warning: contains major spoilers and possible enigma killers
I know some of you would probly prefer that this movie just be forgotten, but considering all the discussion and confusion we had a few months ago about outlawvern.com-commenter-favorite Zack Snyder’s filmatistic intentions I was compelled to watch the extended cut and the “Maximum Movie Mode” commentary-ish thing on the new blu-ray. So this is a short post to share with you my findings and my current understanding of the answer to the question “what in fuck’s name was the ending supposed to mean?”
The extended cut (only available on the blu ray I’m afraid) is 17 minutes longer, and I do think it’s a better version, but not a whole lot clearer. There are two major additions:
1) The musical number where Blue (the asshole pimp guy) and Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) perform “Love is the Drug” on stage at the club. This was originally (and still is) included in the end credits, but here it’s a part of the film and you see pieces of the girls’ dance numbers (with elaborate themed sets and costumes). Snyder says that the scene was cut because he was worried that it made the brothel look like too much of a fun time. I don’t think it really introduces the characters more fully than the shorter cut but I think it sort of adds to Blue’s villainy by making him a suave performer on stage when we know what a bastard he is.
2) A scene where “The High Roller” (Jon Hamm’s character within the world of the brothel) talks with Baby Doll in a hotel-like suite. I believe this was cut to get a PG-13 rating, because the scene is about him trying to convince her to consent to having sex with him in exchange for freedom. She eventually agrees and it cuts to the “real world” of the insane asylum, where he lobotomizes her. So it makes it explicit what was already heavily implied in the theatrical cut, that she willingly let herself be lobotomized so that she could be free of the misery of having killed her sister and all that. So that’s what the discussion of the look on her face was all about. Also seeing the scene makes it seem to make more sense that Jon Hamm is in the movie, because he used to have a big scene.
To me the more important change is that the action scenes are a little longer, and maybe I’m imagining it but they seemed a little less choppy to me. They’re not really gory or anything but I think they had to shorten some of the shots and sequences for the ratings and to keep the length down. They play better longer in my opinion.
Okay, so when I first saw the movie I had a pretty straight forward interpretation of what was going on. In “the real world” Baby Doll gets locked up in an asylum, her stepfather arranges for her to get lobotomized, just before she does she fantasizes about this other world where the asylum is actually a brothel, and in this brothel they perform sexy dances during which she fantasizes within a fantasy about these action scenes where they’re on missions to fight dragons and shit, but really it’s all symbolic of what’s going on in the brothel world which itself is inspired by a couple things she saw or that happened in the hospital world. Okay, so it’s not that straightforward.
Anyway after thinking and reading about it more I started thinking about the pretentious narration at the end and the way Sweet Pea narrates and makes a couple references to “who’s story” this is, and I thought about how the beginning of the movie shows curtains opening to reveal a stage which is Baby Doll’s bedroom, and later when she gets into the hospital there is a stage where there is a set of her bedroom, and then Sweet Pea is on the stage dressed as her and acting out her story. And I started thinking maybe there was something I was supposed to get that was not clearly communicated, that perhaps some of this was taking place within the therapeutic acting sessions, or that it was really Sweet Pea’s story and she imagined Baby Doll as her “angel” who inspires her, or who knows, some shit like that. And then I noticed some reviews where it was clear that the writers had thought some sort of deal like that took place at the end.
So I really wanted to watch the extras and see if there’s any explanation for that. “Maximum Movie Mode” is a show-offy version of a commentary track where windows pop up throughout the movie showing interviews or on set footage, or Snyder standing in front of a white background like Morpheus in THE MATRIX gesturing to footage and explaining things. It’s mostly about how they did things but he talks somewhat about the story, and what I have learned is… well, it was pretty much what we assumed in the first place. He refers to the hospital as “the real world” and says that the brothel is taking place in her mind during the moment before she’s lobotomized. But he also says that he wants you to be left thinking about things at the end and wondering if maybe she imagined Sweet Pea or different things like that and that you can “probably find evidence” to support those type of theories.
I think that’s kind of a half-assed way to do it, to purposely imply things but not actually take the time to truly build them into the movie. It’s supposed to make it deep but just makes it kind of confusing. Maybe if the narration wasn’t so heavy-handed it wouldn’t seem as bad.
One interesting tidbit I learned: the engravings on Baby Doll’s sword depict the entire story in pictograms, up to a skull being lobotomized. He said he was paranoid about not showing it clearly in the advertising so it wouldn’t give the story away. I think maybe it would’ve helped, though.
One thing that Snyder does not talk about at all in the extras as far as I noticed is the one and only thing that the entire internet fixated on when the movie came out: gender. There is an interview where Jena Malone talks about how she thinks it’s a “surrealist feminism” and his producer/wife Deborah Snyder says some interesting things about the characters, but there’s no hint that he thought about it as a commentary on them wearing short skirts or that he had any clue that people would give a shit about if it was “empowerment” or “exploitation.”
Looking back I’m still not sure I understand the controversy. They’re burlesque dancers, they’re made to wear fetishistic costumes, but in their minds they escape by adding guns and swords and then they fly around fighting robots, dragons and steam-powered reanimated German soldier corpses. What’s the problem?
Well, the problem is with the construction of the story I guess. I still thought it was an interesting movie that ultimately fails as a story. Like all of Snyder’s movies I like it but don’t think it entirely works. It’s just that it’s more Zack Snydery than the others so it tries for more and fails harder. But what really struck me this time is that whether or not he intended it as a deconstruction of (geek culture, gender roles, whatever various sources claimed it was supposed to be a deconstruction of) it accidentally is a deconstruction in the sense that he delivers several knock-you-on-your-ass great action sequences but puts them in a context where almost everybody hated them. I mean, if you isolate the scene where they helicopter onto a runaway train and fight a bunch of killer robots to defuse a bomb before it blows up a city – that’s a fucking great short film right there, most people would love it. But by telling us that this is a fantasy that a girl has while she’s dancing in another fantasy that she has while she’s about to get her brain poked he double-removes us from the characters and makes us not really give so much of a shit.
So hopefully now that he’s deconstructed the story he’ll figure out how to put it back together.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.