Sucker Punch: Escapism for Survivors?

April 7, 2011

I saw Sucker Punch tonight. I had a sneaking suspicion that sexual assault was in the story somewhere. But what I thought would be mere undertone was very much a sucker punch to the face. It was directed and written by the guy who directed Watchmen and 300. So expect a lot of dazzling CG effects and slo-mo ass kicking. But is this a movie for survivors? Escapism for survivors?

Despite the message of female empowerment, I think a lot of feminists/survivors will probably hate this movie. For one thing, it’s a story of rape written by a man. That’s an automatic FAIL. Then there’s the stuff that is bound to send most of them into a tizzy about the “male gaze”: Such as wafer-thin women in fetish outfits. The lead character is called Baby Doll and looks like a blonde Sailor Moon. Not to mention most of the assault scenes could be triggering.

Even so, I think this movie has done a pretty good job of tapping into Survivor Culture. What is Survivor Culture? Well if you’ve read this blog, you’ve experienced some of it via Tumblr and Tigerbeatdown. And I’m not just talking about survivors of sexual abuse. I would also include the survivors of physical abuse, emotional abuse (BPD, Bi-Polar) and substance abuse.

Spend any good amount of time in Survivor Tumblrdom and you will see some re-occuring themes. This culture is steeped in escapism. You want to know who reads all those Harry Potter and Twilight books? Want to know what kind of woman would go to Comi-Con, dressed up like her favorite anime character? Want to know what kind of woman would worship at the altar of Marilyn Monroe, Tila Tequila and other tragic starlettes? Want to know who spends all her free time at vintage stores transporting herself to by-gone eras? Search no further. The Survivor Culture is a culture of escapism.

“Your mind will set you free.” “To reach your own paradise, just let go.” “What you are imagining now… You control this world.” These are lines from the trailer above, but I’ll be damned if any survivor can’t relate to these words. The heroine in Sucker Punch uses dissociation (emotional detachment) as a weapon for survival. A means to escape her “prison”. This is how survivors cope with the harsh realities of their life, they flee into their imagination. Fight or flight. These are the two options presented to a survivor.

And while many feminist may take issue with the overt sexual content, it mirrors the moral conflict that survivors deal with all the time (cognitive dissonance). On one hand, sexuality becomes a major part of their identity. Those who have been sexually-assaulted may become hyper-sexual. They may learn to use their sexuality to gain attention and manipulate men. Some survivors may actually be turned on by the imagery presented in this movie. But on the other side of the coin, they also feel shame and pain.

Survivors love bad-ass women in fishnet stockings. Why do you think burlesque is so popular amongst the survivor crowd? The film itself is one big burlesque performance, complete with revenge fantasies. Burlesque represents women taking ownership of the roles men have placed upon them. Taking symbols of oppression and making them a symbol of empowerment. This is what Sucker Punch attempts to do. And while most survivors will dismiss the movie, secretly they’ll want to see it.

As an ex-partner of a survivor, I can relate to this movie. I see a little of my ex in the heroine- the look of despair, the struggle to survive, and the constant fight against real or imagined threats. This kind of drama may be good for a Hollywood movie, but it can destroy a relationship. Imagine trying to build intimacy with a person who floats in and out of reality. Imagine trying to get close to someone who is still fighting demons from her past.

In the movie, the bad guys are all grotesque monsters (representing men). They are soulless and sometimes faceless. They are slithery and creepy. Men are to be feared in this world. Welcome to the world of black and white thinking. Imagine a man trying to love a woman who thinks all men are monsters. Imagine lovingly embracing the woman you love and then, all of a sudden, she remembers being held down. Imagine gently touching her wrists and suddenly it triggers memories of cutting.

In the movies, it’s easy to separate the good guys from the bad guys. In real life, survivors mix up the two all the time. In real life, they fight people who love them. And run back to people who abuse them. The problem with this culture of escapism is the naivete that comes with it. All that time in LaLa Land, makes it difficult for someone to relate to the real world. Notice the heroine is an adult actress playing a young child. Is this an intentional representation of arrested development?

When you are emotionally detached, it’s hard to know who to trust. Dissociation makes it hard to read people. You make false-accusations based on paranoia. Your internal compass is screwed up. It causes otherwise intelligent people to do stupid things. If you’ve ever been pissed-drunk and gotten into a fight with a loved one, you know what it’s like to not be in control. A survivor may be in control in their mind. But in the real world, they are very much out of control.

Then again, it’s just a movie. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

2 Responses to “Sucker Punch: Escapism for Survivors?”

  1. kristel said

    heh, nice view here. i was less than half way through the movie when i told myself, “ah, escapism!”. same quotations. Great movie, anyway.

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