Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How I Learned to Love the Greeks, Or, Why I was Wrong about 300

This is a little late in coming, but considering the amount of traffic this blog has had recently, I don’t think any of us can be too choosy.

Like I promised, I saw ‘300’. In fact, I saw it on opening day, at 3:00 P.M. in downtown D.C.. And for the most part, I was delighted by just about everything I had expected: lots of blood, some overtures to dark comedy (though not nearly enough), dreamy sets and nightmarish foes. Even a little nudity in the part of Queen Gorgo, played by Lena Headey-Lebeaux (I’m hereby instating the It’s-OK-To-Discuss-Nudity-In-Your-First-Entry-In-A-While rule, and if you disagree, then please dear god let me hear it or post your argument!).

Despite that which I boyishly anticipated, I was also slightly worried about the film’s easy East vs. West theme, one that could be quickly corrupted as a modern take on the War on Terrorism—I think I was too hasty in worrying about this: the blogosphere erupted with discussions about this very topic before the movie premiered (“Leonidas as George W?”), thereby inoculating most from (and maybe enticing some to) the awful connections between the Current Administration and the Noble Spartans, the Despotic Persians and the Fundamentalist Terrorist, and perhaps even the Corrupt Oligarchs with the Democratic Congress.

(In fact, this film already has been re-presented in some forms of political discourse, just not in the ways that I was expecting. A recent political cartoon featured in Time Magazine shows a grotesque—well, more grotesque—Vice President Cheney dressed in the Spartan’s crimson, arrow shafts protruding from his body, as one of the last men defending the White House. On the other side of the aisle [or maybe winner’s circle], Al Gore invoked the film when he visited Capitol Hill, imploring all US Senators and Representatives to stand together as ‘the 535’.)

But so far there’s really been nothing new. The film lasted the better part of a month atop the #1 spot (only to be knocked off by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last weekend), made some cash, introduced Gerard Butler to the world and dug up Faramir from Lord of the Rings (who should be in good movies, but instead opted to play the awful Monk/Q hybrid in ‘Van Helsing’).

Maybe I should have actually waited to have seen the movie, but that’s not a lot of fun. Or maybe I should have just waited for The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart to tell my opinion to me: yes, Iran got upset about this film (and probably deservingly so). But even if ‘300’ is a not-so-veiled allegory to the War on Terror, there are plenty of absolutely blatant uses of the war in everyday media. Need I invoke ‘24’? I shouldn’t been so worried about the more subtle forms of vilification/brainwashing: I should have been more worried about the parade of Baddies that simply march right pass allegory on their way to blowing something up whilst ululating.

So that allegory, while it does probably exist, isn’t something we’re not used to. But—and as Alexander W. said in response to my original post—war films are always simply about conflict. And if it’s not about the war on terror, than it has to be something.

Enter the strange interpretations of ‘300’ that have tried to torture the film (and haven’t those poor, waxed actors been tortured enough?) into some allegory of something it clearly isn’t: Wesley Morris’ review (The Boston Globe, 3/9/2007) eventually spiraled into an analysis of the film as allegory about homosexuality—his evidence: Persian emperor Xerxes wears makeup and has a private nightclub-like tent wherein certain women…erm…cavort.

This film is not about that. Were it, the Spartan Heterosexuals would be quickly undone by a fifth column back at home: the Spartan Priests are depicted as depraved and degenerate in their lusts for a young oracle, and even Queen Gorgo (again, played by Lena Headey-Lebeaux) has to, quite literally, sleep with the enemy at one point. Moreover, three hundred waxed, buffed (Jon Stewart referred to their 1800 abdominals), preening men does not make for the strongest of heterosexual stand-ins.

Assigning allegorical value to ancient wars is nothing new: J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings” eventually became an allegory for whatever conflict its readers/viewers imagined it (at once the films were about nuclear proliferation, the return of traditional) Catholic values and the struggle of the Green movement). ‘300’ hardly stacks up against LOTR, but the public’s need to unveil the film’s allegory interests me. Why do they bother?

Are we trying to verify our oftentimes nerdy interest in battle movies? Or is it because modern warfare demands a more nuanced understanding, causing us to anachronistically complicate ancient (and fictional) depictions? Can’t these films just be about ancient peoples hacking and stabbing the bejesus out of each other? Can’t we all just get along with slaughter? Because I really think that that’s how the Spartans would have wanted it.


John M. said...

I beg to differ only with your opening remarks, Mr. Lebeaux. We had one of our highest-trafficked days last friday.
If you mean the frequency of posts, well... yeah. That's true.
Love, your friendly freelance internet advertising agent.

Ben Lebeaux said...

I meant frequency of posts, but I'm glad to hear we had a big day. I think that people knew something big was about to happen.

Glad to hear you're out there, freelancing and protecting the world while it sleeps.

Le Capeur said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Le Capeur said...

I didn't see the movie, and won't, but all the hype prompted me to check out the history behind it, and I wasn't disappointed. The Battle of Thermopylae (depicted in "300") and, especially, the Battle of Salamis, are fascinating reads. The latter has been called the most significant fight in human history, responsible for preserving Greek democracy, which became the foundation for western civilization, and preventing Xerxes from invading western Europe.* The Greek tactics at Salamis were ingenius, and the political maneuvering of Themistocles makes an excellent study.

Thermopylae: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Thermopylae

Salamis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Salamis

*After returning to the source info to make sure that statement was accurate, it became clear that I'd unwittingly plagiarized wikipedia almost to the letter. The act was inadvertent, I promise.

Anonymous said...

I love violence.

But seriously, I have no desire to see another xenophobic movie that reinforces the us-vs-them binary. Bleh. Even so, I admit that there are dramatic allures to those kinds of plots that the "real world," complicated ones lack. For instance, will anyone ever make a movie about the realities of the Iraq war in the way that they do now about the Civil War or World War II? Maybe with the forgetful benefit of time. If it is ever a movie, I imagine it will more be a backdrop of some other plot about grey areas.