Interview: Zack Snyder on the Sexuality and Fanboy Hate of ‘Sucker Punch’

By  · Published on March 28th, 2011

Sucker Punch feels like Zack Snyder’s response to all those awkward and sexist nerds he and his cast deal with in Hall-H nearly every year, the ones that can’t help but to shout out how “hot” the actresses are during the panel. Those nerds are the sideline oppressors of Sucker Punch: the revolting-looking Chef and Mayor, the ones that love seeing their women in degrading and sexualized outfits, but don’t care about how or why they’re in said outfits. As long as they get their joy out of sexy women doing sexy things, and nothing outside the basic titillation, they’ll be happy.

This is the subtext that many seem to not talking about from Sucker Punch. Snyder’s work has always been divisive, but never has one of his films been this polarizing, and he knows that. Snyder is well-aware of the response the film has been getting, and he’s the type of self-aware filmmaker that probably expected this type of reaction from day one of shooting. The fact that Sucker Punch isn’t a film for everyone surely must have caused problems along the way, and as Snyder states, the test-screening process was no help in that regard.

**EDITOR’S NOTE: There are some spoilers throughout this interview. We recommend seeing the film first before reading.**

Here’s what Zack Snyder had to say about making an original film, divisiveness, shining a light on sexist nerds, and much more:

Having just seen the film a few hours ago, it’s a little difficult to get my full thoughts on it straight. Have you seen that type of reaction before?

I have. It’s funny, I had the same thing on Watchmen. Someone said to me they were seeing the film and were going to interview me right after the film and I said, “You know what? I don’t think that’s a good idea.” When he asked why, I just told him he’s just not going to want to do it that way [Laughs]. He believed me, so after the movie he said he needed to think about it. I think that’s cool, though.

The film has been very polarizing so far.

It has. For me, I honestly think with Sucker Punch ‐ — it’s weird. I feel like people either see it two ways. For one, it’s completely in the overt version as exactly what they see, which is just this girl going crazy and then going on this adventure for no reason. That version of the movie that people see is as a super straightforward movie. Or people see it as a crazy commentary on genre films and what is sexuality and why the girls are dressed like that. I think that’s also valid, because that’s what the movie is.

Would you say the film is a critique on sexist geek culture?

It is, absolutely. I find it interesting, in a lot of ways, that this movie ‐ of all the movies I’ve made ‐ has been universally hated by fanboys, which I find really interesting. It’s like a fanboy indictment, in some ways. They can’t have fun with the geek culture sexual hang ups.

I thought it was basically you commenting on those attendants at Comic-Con who shout, “You’re hot!” at beautiful cast members.

Yeah! 100%. They don’t know how to be around it. It’s funny because someone asked me about why I dressed the girls like that and I said, “Do you not get the metaphor there? The girls are in a brothel performing for men in the dark. In the fantasy sequences, the men in the dark are us. The men in the dark are basically me: dorky sci-fi kids.”

Is it wrong to enjoy seeing Babydoll in that school girl outfit, though?

I have no problem with this dichotomy as to why she is in the outfit. You can say what you want about the movie, but I did not shoot the girls in an exploitative way. They might be dressed sexually, but I didn’t shoot the movie to exploit their sexuality. There’s no close-ups of cleavage, or stuff like that. I really wanted it to be up to the viewer to feel those feelings or not. Does that make sense?

Yeah, it’s like a guilty-pleasure.

100%. As long as you’re self-aware about it, then you’re okay.

Do you feel like most people are missing that? Aren’t there self-referential lines about that in the film, like when Sweet Pea says the dances have to be more than titillation?

Oh yeah. There’s a few of those. She says, “The dance should be more than titillation, and mine’s personal,” and that’s exactly a comment on the movie itself. I think 90% are missing it or they just don’t care. See, I don’t know. I haven’t had the opportunity to question people about the film, and I feel like that’s the next step with taking the time to interview people about what they saw or what they thought they saw.

The other line that I think is important is, as soon as the fantasy starts, there’s that whole sequence where Sweet Pea breaks it down and says, “This is a joke, right? I get the sexy school girl and nurse thing, but what’s this? A lobotomized vegetable? How about something more commercial?” That is basically my comment on the film as well. She’s saying, “Why are you making this movie? You need to make a movie more commercial. It shouldn’t be so dark and weird.”

Most female action heroines are generally interchangeable with men. Can you talk about the process of finding that specific female voice?

