Sunday, March 11, 2007

Review: 300

Hunh. So that's what it'd be like if 'Fox News' taught Ancient History.

Or, to be less facetious, I understand that Hollywood distorts historical accounts to make for a more interesting story. I did not walk into the film '300' expecting an accurate account of the early days of the war between Greece and Persia, and of the Battle of Thermopylae. But there are distortions and there are distortions, and I did not walk into that movie expecting to see an account whose distortions were systematically performed to make the history conform to a right-wing political agenda.

'300' turns the war into a culture clash between the decadent, liberal Persians (Xerxes looks like he stepped off the float at a Pride march, has a harem of bisexual women, and in one scene stands behind the butch Leonidas, puts his hands on his shoulders, and tells him, "Kneel before me and I will give you everything.") and the moral, upright, tough and conservative Spartans (the historical record of Spartan culture isn't just brushed under the rug, it's nailed under the carpet. Spartans in this film mock and condemn "adulterers" and "boy-lovers", two practices which historians believe were common-place and accepted in Sparta, and they frequently talk about how they're "free men", equating Persia with slavery and slavery with evil. Nobody ever seems to ask who tends the crops in Sparta.) Through the film's imagery, the Persians are equated with deformity, deformity is equated with decadence, and decadence is subtly equated with liberalism.

The contributions of the other city-states of Greece are downplayed into non-existence; in '300', Leonidas is a king who alone among his people has the foresight to spot the need for a war, and when the cowardly and decadent Senate refuses to fund his troops, he's forced to go off alone without the men and equipment he needs, dooming him to failure. (This is, of course, not so much a distortion of history as a cut-and-paste replacement of it with the current conservative view of the present day.) The pre-eminent anti-war Senator turns out to be a traitor in the pay of the Persians, and is stabbed on the floor of the Senate by Laura Bu--errr, Queen Gorgo.

And, of course, we get the conservative refrain that the military culture is "better" than the civilian culture; the volunteer forces that accompany the Spartans are shown as less worthy, less courageous, and ultimately cut and run when the going gets tough--the historical records say differently, but who needs history when you've got an agenda? And, in the end, we're shown how Leonidas' heroism inspired the Spartans to amass a huge army to finally destroy the evil Persians and end the threat they posed to America. (Sparta, sorry. I'm so bad at this.) The fact that Persia is, in essence, modern-day Iran should perhaps worry anyone who wants to read into the symbology of all this. We don't see the final battle, but of course, we know how it has to end...after all, the Persians lost, right?

They did, in fact. In a decisive naval battle. To the Athenian navy. (You know, the "philosophers and boy-lovers" the Spartans made fun of at the beginning.) But apart from that, it fits the right-wing philosophy perfectly.


Anonymous said...

Yes! Yes! Someone else who didn't like that movie. I didn't like it because I think the story was very poorly presented. I was thinking about the politics of the movie while watching it (I was trying to entertain myself, as the movie was boring the piss out of me), and while I see what you're saying, I don't think the movie wasn't intelligent enough to even be the kind of simplistic propaganda piece you propose. Still, nice analysis.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I saw the movie this way also. This flick is a neo-con fever dream, saying that all the non-white world wants to destroy George W. Bush's way of life! Any character who's so much as even kinda swarthy is against or betrays the white characters. It's nuts!

Oh, and it's pretty lame movie anyway. My friend described it as a heavy metal album cover come to life. That pretty much nails it.

Benticore said...

I've been pondering this point since I saw the movie as well, though I'm loathe to think that Frank Miller thought this far into the future when crafting his tale from the historical facts. But It would not be the first time that I've been wrong.

And a swarthy Negro (the online dictionary MADE me capitalize that! Ha!) myself, I have to say that it truly is the hope of the non-white world to destroy GW's way of life. We have meetings and newsletters about it, and on odd-dated tuesdays hold secret Color Rallies.

Hmmm. That came out more acidic than funny. Honestly, though, given the past 6+ years under BushCo, who in their right mind WOULDN'T want to destroy that crazy cracker's way of life?

Love the Blog by the way, amigo.


ps. I figured out the actual reason why, according to the Movie itself, why the Spartans were eventually victorious: Nipple size. I mean, you compare the huge, Mt. Olympian sized teats of the Oracle, to the poor, small nippled whores of Xerxes Harem, and the conclusion is obvious.

John Seavey said...

Many people have pointed out that the graphic novel was written long before the current conflict in Iraq, but I think what they're forgetting is that the neo-con philosophy isn't exactly new, either. They might not have gotten a chance to put their preoccupations into...well, into occupation...until after 9/11, but the belief that Gays Are Evil, Soldiers Are Better Than The Rest Of Us, and Liberals Are Traitors has been hanging around for a good couple of decades now.

