What ‘Homeland’ And ‘Sucker Punch’ Have In Common

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since the finale of the first season of Homeland, which I enjoyed, but I gather a lot of people were vexed by in various ways. But Carrie’s decision to undergo electroshock treatment, even at the cost of her memory and some valuable analysis, reminded me the theme of self-sacrifice in Sucker Punch. As I wrote at the time:

This is a distinctly female story. And I’m surprised no one’s discussing the ending, and the complicated themes of self-sacrifice at its core. Going into the movie, I expected a bunch of sexy asskicking. I didn’t really expect Snyder to pull a Joss Whedon. In the course of this movie, three of the main characters die, and their deaths are genuinely shocking. Malone throws herself in front of a knife to save Cornish, playing her sister. Vanessa Hudgens’ and Jamie Chung’s characters are murdered. And, that moment between Abbie Cornish and Emily Browning? At the end of the movie, Babydoll sacrifices herself to save Sweet Pea, gives herself up to Jon Hamm’s lobotomist as a distraction so another woman can run away. They all choose collaboration. The price of getting just one woman to freedom is so high. And while that’s less dramatically true in the world at large, I think it’s still true

I wonder if there’s something to both of these stories that’s an interesting anecdote to the Strong Female Character nonsense, and to the triumphal narratives of action movies in general. There’s a difference between tearing your female characters down before building them up, the process Tad Friend described in his critically important profile of Anna Faris last summer, and recognizing that it’s extremely difficult to win. Particularly if you’re a woman. It is harder to beat a man of equal fitness in a fight. It may be harder to convince people of something terrible that’s happened to you or your family — or to the country — if you’re at risk of being dismissed as a crazy, hysterical woman whether that’s an accurate description of your brain chemistry or not. Women may be more accustomed to compromise, to accepting outcomes that are less than ideal for them if they think it’s the best deal they can get. That might not make for action movies or thrillers that are satisfying in the straightforward ways that most stories in that genre are. But they could be the basis for something more complex and uneasy, and very interesting.