As a man, you can only do what you can do as far as understanding the female psyche. I just tried to write as honestly as I could, so then the female actors would fill in the emotional blanks I left for them. I feel like the girls were really up to that and into that. I thought it was an interesting approach. A good example is when we did the scene where the girls were going to break out and they’re all saying “they’re in!” and they’re crying at the end of the scene. That’s not in the script, and that was just them. If I had written that, I probably would have thought it was cheesy and no one would cry at the end of the sequence.

Did you think a lot in the writing process, “Would a woman say this?”

You think that, of course you do. It’s hard to write. Know at the beginning of the movie where Sweet Pea is acting tough? That’s tough to write, because I know where she’s going. It’s like when she says “watch yourself!” in the dance hall and they have that whole banter. That’s difficult because it’s on a graphic, in a lot of ways, but you gotta find a way to make it a lot of fun.

At what point do you know what type of music you want to use?

I’d say pretty early on we have the music figured out. I had “Love is the Drug,” “White Rabbit,” “Army of Me,” and all those songs as I was writing.

You usually use very well known pop-culture songs. Is there a specific intention behind that besides it just fitting a scene well?

Yeah, I want the music to foreshadow… Like the beginning, I want to let you know the music is not going to be of the time. It’s going to be transcendent and cross the bounds of space and time. When that started to happen in the movie itself, it might be less jarring because you would already have this opportunity to get warped into it.

I’m curious, if you don’t mind talking about it, what was the originally shot and intended ending?

The very first ending I wrote the order was: Babydoll was being lobotomized, she got chained in the basement, Sweet Pea escapes ‐ well, let me back up. There’s a scene you’ll see on the Director’s Cut with Jon Hamm. When Jon Hamm arrives as the High Roller ‐ and we took this scene out because of the MPAA ‐ when that guy punches Babydoll in the face, she wakes up in the High Roller’s suite. He basically makes a deal with her that if she gives herself to him, and willingly and not against her will, then he’ll give her freedom and get [her] out of that place. He’ll make it so that Blue will never touch her and she’ll be free. She’s seduced by that concept, and right when they go to kiss each other, that’s her being lobotomized. When they kiss, it’s her being lobotomized.

The very end of the movie was: you see Sweet Pea steal a dress from a clothesline, then after she’s lobotomized and Blue says, “Do you remember me? Take her downstairs,” and then you see Sweet Pea getting on the bus, then after her getting on the bus, it cuts back to Babydoll in the basement and that whole scene happens of the cops taking him away. When he shines the flashlight on her, she gets up, and the camera dollies in on her and then goes around her head, and you see that she’s on a stage in the theater and she signs “O-o-h Child” at the very end. After that, all the dead girls come out and they sing together, then the curtain closes. That’s the end.

Why was that cut?

We tested it, and people just did not know how to… I don’t know. I thought it was awesome, personally. Maybe there’s a cult version of it that’ll exist that I can put together sometime [Laughs], but for a mass audience, it just played as this super culty, bizarro ending. I love it, personally. I could tell that people just didn’t know how to take it, though.

Was it difficult conducting test-screenings because of how much of a love it or hate it type of film it is?

What I learned on this was that you can’t test a movie like Sucker Punch. It really defies the whole concept of being tested. In a lot of ways, I think the movie would have been a million times better off if we just made the hardest, craziest version of the movie we could and not trying to please every audience. I do think that the movie is crazy, in a great way, but it’s just funny that I think it’s 30% as crazy as it could have been. I think that’s the world it lives in. It lives in a crazy world.

When “Love is the Drug” is in the body of the film, and you’ll see it in the Director’s Cut, it’s… it is in the end title credits, but I took it out because the overall sense with the other scenes missing, there wasn’t enough threat in the brothel. The brothel became too fun, in a lot of ways. I had taken back the darkness a little bit for the MPAA, so you end up with a less sinister brothel. Therefore, with “Love is the Drug,” you’d think, “Why are they complaining? It’s awesome in there!” [Laughs]

Did you find it frustrating having to change the film because of so many different reactions, like the MPAA and test-screenings?

100%. It was 100% frustrating trying to have to live in that box when you build this crazy thing. It’s like, you build this super crazy and personal thing, then through a series of conversations or criticisms or whatever… I mean, I know what world I live in, so I’m not bitter about it. But you just end up with a different sort of movie.

Would you say the Director’s Cut is that fuller, crazier version?

It’s fuller, but it’s not all the way.

What’s missing to make it ‘all the way’?

It doesn’t have the “O-o-h Child” ending.

Why can’t that be put back in?

It’s just money and everything. The effects were never finished. If the movie is successful, I would absolutely go back and do it for sure.

Sucker Punch is now in theaters.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.