MAY / JUNE 2011: BY CHARITY BISHOP
Sucker Punch is a combination of warfare and psychology set in a highly stylized version of the 1950’s. The story opens with a death. Baby Doll is then sent to an asylum where in five days she will be lobotomized. With Rocket, Sweet Pea, Amber, and Blondie, she devises a plan to escape by retreating into an imaginary world she has created to help her avoid the horror of reality. This film is a reality within a reality and neither of them are real. We are asked to discern the meaning of the false realities, the first a brothel and the second a fantasy realm filled with dark forces Baby Doll and her friends must defeat to escape.
One could argue the “first reality” is all in Baby Doll’s mind but I believe it is a shared delusion between her and Sweet Pea that reflects how they feel about being locked up. For Baby Doll the threat of a lobotomy equates to a “mind-rape,” thus the asylum becomes a brothel. Her stepfather assumes the role of an evil priest (someone who should care for her but is perverse and corrupt), and Blue, the manager of the asylum, is a thug threatening her virtue (her mind). There, he has influence over their madam (therapist) but in the actual world is forging her name on medical documents. For Sweet Pea, the brothel is a reflection of her state of mind and each “sacrifice” in either dream state is meant to represent an incident in the real world—electro-shock therapy, heavy medication, or being lobotomized. Because of her lack of self-worth and the abuse she endured at the asylum, she views herself as someone to be used rather than as a warrior. It is this obvious distinguishing factor that sets them apart and ensures one will survive where the other will perish, not because of her faults but because she is the stronger of the two and much more capable of self-sacrifice. Baby Doll is strong but vulnerable, capable of fighting back but subdued by the stronger forces in her life (her stepfather, the police, and Blue). Her invention of the second reality represents her inner self and what she hopes to become, also how she sees herself, as a leader and warrior more than capable of survival.
It could be that the two realities are separate, that Sweet Pea’s is the first and Baby Doll’s the second. Since the narrative is told by Sweet Pea rather than Baby Doll, this idea is valid and worth considering.
A shaman guides them in the fantasy realm and offers rare insights of wisdom, such as his assertion that “if you stand for nothing, you will believe anything.” If he is a manifestation of Baby Doll’s inner-psyche, it speaks of her desire to fight not only for her life but also her friends.
One could point out the spiritual symbolism in the different realities: Baby Doll as Jesus, the shaman as a Prophet, the brothel as the sinful state of mankind, Blue as the Devil, and the end a state of ascension. Baby Doll enters a world devoid of hope and quickly gains followers, the most outspoken and reluctant being Sweet Pea. She offers the girls hope and a way out. She is betrayed and set for execution, but makes a personal sacrifice so Sweet Pea can escape. Blue thinks he has won but his triumph over her becomes his undoing when the truth is revealed. In her own way, Baby Doll defeats him and forever changes the asylum; meanwhile, Sweet Pea is permitted to return to the real world, inferring that those who choose to accept salvation live and those who betray or reject it die or remain enslaved to it.
The asylum represents our forced servitude to sin, its routine violations and imprisonment indicating our Fallen state; even the innocent are not entirely innocent (like the therapist). Sweet Pea’s escape is her decision to Believe and Accept, which completes her shift from a Reluctant Follower to someone who has Chosen Truth. Other characters do not make it all the way and could be seen as images of our individual spiritual paths through life: Rocket as the faithful, Amber as a causality of sin, and Blondie as a betrayer. Finally, there is the message that it is not enough just to survive the pain thrown our way but important to choose what we believe and fight for it. Existence is not enough; we must have a purpose to truly live. ■
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would dearly love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and Victorian literature, but alas, she must make a living, so her days are spent doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!