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Feminist Subtext in "Sucker Punch"

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The implicit meaning behind every film is a form of challenge to analyze the subtext and what the film is actually portraying in not a rather, very direct way. I have decided to work upon a Feminist subtext and the film I will be going to analyze is “Sucker Punch”, an American action thriller film along with a Pakistani film, “Cake”. These two films refer to Gender stereotypes which have been created in our society as well as worldwide if we talk about its perspective and perception, globally. Gender Stereotypes arise because the psychological characteristics corresponding to behaviors are generalized to the sex typically performing them, and these characteristics are viewed as stable, intrinsic attributes of each sex. Specifically, to the extent that women are concentrated in domestic work and communally demanding employment, people believe that they are warm, caring, and socially skilled. To the extent that men are concentrated in strength-intensive roles and in high-status roles, people believe that they are assertive, forceful, and dominant

First of all, it is important for us to know what Feminism actually means before we proceed to the subtext of the film, Sucker Punch. Feminism is the belief in the social, political and economic equality of the genders. It is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities and is basically a social movement which is organized around its belief and has had a huge impact on the film theory as well as criticism. There are some well-known feminist theorists who have laid emphasis on the importance of the demonstration of females in films. Through their theories they have also highlighted the goals of feminism to reveal that historically men have remained dominant and authoritative whereas women have been shown as subordinates to men. The feminist theorists include Laura Mulvey and her theory of The Gaze, Claire Johnston who talks about the ideological image of the women and Freud’s psycho-sexual theory.

“Sucker Punch” is a film directed by Zack Synder. Through this film a lot of feminist issues have been portrayed in an indirect way in which the objectification of females, their position in the society, and their ability to fight back with the world which is constantly trying to harm the females through sexual violence has been depicted. This film is about a young girl, Baby doll, who is sexually abused by her stepfather. She and her younger sister are left alone with him after her mother dies. In order to save her sister too, from getting sexually abused by her stepfather she tries to escape from the room his father has locked her in. With a gun in her hand she tries to save her sister but accidently misfires due to which her sister dies. While crying, she points the gun at her stepfather but does not shoot him. As a result she is sent by him to the mental asylum when she is no longer needed or wanted.

Here, I would like to mention a famous feminist theorist Claire Johnston who was among the first feminist critics who critically analyzed the stereotypes from a semiotic point of view. She put forward how classical cinema constructs the ideological image of women. As per her theory, in Sucker Punch, the male class have been shown superior such as her stepfather who takes her to the mental institution and is in the position to control her life by paying the person in charge there, Blue, to admit her and get her lobotomized.

As analyzed by Claire Johnston the male character is active and powerful which can be seen in the film. Blue is a strong figure as he is the head of the metal institution, which according to Baby doll is a Bordello and the other female patients as prostitutes. He is in control of the place where women are sexually and physically abused by the male workers who are supposed to protect them. The subtext behind this film is not less than a reality that the female character is passive and powerless because of the mistreatment of women. This reality is not portrayed as it is but the connotations are that the protagonist Baby doll dances and takes herself in the imagination of being strong enough to fight with her condition of being locked up in a situation she wants to escape from. This also portrays her weak position as she and the other female characters named Blondie, Sweet pea, Rocket and Amber are helpless in escaping which depicts a hidden meaning in the film that women, despite having a strong inner self as shown in the film when Baby doll dances and with the magic of her dance she diverts the attention of every male character in order to get the four necessities needed to escape, are limited to their need of fulfillment. Due to the supremacy and the superiority of the men in our society, the female is forced to be treated as something inferior due to which men take advantage of as Blue thinks that he owns the girls by fulfilling their needs and being able to keep them there, he thinks that they should obey him no matter what which is totally unacceptable because males and females should be given equal rights but the females in the film are not allowed to make any decision and not even live according to what they want because men are ruling over them which shows how helpless they are due to the fear of being killed if they do not obey.

However, by the theory of Laura Mulvey, the film Sucker Punch can be said a film where Objectification of women is at its peak, not only physically but mentally as well. I would like to prove my statement through a couple of examples. Laura Mulvey’s theory of The Gaze is used to refer both to the ways in which viewers look at images of people in any visual medium and to the gaze of those depicted in visual texts, it involves the camera angles, camera movements and the way an act is presented in a frame which attracts the male gender towards the opposite gender. The close-ups, the extreme close-ups, mid shots, every angle in the film act as a tool and depicts the message behind it which helps to link the momentum with other shots and scenes in the timeline.