The scenes that were written for the film, though, stand out as particularly Iraq-tastic, such as Queen Gorgo's "Persia has WMDs" speech to the Senate.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap, people, you are WAY overanalyzing this.

Look, I'm no neocon jerkass, but c'mon, this is STORYTELLING, pure and simple. This is an accurate translation of A COMIC BOOK, not of history. It's called "Frank Miller's '300'", not "A True and Accurate Portrayal of the Battle of Thermopylæ". If you're looking to comic books for accurate history lessons, you got some serious problems.

This is a "disconnect your brain and watch the shiny special effects" movie, not anything MEANINGFUL.

Go ahead and tell me that I don't see the shadow that you're jumping at. I don't get it, right? I'm not hip and edgy enough? Look, there are many problems with this movie without having to make things up. Christ.

John Seavey said...

See, this is an attitude that I find insulting; not to me, particularly, although I always wonder if people would say something like that to my face (or even if they had to sign their own name.) No, I find it very insulting to Frank Miller.

Because while I might disagree with Frank Miller's political views, I consider him to be an intelligent, hard-working, extremely talented creator. I believe he does put thought into the things he writes and draws. I think he carefully considers his scripts, his art, his composition, all of the hundreds of little details that went into '300'. I think he worked pretty damn hard on that thing, and that he wound up writing a story he wanted to tell.

But because you, Mister Anonymous (if that is your real name), don't want to deal with the political implications of his work, you're saying, "Frank Miller's book was utterly meaningless! It was just a story with no thought put into it at all! Just switch your brain off and enjoy the fight scenes, that's all Miller wanted!"

If I was Frank Miller, I think I'd probably be a lot more insulted by your attitude than mine.

Unknown said...

Whoa, John, I love your point about how it's insulting to Frank Miller to ignore the political implications of the work. I'm going to have to steal that next time.

I also thought 300 was a poor movie. But just because it was a poor movie. The characters were flatter than the comic page they came from. And I've never been a fan of Miller's narration, especially not having to hear it acted.

Craig Ranapia said...

Three points:

1) Anyone who thinks Frank Miller is any kind of 'neo-conservative', as opposed to a rather odd kind of libertarian really needs to put down the comic books and do some basic poli sci classes. Sorry, but I doubt Miller is going to be invited to open for Ann Coulter at next year's CPAC vomitourium.

2) I don't think I'd divine too much about Frank Miller's politics, from an adaptation of his work. Otherwise, I'd have to draw the conclusion from the cinematic toxic waste that is From Hell/League of Extraordinary Gentlemen/V for Vendetta, that Alan Moore is a misogynistic nutsack who should never be left alone in a room with a woman unless she's heavily armed like one of Miller's Sin City hookers. (I prefer to just thank all the Gods that Lost Girls is never, ever coming to a multiplex near you.)

3) And am I the only person who has come to the conclusion that 300 director Zack Snyder &
co-writer Kurt Johnstad really don't have enough active brain cells to have a coherent political,cultural or historical point of view. It is pure macho posturing, and if that's your idea of a fun way to waste your evening... go to. Good brave sexy Spartans; everyone else very, very bad. What-fucking-ever.

John Seavey said...

Three responses:

1) If the shoe fits, wear it. I'll agree that Miller's disdain for religion puts him in a very different class from much of conservative thinking in modern-day America, but the neo-conservative philosophy, in which "WE" (and despite the real-life America being more closely analagous to Persia than to Sparta, we're very clearly being asked to identify ourselves with the Spartans--I could go on for hours about right-wing persecution complexes, here, but am choosing not to) have a special destiny to impose our philosophies on the rest of the world because "WE" are smarter than they are and have better ways of living, is clearly on display. As is the neo-conservative belief that we can use force in all situations, and that diplomacy is for the weak and treacherous. Ann Coulter published a book claiming all liberals were traitors; here, anyone speaking out against the war is shown to be in the pay of the enemy. It's not rocket science. :)

2) Aren't we being told that the amazing thing about this is how faithful it is to Miller's work, and how perfectly it reflects his original story? Because that's what I keep hearing from all sources.

3) And again, we get "Oh, these film-makers are too stupid to have included a political agenda." Sheesh. I might disagree with their politics, but at least I credit them with some intelligence.

Anonymous said...

very good review of the historical and military fallacies of this propaganda movie here:

Anonymous said...

'Military' fallacies corrected at the link? Not at all. There is a lot of name calling and focussing on sexual practices; but, military history? Here are some abridged facts in support of the movie's position.

