Source: Warner Bros
Before her fantasy worlds take Babydoll and her friends into battle, she first arrives at Lennox House for the Mentally Insane in Brattleboro, Vermont. The sets for the asylum and other actual locations were built on soundstages in Vancouver, Canada. Production designer Rick Carter created the sets with an eye toward merging Babydoll's real and imaginary worlds, allowing each set to be repurposed for multiple scenarios.
"If you're paying close attention," producer Deborah Snyder says, "you can see, for example, that an archway that we used in the Lennox House appears as an archway in the dragon fantasy sequence, and again in the brothel. For the WWI fantasy, we start out in a burned-out cathedral, which mimics the shape of the asylum."
"What intrigued me the most was the way that each place Babydoll travels to, whether it was the cathedral, the castle or the temple, reflected the architecture of the asylum itself, inside and out," Carter says. "The moody color palette, even the shafts of light that come in through the windows, all suggest that sensibility, correlating the different places, subconsciously putting you into the same mental space and keeping you in touch with what has happened to Babydoll metaphorically."
These visual similarities allude to the parallels created in Babydoll's mind between the real and imaginary. "Babydoll's fantasy world draws from the real world," Deborah Snyder offers, "so when she first enters the theater in the institution and she sees these typical community theatre flats—a train, a castle, a charred landscape, a Japanese pagoda—they trigger the fantastical places of her imagination. But they're twisted in the way that only happens when you dream, where things get combined in your head and are not always in the right place."
Carter and director of photography Larry Fong worked together to keep that hazy sense of time and place even in the scenes that occur in the film's "reality." The story takes place in the 1960s, but, says Fong, "apart from some hints of it in the hair, makeup, wardrobe and set decoration, I wouldn't say it really looks like the `60s. We wanted to evoke not so much a time, but a timelessness, a frame of mind. That was more important than reflecting a specific decade."
Babydoll's visions flow with abandon through time and space, and the film's mise-en-scène reflects the journey. The film's look is meant to simulate raw emotions that elicit and manipulate the viewer's own. "We wanted something visceral, that was unsettling, where you weren't sure what was reality and what was fantasy," adds Fong.
To accomplish this, he says, "We used a lot of mirrors, creating reflections which echo the theme of dual reality, illusion, self-reflection. How does your memory serve you or betray you when you depend on it? We all have memories of events but then you look at a photo and that's not how you remember it; perception and reality have become blurred. That's partly what the movie is about: what is perception, what is imagination, what is memory, what is false memory?"
For director Zack Snyder, supporting the film's aesthetic was far more critical than visual "truth." "Finding the beauty in the harsh world of the asylum was especially important because, for me, the beauty of this film is perhaps its most interesting contradiction—a bleak story that is nevertheless visually arresting."
Snyder says the essence of "Sucker Punch" is precisely these contradictions, the way the images and elements are juxtaposed, unrestrained by the dictates of realism or popular iconography. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson was drawn in particular to the paradox of the film's "combination of traditionally submissive female archetypes with these incredibly dominant, very forceful female action hero characters. I immediately started drawing ideas that combined hints of the archetypes—the French maid cap or the school girl collar and scarf—with the silhouette and details of a battle-worn soldier."
Wilkinson explains, "I enjoyed casting the net wide when it came to researching for the film. I pulled from all sorts of periods, all sorts of sources, whether historic or from pop culture—from music videos and videogames to a 16th century religious painting!"
Wilkinson occasionally worked in reverse, for example, reinventing the heroines' fighting costumes as burlesque costumes. "I had fun creating ties between the worlds so there would be clever visual references between each layer of the story, little links that get the audience thinking about possible themes and parallel messages. I think it helps the audience along the ride."
Whether dressed to scrub the floors of the asylum or to disarm a bomb on a futuristic bullet train, the girls' purpose of embarking on a life-and-death scavenger hunt is to obtain the items that will spell freedom for them—a map, fire, a knife, a key, and a mystery that represents the reason, the goal, a deep sacrifice. To mirror that journey, Snyder and his creative teams wanted to continually take the viewer on a visual scavenger hunt of sorts, by sprinkling the film with symbols that both spark, and become elements of, Babydoll's fantasies.
These links between worlds necessitated a great many custom-designed elements, including some seemingly insignificant props. For example, the toys in the bedroom of Babydoll's ill-fated little sister are unexpectedly dark and creepy, their bizarre expressions a reflection of the turmoil in Babydoll's mind. An orderly's cheap and otherwise innocuous butane lighter is decorated with a dragon decal that later manifests as the dragon the girls battle in the castle sequence, and even more significantly as a gold lighter, hand-crafted with a dragon figure, which figures prominently in Babydoll's attempted escape.
I'm gonna escape from here, I'm gonna be free.
See Also: New Photos From SUCKER PUNCH / Sucker Punch - Babydoll - Statue
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