Sucker Punch Promises, or, Burying the Author

by criticalhit009

I promised in my “Fight over Frozen” article that I would also later critique this review of Sucker Punch. It’s a bit of a lumbering mess, so I decided to cut through it by highlighting a few main points.

  1. Saying something is “creative,” “interesting,” or “gorgeous” does little to describe how the film techniques actually function or look like. A “shot of the button spinning on the floor is beautifully evocative” actually tells me very little. Evocative of what?
  2. Praising Zach Snyder for merely not making “decisions arbitrarily” is praising him for doing the bare minimum in attempting cohesive storytelling.
  3. By stating that “A film can — and should — be enjoyed or hated on its own merits,” Coleman contradicts an argument she makes against Frozen. She argues the film suffers by having no love interest for Elsa, her critique essentially directed at something non-existent, outside the text itself. It’s an argument beyond the film’s “own merits” as it were.

Next up, we’ll look at some quotes and dissect them.

“For one thing, Snyder isn’t a director who makes decisions arbitrarily — in fact, the only other director I can think of who considers every detail of a scene quite so carefully is Guillermo del Toro.”

Paging Wes Anderson. Or Peter Jackson. Or really any good director, really.

“Even the soundtrack is the product of carefully considered choice. One of my favourite moments in Watchmen is the scene in which Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl) meets with Adrien Veidt (Ozymandias), and the ambient music is Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World. It’s an instrumental version, so you can’t hear the lyrics, but if you know the song — if you know what the lyrics are — then it adds dimension to the scene. It’s a clever and subtle soundtrack [sic] decision, underlining the power dynamic between the two characters and hinting at Ozymandias’ ultimate plan without ever shouting it out.”

Much of the article suffers from this kind of vague summation. How does the song add dimension to the scene? What is the power dynamic? Instead of given a fully realized example, the article does not deliver the details to really give the argument any bite or nuance.

“Yes, the five leads are all very attractive women, and yes, their costumes all at least have elements of the fetishistic to them, but if the film were really just some kind of pornographic fantasy for Snyder, it would have been more…well, pornographic.”

You know, just a little skin here, a little fetish there, it’s not that big of a deal, right? I mean, they aren’t totally naked, so clearly it’s not pornographic at all!

Coleman goes on to claim that Snyder’s main trait is that he’s satirical, then goes through his filmography to support the claim. What’s more accurate to say is that Synder is perhaps more comfortable working with film adaptations, as all of the films she lists are based on pre-existing properties. Indeed, the satirical edges she speaks of are really leftovers from the original Watchmen and Dawn of the Dead more than Snyder’s own craft.

The rest of the article goes into defending Sucker Punch as a satire, at which point I can’t really be bothered. Though the article begins to wrap up with the perfect encapsulation of the writer’s worldview.

“There’s a real problem in media today in that audiences no longer know how to separate a piece of media from what they think is the voice of the author. After a certain point, it doesn’t even matter what the author him/herself actually [sic] says, in interviews, press conferences, DVD commentaries and so on: what seems to matter is the idea of what that author is trying to say.”

This review is literally asserting that authorial intent is the only way understand their work. Of course, this is not true. Here’s a link to Roland Barthes seminal essay “The Death of the Author” for all the details. But beyond that theory, Coleman’s implies that whether it be content or its execution, the author’s word is law. Snyder says he shot a good, non-exploitative satire, therefore Sucker Punch is a good, non-exploitative satire. I’m sure Snyder had good intentions, but the execution (I.e. production of the film) is what matters, forming the cultural product that lasts with us.

“But you have to believe me this was a stupid decision. But I did it with the best intentions.”

“With the best intentions… Some other worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.”

And with that wonderful bit of wisdom from Jurassic Park III, I’ll bid you adieu.