First, let's focus on the battle starting around 480 BC. These battles of the Hellenes did end roughly 1 year later with the decisive victory at the Battle of Platae in which the Persian Army's last push was decidedly defeated.

That link jumps to an inappropriate time, 100 years into the future, when the Spartan strategy was eventually overcome. (but that has nothing to do with the fact the the Persian force was finally stopped in 479 BC--as suggested by the movie).

Secondly, the Persian defeat did have its roots with the successes at Thermopylae with the 300. The site, and most of the comments here, don't address the fact that the 300 (plus 700-odd Thespians) did, in fact, cripple Persian morale.

And, in fact, quell the fear of Hellenes with regard to Persian invincibility.

And, in fact, this 300 + 700 faced what is now considered between 100,000 to 1 million on the frontal assault. (there was a Hellenic force of a few thousand off to the flank and not part of the frontal assault--the frontal assault is all that the movie ever claims to represent). This did result in thousands of Persian losses with only minimal Spartan losses.

Attack the movie (or my points) using research (and not name-calling) before claiming that the movie was 'not intelligent enough': the movie stayed as true to military history as much as this movie wasn't a documentary.

You can't ignore that this movie adhered to actual historical accounts much better than the link and many of the name-calling references in previous posts.

If you want to move away from military campaign history, and into political philosophy, well, you'll find that the movie is just as accurate: for example, the debate between political factions on whether war should be fought against forces of clear and present dangers is not new.

In fact, the comic (of which this movie follows closely) couldn't be making any propaganda-type comments (pro or against) about Bush or Iraq, since it was conceived before 9/11.

The political factions for and against fighting real enemies is as old as 480BC Thermopylae, itself. Refer to Churchill's pro-war stance against Hitler during Chamberlain's treaty-tour. Refer to any host of historical points.

The fact that many attack the movie's analysis to the current debate illustrates how well the movie stayed true to the politics that faced 480BC Hellenes.

There is a fascinating discourse that can be had on the political and military facts covered in the film. I hope I provided some interesting counter-points, without name-calling and insulting anyone's integrity, here.

John Seavey said...

But the movie completely neglects the Athenian naval forces that kept the Spartans from being outflanked by sea--and did so principally because the idea of the Spartans having allies who were key to the success of their defense of Thermopylae contradicted the political bent of the film, which was (again) that Soldiers Are Better Than You Are. Not very militarily accurate, I'm afraid. (It also leaves out the Spartan support troops, the volunteer corps who stayed until the end, the fact that the final decisive battle that the film implies was a naval battle fought principally by the Athenians, et cetera et cetera et cetera.)

As for the political accuracy, I feel I've answered this a bit ad nauseum--yes, the comic was written before the current war, but not before the neoconservative preoccupation with pacifying the Middle East for religious and economic reasons. But I do feel that there's a specific point that you raise that I want to answer, which is the Churchill thing.

Saying, "This is relevant and accurate, because it was relevant in 480 BC and it was relevant in World War II" misses a key point about Hitler and World War II, which is that Hitler was a serious historical aberration. When Churchill warned people that Hitler had no intention of honoring treaties with allies or enemies, he was disbelieved not because people were just blind sheep, but because Hitler's mad-dog obsession with conquering the world was a rarity in world politics. In fact, I've long been of the opinion that the most toxic effect Hitler has had on the world is that he gave validity to the belief that negotiation is worthless, and that the only thing the "other side" understands is force.

Anonymous said...

Let's grant that the sea campaign did more than guard flanks, let's say it completely split enemy forces.

It doesn't matter: it doesn't take away the fact that this 300 Spartans (or whatever handful) dealt with up to a million in the frontal assault. Or didn't that happen? That point alone is worth dramatizing (akin to Alamo films).

Frontal assaults normally spiral into battles of attrition with barely 1:1 kill ratios. But, reviewing the Spartan contribution to the kill ratio in this battle makes it stand out against centuries of other frontal, land, assaults. Or didn't their tactics get written in countless military history journals? Their own success is worth dramatizing.

Morale is a factor in military battles. Hubris, pride and arrogance is common in armies. Rallying the troops often requires the captain to act/speak with bravado. Or did political correct views dominate Spartan warriors? The movie took one, basically, one perspective: the perspective of a warrior, Spartan, King.

This movie lived up to the tradition of dramatizing military accounts.

Spoiler: 300 is not a documentary.