This concept of the Male Gaze is quite visible in the film as the protagonist; Baby doll has been dressed in an appealing high school outfit with two pony tails giving a Barbie doll feel to the viewers. This creates attraction for the male viewers as analyzed by Laura Mulvey that males within the narrative are shown looking at and usually lusting after female characters. It could be through the lens of the movie camera, which lingers on a woman in scopophilic fashion which is shown in the film as others are dressed in cleavage-revealing outfits as well as wearing transparent skin tights. These women are dressed provokingly when they are in the Bordello and gets even intense when these girls try to get the four elements for escaping and the way they are seen as objects by men. They are prostitutes and are dressed attractively. However, their body is not too objectified through close-ups but at some places females are indulged in engaging the men’s attention such as when Baby doll started to dance in front of a wealthy orderly customer wearing a small top with cleavage reveling and panty’s underneath due to which the male gaze theory is applied and simultaneously another female is sitting on him to fulfill the desire. Through this, Laura Mulvey’s theory of visual pleasure can be depicted as the desire of the male audience who are invited to stare at appealing women on the screen and enjoy the desire of their fantasies through them. In the film, the main subtext behind this is that women throughout the film are being looked upon as a commodity on display where customers come, use them and throw them away as if they have no life and no dreams. The males gaze at them and objectify their body parts. They see women as objects to satisfy the active male desires to stare at the female character.

Throughout this film, women have been portrayed as inferior to men because the storyline was made in this way. However, at certain levels the film has shown women powerful such as when Baby doll is forced to dance for the first time in front of everyone, she becomes so stressed as she is unwilling to show her self being sexually gazed in that atmosphere. But, another female head shown dominant who grooms other girls, motivates her to show the world herself and tells her that she can do it. Due to which Baby doll closes her eyes and takes her in another fantasy world where she is portrayed herself as a woman fighter with weapons in her hands and fights the evil which is stopping her to escape.

The subtext behind this is that if a woman once decides to carry out a task, no matter what comes in her way, she will complete it. She has a strong inner soul and the way Baby doll guides the plan of escape to Blondie, Amber, Sweet pea and Rocket this shows her leadership skills that even if she is shown constrained to do what she wants, she is still able to guide everyone confidently and when more than one female decides to work together they are more powerful than anything else and because of this they become strong with each other’s support. But, the social observation during this level of fantasy is complicated. As far as I have seen the film, these women are controlling their life by gaining the elements of escape, yet they are told by a male character what to do and where to get it. Moreover, at some points it is also depicted that women who try to hypnotize men by allowing them to gaze at them, indirectly they are controlling the minds of the males and by doing so; they try to take their advantage of gathering all the elements of escape. Similarly, Baby doll is shown authoritative and confident when she stabs Blue when he is helpless and tries to come near her.

The film Sucker Punch has highlighted all the feminist issues which are also mentioned in Freud’s psychosexual theory. Freud’s view of females is visible in films where women who assume positions of power, become sexually aggressive or desirous of a career are punished for stepping outside the boundaries established by the ruling patriarchy. This is shown in the film sucker punch because when Baby doll along with her other team slowly started to misplace the cooks knife, the wealthy customer’s lighter and the map, Blue warned them strictly and threatened them to death. And when they still didn’t obey what he said, Blue being the authoritative personality killed Blondie and Amber one by one. The subtext behind this is that in this male dominated society, no one questions the male for doing any wrong. He is always seen as someone supreme and is always seen as right. They are never punished for oppressing women and threatening them but females are. Even if women are shown dominant in some films, there always comes a point where the stereotypical image of women is highlighted of being less active and lower in position than men.

The psychosexual theory upholds the views of the typical patriarchal society that men are superior to women and should be the ones in charge. If women do try to compete with men, it’s perceived as a threat by the patriarchy because the women are not only out to gain power for themselves, but they want to seize power from males. Thus, from all the analysis I have mentioned so far, the Sucker Punch subtext is quite deep when it comes to the feminist point of view. Every theorist through their theories has mentioned their point of view regarding films and the history of stereotypical image of the male power as well as the female objectification in classical cinema. They have proved their analysis through the Classic cinema narrative which is constructed by men, therefore, representing women from a male perspective.

However, if I compare and contrast Sucker Punch with another film, from a different part of the world, it would be the film ‘Cake’, breaking stereotypes. Although there are high rates of male dominancy in our country Pakistan too, but through the film, a different message has been portrayed of women working and managing the outer environment as well. Aspects such as cinematography, sound, camera shots and movements, misc-en-scene have been designed in a way which reflects the gender element in a way which compliments the film, Cake, at several points.

