Sucker Punch, a movie that makes you say ‘Oh yeah, I think I saw a commercial for that,’ but it is also one of my guilty pleasures. Let’s just get it out of the way; it is not a good movie. The plot is too convoluted without reason, the women are unnecessarily sexualized, and honestly, by the end it doesn’t make much sense.
That being said, I love it. The action is fun, the visuals are undeniably stunning, and it has a fantastic soundtrack, opening with a hauntingly fitting cover of Sweet Dreams sung by the lead actress Emily Browning. The film is a sloppy mess and by no means good, but it manages to get a few things right. Despite all of that, I’m here to talk about the ill-fated deleted scene that changes the entire meaning of the movie and the concerning implications that follow.
An annoyingly complicated Set Up
I don’t have a white board handy so explaining what this movie is about might get a little tricky, but we’re going to have to power through it.
Emily Browning plays Baby Doll (Sorry, they’re all named like that) who is mourning her mother’s death and in a plot to steal her fortune on par with Count Olaf, her stepfather has Baby Doll committed to a mental asylum where he bribes an orderly to have her lobotomized in a week’s time.
In order to cope with the idea of her inevitable fate, she retreats into a fantasy world where she pretends the asylum is a brothel. It’s a long walk just to get to an excuse to put attractive women in skimpy outfits.
She is a sex worker along with all of the other women in the asylum and she views the doctor coming to lobotomize her as a man known as ‘The High Roller’ who is going to pay top dollar to take her virginity in a week. It’s a weird movie, folks.
Now that that all of the setup is out of the way, why the hell am I writing about Sucker Punch?
a stolen escape
By the end of the film, Baby Doll manages to get Sweet Pea, the only surviving member of their group out of the brothel to safety. The scene culminates with Baby Doll staying behind to distract the guards resulting in one sucker punching (GET IT?) her in the face. The moment this hit lands, we smash cut out of her fantasy and back to reality in the asylum where the doctor hammers the ice pick-like tool through her eye socket and successfully completes the lobotomy.
The first time I watched the movie I was saddened by this downer ending. While the second reality layer in the brothel wasn’t real at all, the fact that she gets the lobotomy means that in her own fantasy she is raped by The High Roller. Sucker Punch is a movie about escape and the sad truth is that our protagonist doesn’t get that release.
Or does she…?
You see, that ending to Sucker Punch isn’t the real ending.
In the original ending, when Baby Doll gets punched, we don’t immediately smash cut to reality. Instead, we see Baby Doll waking up in The High Roller’s room. They share a five-minute conversation where he explains to her that yes, he is interested in taking her virginity, but it is something that he wants her to want. He doesn’t want to force her to do anything.
THE HIGH ROLLER
‘Now I have absolutely no intention of simply taking you. In fact… I could think of nothing more offensive.’
They have a discussion about consent and by the end of it she decides that she does in fact want this, which from her fantasy world to reality translates to Baby Doll coming to terms with the fact that she is going to be lobotomized and accepting her fate, but on her own terms. This one short scene re-frames the entire movie. Yes, she still loses, but she is the one in control of what happens to her. She embraces the only escape she can find where no one can ever get to her. So why was this scene cut?
Spoiler alert - it’s sexism
At the end of their talk, Baby Doll and The High Roller share a sex scene. There is no nudity or anything gratuitous for that matter. In a film populated by gorgeous women dressed like schoolgirls, it’s pretty impressive that the one sex scene in the movie is one of the least provocative scenes in it. I’ll leave it to Emily Browning to discuss the specifics:
I had a very tame and mild love scene with Jon Hamm. It was like heavy breathing and making out. It was hardly a sex scene... I think that it’s great for this young girl to actually take control of her own sexuality. Well, the MPAA doesn’t like that. They don’t think a girl should ever be in control of her own sexuality because they’re from the Stone Age. I don’t know what the fuck is going on and I will openly criticize it, happily. So essentially, they got Zack to edit the scene and make it look less like she’s into it.
