about empowerment, it’s about sacrifice and loss. Our main character, Babydoll, doesn’t escape the institution. While they imply justice will be served on her tormentors, she’ll never know, because she’s been lobotomized. A process that she went to willingly to without a fight, as a form of suicide. It’s a Brazil ending. The only power she has, which she exercises, is not fighting them when they scramble her brain. That is her escape. That is not what I would call a movie even pretending to be about female empowerment.

    I’m not saying there isn’t a lot to critique about the movie but I don’t think the message was ‘empowerment through sex’. I think there were multiple messages, depending on your perspective.

    • Veronica

      Interesting comment indeed.

      Well, I would agree with you on the subject of her lobotomy. I really don’t see how eventual submission can even come close to anything resembling empowerment. It’s almost giving the message that the only way women can “escape” sexual objectification or actual assault (which takes place) is to submit to the will of whoever is in power. In this case, men.

      The fact that, whether they were imagining it or whether they were going into their own heads, it was on some scale still not real, it still says to me that their skills in kicking ass were “all in their heads.” Just in a different way.

      I know there’s a lot more to be said about this film. I feel like I’d be sitting in front of this computer for decades if I went into every detail I could, XD.

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    Wow, I had no idea. I mean, from the posters I knew it looked like a run-of-the-mill stupid mainstream action film, but that whole angle of sexually tantalizing the security at a mental institution? Just irks me to no end because of abuses of power, particularly sexual abuses of patients, that DOES go on in such places.

  • Trish

    I’ve yet to see the movie (and I don’t know if I ever will), but I’ve heard similar things in the way of portraying female objectification in the film. I didn’t know what went on exactly, but I’m glad I came across this article.

  • Jessica

    I’ve read quotes from the director who said he wanted it to be an empowering movie for women. What he doesn’t seem to get is that using your sexuality to escape from a violent situation isn’t empowerment, its survival tactics. Its just another example of the idea that women’s sexuality is important only for what it can make men do. Nothing of the way those women presented themselves sexually had anything to do with them. The outfits and makeup and dancing was entirely constructed for the amusement of the customers. The way Baby Doll grimaces every time she starts dancing suggests to me that she feels horrible and wants to be anywhere else doing anything but that. A truly empowering story about women’s sexuality wouldn’t frame it solely as it relates to men. And to escape something so horrific? She got lobotomised at the end anyway! It made me feel really uneasy and confused and, well, yuck.I don’t know how he reconciles constant threat of rape and empowerment. Its either an extremely misguided and ignorant idea of empowerment, or a massive cop out where he pretends the outfits and sexiness had meaning instead of just a ploy to get men to come watch the movie.

    Visually, the movie was pretty amazing. I thought the fantasy battle scenes looked awesome. I liked the video game kind of setup, and I liked the idea of seeing the battle instead of whats going on in the mental institution. I wish I could see the same movie again, with that whole middle fantasy layer at the strip club removed. Just the asylum and the battle scenes would have made a cool story about escapism the power of mind, and I don’t know, the imagination as a coping mechanism without having to deal with that whole sketchy “my boobs totally saved me from a lobotomy’ aspect. Cutting out the strip club parts would have left them a lot more time to explore the other girls stories, like why they are in the asylum to begin with, and expand their characters and such. But then there would be know call for the skimpy clothes, and then how do you get the teenage boys to the cinema?

    • Veronica

      I don’t think that Zack Snyder intended it to come off the way it does. There was actually a makeout scene that was cut because the studio told him it looked like the girl was “enjoying it too much.” They wanted him to cut it so it basically looked like she was being molested. He refused to have it that way and just chopped the scene altogether.

      However, it still came off as it did. If he really wanted it to be empowering, he needed to take it in a different direction.