Sunday, March 11, 2007
I took TH Son to see 300 this afternoon at the Princeton Garden theater. Being adolescents in either mind and body (him in body, me in mind), we had a blast. If you love heroic combat with edged weapons, do not miss the movie. If for some reason you are only allowed to see movies with your woman, perhaps you can sell her on the most unbelievable assemblage of male abdominals ever to grace the silver screen. Whatever you do, don't mention the relentless mayhem and oceans of blood (or, for that matter, the charismatic hotness of Leonidas' queen, played by Lena Heady).
For those few of you who do not already know, 300 is the movie adaption of Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name. Comic book fans -- and I am one -- know that Frank Miller is the genius behind such masterpieces as The Dark Knight Returns (the best rendering of Batman in the character's history), the pathbreaking Ronin, the greatest Daredevil stories ever told, and, of course, Sin City.
300 the movie is a comic book on steroids. It is a stylized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, in which Spartan King Leonidas leads three hundred Spartan soldiers in a delaying action against Xerxes vast Persian army. Their sacrifice gave the rest of Greece the time to pull together a defense of their democracy against the greatest imperial threat of the age (Wikipedia entry).
Much has been written about the politics of the movie. It is not hard to see why. A king, attacked at home by his political opposition, leads a lonely band in defense of civilization against a barbarous horde from, er, Iran. Moreover, his war is "illegal," because the priests who hand down spiritual rulings have said as much, notwithstanding the fact of the Persian invasion. No wonder this lefty is appalled:
Someday soon, you may ask a new acquaintance that question, and just maybe -- because it takes all kinds -- your new friend will reply, "My favourite movie is 300."
If this happens, back away slowly. Your new friend probably kills cats for fun. Worse -- your new friend may be George W. Bush. Director Zack Snyder's new dramatization of the epic Spartan stand at Thermopylae will probably go down real well at the White House, and wherever disturbed young people massacre hundreds in violent video games.
In fact, this grossly overstates the contemporary politics embedded in the movie, which is as simple in its dialogue as it is lavish in its combat scenes. There is nothing inherently right-wing about it. Indeed, it is telling that leftists attack the movie on that basis. Once, the honoring of heroism and sacrifice in the defense of values -- the only real message in the movie -- was a staple of the left. It was the left that stood up to fight Franco in the Spanish civil war, a campaign of startling heroism and self-sacrifice. Today, however, it is very hard to find leftists that respect these martial values, even in defense of the principles that they purport to hold dear.
Reason enough to see 300, I would say.
MORE: Wretchard on the politics of 300:
The most interesting thing about those who habitually denounce ethnocentricity and cultural blindness is that they are not without such sentiments themselves, the difference being that their cultural point of view is rooted in the mid-20th century, rather than say, ancient Lacedaemonia.
STILL MORE: I will admit, I completely missed the homoerotic angle that seems to be all the rage on the left.
Oh, my. TH, Sand and Sandals is one of my favorite genres of the much slighted "costume flick", and the fact that it has broad appeal for adolescent fathers and sons as well as male homosexuals should in no way count against it. I believe "Gladiator" had a similar demographic base, and "Alexander" was positively overt about the Macedonian conquerors passions as well as battlefield prowess.
As for politics, I would have to say that the Spartans were not alone, and their coalition of the willing included Thespians (not actors, but the REAL Thespians) who never get a curtain call when Leonidas and Company are remembered.
Any of you who have the interest - and disposable income - to plunk down serious bucks on matte painted metal soldiers might take a gander at the Spartans on offer from Conte Collectibles. Talk about buff!
I myself collect American Civil War.
"I will admit, I completely missed the homoerotic angle that seems to be all the rage on the left."
Me too. Perhaps that, umm, analysis is more telling about the analyst than the film itself. His rundown of character allegories is silly as well, pushing for meaning when there isn't any in order to fit a preconceived idea to mock. I could just as easily label the Immortals as the US Army, the Spartans as Mujahideen, and the various scheming characters who accepted Persian bribes as pro-American Arab monarchies. That actually makes *more* sense in the way that the Spartans (holy warriors of Islam) were outnumbered by the hordes of an Empire, (the US and its contemporaries) and that they purposefully sought a "beautiful death." (martyrdom)
This film wasn't a piece of contemporary social criticism, but it DID purposefully incorporate reflective elements of modern politics in order to make a point, that I am sure of. But labeling Leonidas as Ariel Sharon is, shall we say, retarded.
There were a couple of driving themes. Morals if you will.
1) There are virtues higher than the rule of law.
2) These virtues are worth fighting and dying for.
3) Some enemies cannot be negotiated with; they must be surrendered to or slain.
4) The well-being of the many depends on the sacrifices of the few, and those few should be supported, honored, and appreciated.
A couple months shy of 25 years ago, a bunch of Tiger Inners climbed into my 1968 Olds and headed off to see Conan the Barbarian at a movie house along Rt. 1. I'm glad you repeated the theme with your son.
I'm also happy that the Princeton Garden is still open. During freshman week of my sophomore year, a number of us went there to see Apocalypse Now. It's still my favorite movie of all time.
missed the homoeroticism?
Wow. That was the dominant theme of the movie. Over and above all the GWOT comparisons you'd like to make are the piercings, overdeveloped abdominals, and skin mag calendar poses in front of piles of dead bodies.