It stayed true to the LAND campaign culminating in the final LAND battle at Plataea. It stayed true to the themes found in movies like Alamo. It stayed true to dramatic structure by showing events through the eyes of a Spartan-captain (with all the hubris). It stayed true to the extraordinary tactics that are attributed to the 300 Spartans (as mentioned in countless military texts). Or were the Athenian tactics in this battle cited in more texts?

300 also stayed true to the acclaim surrounding this event which has become integral to a culture and people. Or isn't there an epitaph of Simonides still there today, a source of pride?

Show some proportion.

The Spartan contribution in this battle was extraordinary, in fact, and was famous, in legend. Or is the Athenian fight more celebrated? Spartan tactics are a major contribution to the art-of-war today. Aren't their tactics studied more than the Athenian tactics during the same battle?

And isn't the Spartan fight one of history's most famous?

And isn't the Spartan story told in operatic terms more times in history than the 'Athenian Thermopolyae' story?

You and Bengtson (a historian) are alone in thinking that Athenian tactics during those 3 days in 480BC impressed military historians (and Greek poet/storytellers) more than Spartan tactics.

(I've run out of space for addressing the political argument. So, let me just ask: are there no "mad-dog" state-leaders--with their own military--who televise their desire to conquer all Jews in Israel? today? There was also an attack in NY by a nation-leader with "mad-dog" intent. This all happened within 50 years of the last 'aberration'. 50 or so years from WWII to 9/11 wasn't long in historical terms to see this aberration producing death in your country. Hitler was an easily understood example.

But you've missed the point.

Leaders attacking other countries, in an unjustified attack of conquest happened many, MANY times in the time from 480BC to today. Hitler was not one in 2000 years. And he wasn't an aberration. I could name many British-sourced attacks for empire that resulted in the defending country trying appeasement--but finding invasion. Hitler's use of full military for empire-building is not new to history: and is no aberration. And, again, the debate between defence and hope/appeasement was similar to the politics in 300).

Anonymous said...

This is the politics of why the movie industry is really lame. They have to do five movies about how some gay person getting murdered is the worst thing in the world, some lesbo serial-killer was really driven to it. 9/11 is the pay day for industry about how nobody in the middle east is to blame for anything they do despite their good fortunes.

Got anymore idiotic suggestions? I know all Christians that go and feed poor people in third world countries, but can you cut them some slack. I know jesus is the worst deity/son-of-the-Diety for inspiring some acts as opposed to Mohammed raping and pillaging across much of north Africa. I aint payin' your tax or converting, Mohammed lovers. So don't ask me to. All you posers can pay out and bow down!

John Seavey said...

Wow, even more anonymous commenters. I feel special. :)

I'll agree with the poster who said, "The Spartan battle in '300' is unique and worth dramatizing," because it is. However, there are light-years of difference between "it is unique and worth dramatizing" and "the form in which it was dramatized was a good way to dramatize it."

It was not true to land accounts of the battle; it significantly understated the importance of the volunteer forces that fought with the Spartans, completely ignored the Spartan auxiliaries (spear-carriers, slaves, et cetera) who were at the final battle and almost certainly fought, and it certainly was not true to the tactics of the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae--if the Spartans had broken ranks and fought hand-to-hand as much as they did in that movie, there'd be no legends of them at all, because they'd be dead in minutes.

Which leaves your claims that "it was true to the mindset of a Spartan king", which is doubtful at best; Sparta was a slave-owning, heavily homo-erotic and pedophiliac society, and the movie is full of speeches glorifying FREEDOM and condemning those "Athenian boy-lovers" (fun fact, "to Spartanize" meant to ancient Greeks roughly what "to Sodomize" does nowadays)...and your claim that it was "true to the themes of movies like Alamo". Which gets us right back to the point of the review: That the theme of the movie was utter bollocks, a right-wing wet dream in which anything We do is Right, and anything the Enemy does is Wrong.

(And I feel I've already answered the political aspect, but I'll correct you on a factual point: bin Laden isn't "a nation-leader with mad-dog intent". He doesn't lead a nation, and he appears solely motivated by hatred of the United States of America--he has no dreams of conquest, and appears limited in his goals to the United States. The peculiar combination of unbridled ambition and utter insanity that was Adolf Hitler really is unique.)

And the other anonymous poster is just a gibbering idiot; really, I'd have no more success arguing against that comment than I would against a Markov chainer. In fact, I think a Markov chainer would make more sense and be more inclined to listen to reason.

generic viagra online said...

Ultimately, this film combines an archetypal conflict, an ancient storytelling tradition reaching back as far as the Greeks themselves, and technique that makes it relevant to modern audiences. we can say that, it's not clear whether great movie myths are born or bred, but 300 is unequivocally one of them.


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