While ruining the ending to a mediocre movie isn’t the end of the world, it is indicative of a larger societal problem as a whole. We have to ask ourselves, why is a woman portrayed to be in control of her own sexuality seen as a negative, and why is changing the scene to re-frame consensual sex as rape seen as the right solution?
a troubling compromise
The idea behind using rape to make a sex scene more palatable for audiences demonstrates a deeper seeded issue. While there are some outliers, it seems as if the way that a woman’s role in sex is defined in film is as an object, instead of a willing participant. It was fine for The High Roller to take advantage of Baby Doll, but the moment that it was portrayed in a positive light with her consenting to the act, it was deemed inappropriate for a PG-13 rating.
It isn’t a question of the vulgarity because there are plenty of sex scenes in PG-13 movies. In Mean Girls, Regina George’s mother walks in on her in getting intimate with a partner, but it is played up for laughs. Not to mention the fact that Regina George is the villain of the movie, so there is no concern about her status as a role model. The idea that a young woman isn’t a good role model if she is in control of her sexuality is horrendous and we see it permeate throughout culture.
A few examples:
Juno - She has sex, a choice she makes, but it’s considered to be okay because she is ‘punished’ with an unwanted pregnancy that turns her life upside down.
John Tucker Must Die - Beth calls herself a slut after sleeping with John and her friends don’t protest the comment, reinforcing the norm that a woman enjoying sex is an undesirable trait and establishing that she is deserving of ridicule even from her fellow women.
It almost seems as if when she is the one choosing to have it, even in R rated films where they have more wiggle room, there needs to be some type of factor to balance out the idea of a woman in control:
Adventureland - Em enjoys sex, but she is cheating on James. The trope of ‘woman who likes sex is untrustworthy’ is highly prevalent and contributes to furthering negative perceptions.
Kick-Ass - Dave is invited to spend the night by his crush Katie. It is her choice, but only after a lengthy deception by Dave to earn her trust by pretending to be gay. She is in charge, but he faces no repercussions for lying to her as if it was an okay thing to do to get sex from her, and this manipulation effectively turns her back into an object to be won instead of a person with agency.
This stigmatization is why we have the horror trope of virgins living to the end of the movie because they made the ‘good choices.’ From Halloween to The Cabin in the Woods, it can be found everywhere. Sex outside of marriage is something that needs to be punished in the eyes of these movies and it sets a strange precedent that a woman who actually wants to have sex is something in need of correction. It’s simply an old outdated mindset that we need to do away with.
And that’s the problem.
As Browning states, the MPAA is from the stone age in their views, and unfortunately as they reinforce these archaic views, they infiltrate another generation to continue the cycle.
Doing our part
As a guy, it is definitely suspect that I write a lengthy essay in defense of Sucker Punch that slowly morphs into ‘Start having sex, ladies!!’ But that really isn’t my argument. I think that we shouldn’t view personal choices with such disdain. Whether you choose to never have sex, or have it daily, your choices are yours and as long as you are being safe and smart in your practices it is nobody else’s business. It isn’t even about the sex, it’s about autonomy and how strange a view it is to believe that certain groups, namely women, having it are wrong. At the end of the day it boils down to:
‘Is anyone getting hurt or harming themselves?’
‘Then who cares?’
It isn’t up to us to dictate the private lives of others and while media such as movies are fictional, they are still depictions of the standards and of the real world. When sex is treated as a punishable offense as the norm, it begs the question ‘Why is that normal to us?’
We should all ask ourselves, have I exhibited toxic behavior such as this? Have I ever ridiculed a woman or anyone for that matter due to their personal choices? And why do I think I’m entitled to dictate their lives? Where do we learn these traits and what can we do to toss them in the dumpster of embarrassing history?
The last time I checked we aren’t living in puritanical times. Let’s start acting like it.