It's a homoerotic fetishist's wet dream.
But that's been the case with the Yellow Elephants since the heady days of the Iraq invasion. Very romantic, very manly.
I think this qualifies as Hollywood's wet dream...$70mm on the first weekend.
Big time business. Number 3 all time right behind Passion of the Christ, of all things.
Wow. I hadn't even heard of this thing until you wrote about it.
Well, as I said in a previous comment, the real-life homo aspect of the Spartans is something I would have thought the right would rail against. Indeed, they seem to have saved (or at least bought time for; it was the Athenian navy under Themistocles who eventually beat them) the very Western Civilization which righties feel that those pesky queers are destroying.
I met Frank Miller at NY Comic Con and he is aware of the politicization. He finds it laughable, as do I, but this is a sad knee jerk on the left for which liberals truly need to apologize. The "illegality" of the war was due only to the Spartan religious practices (indeed, one might say akin to our right wing evangelical orthodoxy?); Miller was just pointing up that part of the true story. The rest of it, as he still maintains (he's in ill health, by the way) was mere fantasy.
So let me try to parse the liberal mind on this one: Basically, it's common knowledge that the average American, brainwashed and plugged into symbols and myths by Fox News, et al, and intellectually short-changed by a No Child Left Behind brand of education, has a very limited idea of historical truth, trends, social history, geography, etc. Along comes a movie that most of such morons will take as historical fact, and on top of that, given that they lack critical thinking tools, they extrapolate support for the war in Iraq and other wild-ass Bush policies from lines in a CGI flick.
There's precedent. Look at the very tangible political/cultural/social drama that has plagued Texas premised soley on John Wayne's version of "The Alamo." A whole mythology that has translated into politicl strife grew directly from that film. 35 years after it's premiere, the story is remade based on actual documentary and archeological and even DNA research. Presto, chango--we have a fairly decent idea of the "truth." I dare say Billy Bob Thornton's interpretation of Davey Crockett, right down to the fact that he hated to be called "Davey" and the coonskin cap was a sick joke to him was dead on, and put John Wayne's to shame. Oh but the righties came scurrying out of the woodwork on that!!! Even the President had to comment, but this was on instance were Rove, our VP Dick and Roger Ailes may have urged him to be a little circumspect. Ditto for Kay Bailey Hutchinson. Not so with Mr. Perry, the governor, who put his foot in his mouth stating that the movie "made the Mexicans look like heroes," and disputed that these Texas martyrs had anything whatsoever to do with slavery. What a mess!
I think that's the likely vein of liberal thought on the matter. I could go on about The Passion of the Christ, The Last Temptation of Christ, Glory, Ride with the Devil and any other civil war flick; any film on Custer before the truth came out in Little Big Man. Any film on Indians likewise. Gone with the Wind--oh that image what slavery was about is still paramount in our thinking and is utterly falacious on so many levels...
Whew, I applaud Tigerhawk for ths post. If you want to see a truly controversial graphic novel, wait for The Darker Mask (Tor/Forge Books 2008). Tigerhawk can tell when and where.
Hello, all! Just wantd to add that I also very much enjoyed the flick. I'm a grad student, I went to see "300" Sunday night with a friend of mine, and we're both GIRLS. We're also eggheads of history and cultural history.
Now while I know that this is a testosterone-drenched film, it's also true that women (or some of them) may enjoy the film as well, and not only because of the (admittedly) eye-popping adbominals everywhere or because they've been dragged to it unwillingly by eager boyfriends/husbands/whatever. My buddy and I went on our own because we wanted to see the film for ourselves.
Do give the ladies some credit! Some of us do know a great action flick when we see one! (And while I love Jane Austen, that doesn't mean I don't also love a good rip-roaring action sequence.) In fact, some of us are thinking about going to go see "300" again. ;-)
As for the now-much-ballyhooed "content" of the film, I read the movie as a straightforward (and in a sense old-fashioned) movie about individual heroism, the old martial virtues, and unabashed self-defense. The entire freedom-vs-tyranny angle was already present in the ancient Greek sources (yep, I recall from my grad history seminars). The usual suspects are reading the film as a neocon war-propaganda film, which is ludicrous...and I didn't see the homoerotic angle so much either, unless you mean that the cinematic depiction of the well-known Greek artistic celebration of the human form and physical beauty counts prima facie as homoeroticism. Still, I'm more and more convinced that the film is Rorschach test for the reviewer--the more leftist you are, the more hysterical (in all senses) the review. I just got a snarky email from a fellow academic wondering if Bush is Leonidas or Xerxes. Oversimplistic and facile tripe!
Cheers to all, and pass the popcorn. Next up--the pursuit of virtue on a different front, "Amazing Grace" and the abolition of slavery. Less blood and more clothes, but just as much nerves.
*has a grand first impression of Mad Minerva*
"missed the homoeroticism?
Wow. That was the dominant theme of the movie."
From what? There was no caressing, no kissing, no gazing into one another's eyes, no innuendo or flirty wordplay. The only moments of tendernedd in the whole film were between the main protagonist and his wife as he went to war, and a man and his son just before his son had his head lopped off. If buff, sweaty bodies in bloody combat makes you think 'gay,' well, you might want to do some soul searching. And not join the Army.