Not long ago, my wife and I double-dated with some friends. In order to keep it light and fun for all concerned, we decided on the tween-actioner Sucker Punch. It was a fun, flashy, popcorn-fest to be sure. If you can imagine constructing a narrative from the frustrated musings of a contemporary 12-year-old boy, then you may have a sense of this film.
I was settled in to the story, which centers on the disturbing misadventures of a group of teen girls in a shady mental health facility in the 60’s. I began to notice certain elements of the film were setting off bells in my head. The story takes place in three worlds. The first is the institution. The second is an alternate world, some sort of hyper-cabaret gentleman’s club and brothel, where the girls are the main attraction. The third is a non-sequitor pastiche of combat missions into war-torn fantasy landscapes that rival the top gamer favorites. In this world, the girls are presented as a squad of heavily armed and scantily clad super-commandos (including a naughty-as-she-wants-to-be-looking Vanessa Hudgens, who has apparently outgrown mouse-eared musicals) pitted against endless hordes of inhuman villains. It was the second and third worlds and their sequential relation to each other, that gave me pause. I began to pay more attention as a filmmaker, to what I was seeing. The pattern became starkly, worryingly obvious.
Every time things in “Bordello World” reach the point of explicit exposure, we are moved by way of a MacGuffin device, cleverly disguised as a jailbait lap dance, to a battle sequence, a sort-of bloodless war-gasm, if you will. Interestingly enough, blood, at least as much as would be expected from so much violence, is conspicuously absent. It is made all the more conspicuous when one considers that it was the blood and gore of films such as Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins that gave rise to the rating in the first place. I doubt one would get much argument that both films would be considered tame in today’s Hollywood.
Needless to say, by the end of the picture (which I did thoroughly enjoy incidentally) my mind was on spin cycle as I tried to remember if the PG-13 films of my youth presented the same aesthetic. I couldn’t think of one, which isn’t to say that it doesn’t exist; I just couldn’t and can’t come up with one. Since that day, I have watched (observed?) a number of more recent offerings that have earned this rating and there seems to be a discernable trend. Take the obviously unstoppable franchise of the Fast and the Furious for example. Nothing against the filmmakers, they’ve just made it work so well, it’s worth referencing. Stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, both have highly-flirtatious and highly-sexualized relationships with women. As the underlying tension escalates, not only is the sex avoided by the camera, but it seems the only solution to that tension is a fist-fight, a gun-fight, an explosion, or the franchise signature race/chase. The case is similar across the board and if the gimmicks aren’t for gear heads, they’re for gamers. Ask Mila Jovovich how to make a billion dollars and she’ll say two words, “Resident Evil”, and Peter Jackson is still trying to get a Halo movie made.
I can understand keeping the sex under wraps. I can just as easily understand sanitizing the violence. What worries me is the thought that the sex = violence connection is being drilled into the minds of a very specific market: boys, age 11-14. Fusing seamlessly into an adolescent lifestyle typified, if not defined, by globe-spanning FPS video games, remote access socializing, and burgeoning sexuality, this kind of kiss-kiss, bang-bang may have further reaching effects than a mere 90 minutes of entertainment. I won’t go so far, or be so paranoid, as to claim greater plan. That said, we live in a world where wars are fought with laser-guided missiles, drone planes, subs, and robotic weapons platforms. I’m not too comfortable with the next few generations of eligible serviceman having their trigger fingers hardwired to their private parts, a lifetime of simulator hours, and a taste for violence without consequence. Are you?
Written by Joseph James Bellamy
Editor: Rod Webber
Published by Modern Cinema Magazine
© Modern Cinema Magazine 2011