“Cake” is set in present-day Karachi where the film rotates around a dysfunctional family of five; Zareen (Aamina Sheik), the middle child who has left her dreams to deal with her folks, their farmlands and essentially everything else around the house, Zara (Sanam Saeed), the youngest one who has been living in UK for a long time and the oldest, Zain (Faris Khalid), who lives in New York with his significant other, a child and their folks (Mohammad Ahmed and Beo Rana Zafar). The family reunites after the parents’ wellbeing begins weakening. Following their get-together, circumstances emerge where the family is constrained to go up against each other and manage their grievances, laments, feelings of resentment, insider facts, bliss and everything else in the middle. The film has recently the appropriate measure of mind and amusingness, adjusted by the perfect measure of disaster. At its center, “Cake” is a film about the progression of time seen through the eyes of one family and offers a sincere take a gander at the substances of life, of at various times, of decisions and results.

Cinematographically and aesthetically, this film in relation to countering stereotypes, represent the gender performance on screen. The way the composition and the framing helps to portray the dominance of Zareen and the way she dealt with the workers and took care of the household creates a narrative structure which compliments the female gender. The sounds used, the background scores, the use of diegetic and non- diegetic sounds and camera movements at several points helped to build the momentum of the film according to every situation whether be at work or in a home environment. Cake offers its audience realistic set designs and strong performance by the actors as the screenplay demanded storyline which has made goals, motives and success the first priorities of Zareen and Zara has given a message of strength to the other women of our nation and worldwide to believe in themselves.

In Patricia Collins(1999) book ‘Black Feminist thought’ she talks about the Mammy image which typically portrayed Black women as obedient, faithful domestic servants basically saying that they were only good for house work and taking care of children. With this picture Black women keep on enduring this since society still observes the lady as somebody will’s identity dedicated and would just think about the family unit and kids. The following controlling image that was clarified was the Matriarch image as the Black woman playing the man’s part inside the family unit instead of being a nurturing lady that she should be. This identifies with intersectional types of abuse that Black women keep on enduring in light of the fact that Black women today need to play both mother and father to their youngsters since most fathers are truant in their kids’ lives, and Black women will probably be the ones with fruitful vocations that will enable them to be the principle supplier for the family rather than the Black man.

In regard to the film Zareen, the eldest daughter is both the ‘Mammy’ and the ‘Matriarch’ since she takes care of her parents and their house domestically, as well as looking after their lands from where they earn their living. Zareen has both roles as a son and and daughter and as a caretaker of the home and their work. As for Zara she is portrayed as the Black lady as explained by Patricia Collins is the educated Black woman who has given up family life in exchange for a career. Zara lives in the UK and works spending rarely less time in Pakistan with her family. Little is known about her love life but she lies to her parents about it, she tells them she is still living with her supposedly partner but there is none.

Both Zara and Zareen are created as controlling images so they audience would know how to view or treat them as. They would treat Zara as a workaholic not knowing how to live in relationships thus men should stay away from her. While Zareen being the ‘Matriarch’ and ‘Mammy’ has an emasculate personality where she goes to their lands to work and has a fatherly role as well as domestic role where she takes care of her parents. In one scene where Zara takes Zareen to a New Year’s party, Zareen feels uncomfortable and wanted to go home even thou she was with her peers, because she wanted to be at home with her parents which shows she was so used to being domesticized that she didn’t want to do anything with that party but fulfill her role as a ‘Mammy’.

Cake had broken these stereotypes in a way that Zareen would work in her father’s Sindhi lands while Zara was away from home in the UK independent and would work. People with firm gender role views are more likely to have traditional traits than people who are more adaptable to these gender roles. The gender roles consist of women being the ‘Caretakers’ while the men are the ‘Breadwinners’ because of entity scholars’ more prominent dependence on generalizations to sort and decipher social information. Cake broke this stereotype of a man being a bread winner by having Romeo a male character taking care of Zara and Zareen’s parents and doing household chores, while Zara and Zareen worked thus breaking the gender role of a woman. Cinematographically and aesthetically Zara and Zareen’s brother Zain is married to a woman named Sana, unlike male gender stereotype he listens to his wife and adheres to her wishes. This may be the cause of emotional vulnerability may be particularly important within the context of romantic relationships because people want to maintain the relationship, have their needs met, and avoid being hurt by their partners.

Gender roles arise from expectations of the society and their preconceived notions, where a male is dominant and orders around his female counterpart and are in control of her, while the female is submissive and takes care of the children and household. In the case of ‘Cake’ Zain does not order around his female counterpart instead his counterpart does that to him. While Romeo is also more domesticized the opposite of the male patriarchal values since he takes care of the parents, cooks, cleans and basically is around the house, more so his personality is more humble , meek and down to earth opposite to a stereotypes arrogant dominant man.

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