Thursday, March 29, 2007

The 300

I haven't yet seen 300, other than some clips on PBS. And I doubt that I will, until perhaps it is released on dvd. (For someone who doesn't even watch hospital shows on television because of the operating room scenes, the gore-fest that is 300 would be a little much). Some critics have panned the film as an overly-simplistic good vs. evil morality play, and have questioned its historical veracity (to which I would ask, just which historical era has Hollywood not butchered?) But, the Battle of Thermopylae was indeed a pivotal moment in history, the consequences of which have reverberated down through the ages. And from what clips I have seen, this particular re-telling of the epic seems to be one incredible movie.

The fact that the movie has generated world-wide debate speaks to its significance. Of course, voices within Islam, particularly from Iran, have protested against the film, saying that it casts the East in a purely negative light and reinforces existing stereotypes: the West (Sparta)=good, the East (Persia)=bad, which in turn unnecessarilly inflames existing present-day tensions between the two regions. And of course, as in the case of the Danish cartoons, such protestations are carried to extremes.

Mustafa Akyol is a noted young Turkish writer and commentator. He can generally be relied upon as a voice of reason on issues that too often become inflamed (see his blog, the White Path). Outside of the spectacular cinematography, he finds little to commend.

The message that the film is designed to give is all too obvious: Western civilization (which is free, rational and beautiful) has always defended itself against the barbaric East (which is tyrannical, irrational and ugly). And the saga just continues today.

Akyol pinpoints 3 areas of concern:

1. the movie is cast as a prelude for today's "clash of civiliztions,"
2. the movie is wildly unrealistic, and
3. that Sparta was in fact a bastion of fascism, not liberty.

I believe Akyol over-reacts somewhat. The movie is an entertainment product, not a vehicle for political propoganda. But he does raise some valid points. Akyol observes that the neocons who find validation in the story of a small, corageous band (Sparta) standing firm against an oppressive superpower (Persia) need to rethink the analogy. Who is the superpower today, he asks? We are. His second point is also valid. As he notes: "some of their soldiers, with their turbaned heads, look quite like the Islamist warriors of today." He finds this to be intentional. Perhaps so. In my view, a most glaring inaccuracy is the weird depiction of Xerxes himself. I would have thought that they would have paid at least a passing glance to the archeological record. And his final point has some merit, as well. If we are looking for ancient Greeks to emulate, we might pause before choosing the Spartans, as theirs was a fiercely militaristic society. Akyol even brings up the whole homosexuality issue concerning Sparta, which the film glosses over and/or ignores. (While not "homosexual" in the modern understanding of the word, the 300 did fight as couples. And of course, neither the ancient Persians or modern Turks can afford to throw any stones in that area.)

Akyol's essay can be found, here.

Spengler, takes on Iran's tantrum over the movie and weaves it into his larger view of imperial Persian ambitions here. He writes:

These new imperial ambitions inspire Iran's impassioned defense of the ancient Persian Empire, which, as noted, trample over the Koran's clear view of the matter. What upsets the Persians is not the inaccuracies of 300, a Hollywood genre film with few pretenses at historical authenticity. They simply don't like the fact that the Persians lost.

Never one to mince words, Spengler continues:

On the surface, the most objectionable departure from historical fact is the figure of Persia's King Xerxes, who is portrayed as a monstrous, body-pierced, sexually ambiguous monster prancing madly about the battlefield. That is fanciful, to be sure, but conveys a deeper truth about the character of Persian rulers, who were among the most lascivious, concupiscent, slothful, sensual, deceitful and greedy gang of louts who ever had the misfortune to reign.

Check out what he has to say.


s-p said...

ummmm.... that still shot looks like a LOT of pecs and testosterone happening there. What did they do, raid a "Gold's Gym" for extras? LOL!

John said...

Yep, either there or the nearest leather bar (snick!)

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Well, the movie is a quite precise depiction of the original "graphic novel." Many are misunderstanding the imagery as some kind of literalism. It's better to look back to the Greek depictions of the Persians and see that the novel/film have successfully translated the fear and disgust and awe of the ancient Greeks for the Persians into imagery that is immediately recognizable to modern eyes. Yes, the ancient Greeks thought the Persians were wealthy and effeminate, but their king was also a larger than life figure (who could command millions -- any Greek only had authority over a few thousand) and his strange barbarian armies from the ends of the earth were weird and terrifying. I'll eventually see the movie, but already I admire that translation of the imagery.

John said...

Good points, Kevin. I am not familiar with the "graphic novel," other than the references made in the various reviews. I am now curious to see what that novel is all about. I expect to eventually see it as well. My main interest now (and in the original post), is how the movie has become grist in the propaganda mills of both East and West.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Here's a link to the book. The author's very well-known in those circles, I've been told. It's certainly striking.

I have a really hard time caring about people getting upset over a movie, comics, etc, when they chant "Death to America" every day. What goes around comes around. In this case, however, the book dates to 1999, and movie hews closely to it, almost image for image. It's in no way related to the current unpleasantness. Anyhow, it'll be good to see.

Oh, and related to the "Gold's Gym" comment above, I read somewhere that the director got the actors to spend several weeks before the film following a Spartan training program and diet. If that's how these guys looked after a few weeks, imagine a lifetime of such training and how scary those real Spartans would have looked!

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Oops! The link.

s-p said...

I can just see it, a Greek "Leather bar"... LOL! I think someone would still have to be genetically predisposed to end up looking like a "300" cast member. If I was in the casting call, I think they would have had to name the movie "299". :)