The movie 300, based on the Frank Miller graphic novel, has earned $70 million at the box office
, breaking some records. But if you read some of the commentary out there you might not be too interested in seeing it.
All the villains are gay. All the good guys are white and the bad guys are black. The whole thing is just Frank Miller's thinly-veiled cheering for Bush to invade Iran. Etc.
Now, 300 is definitely not a historical documentary
. But I don't think the criticisms mentioned above are completely true-although I can certainly see why many people may have jumped to them.
First off, any movie about war coming out in the year 2007 will inevitably be seen as a commentary or allegory for the current War in Iraq. That's understandable, but probably not reflective of the intent behind this particular movie.
In fact, 300 (the novel) came out in 1999, well before the current Bush presidency. Ah, but isn't Frank Miller known to be somewhat right-wing, and couldn't he have updated the movie to better reflect his clash-of-civilizations views
today? Miller has said that 300 is largely director Zack Snyder's film
. Although he seems more-or-less pleased with the result, he plans on directing any movies based on his books himself from now on.
Second, it is hard to equate 300 Spartans repelling an invasion of their homeland by a technologically and numerically superior force of Persians with the current Iraq War or any planned invasion of Iran. That is, unless you switch the metaphorical teams. The United States is clearly the superior, invading force in the Middle East.
Leonidas personally leads his Spartans against Xerxes' forces and is able to succeed because of superior tactics and knowledge of the terrain. This has been the exact opposite of the current administration's handling of war. Insurgents have used their knowledge of the neighborhoods of Baghdad to their advantage, and are using asymmetrical warfare tactics with unfortunate success. Where was the scene of Leonidas getting into the Laconian Air National Guard and avoiding combat?
The charges of homophobia are largely based on two things - the "boy lovers" crack about Athens and the notion that Xerxes was portrayed as gay. Many have pointed out that the Spartans most likely had just as much pederasty
as the rest of Greece at the time, so the joke didn't even make sense to anyone with a little historical context.
True enough. But I would like to point out that sexual relationships between men and young boys are not the same as homosexual relationships between consenting adults
. You can condemn child molestation without being homophobic - in fact, many gay organizations make this point themselves.
As for how whether or not Xerxes was gay - I can see where that interpretation comes from, but I guess I didn't interpret it that way. Critics cite the makeup and jewelry, but that to me seemed like obvious symbols of decadence and Xerxes' facade of otherworldliness (and therefor godhood). There is one scene where Xerxes puts his hand on Leonidas' shoulder which some have said looks like a come on - to me, the scene looked more like an attempt at paternalism on Xerxes' part. He was, after all, offering Leonidas control of Greece in return for acknowledging Persia's rule, as you would offer your son the keys to the car if he respects your curfew.
This is all not to say that 300 was a perfect film. My biggest criticisms were:
1) Although the vast majority of 300 is an almost miraculously successful translation of comic art to live action, the freakish characters like Ephialtes were overdone and looked a little ridiculous
. Why would the Immortals look like the orcs from Lord of the Rings? What was with the giant fat guy with axes for hands?
2) All the mentions of fighting for freedom were a bit much. I get the point, that the Greek city-states fought dearly for their freedom from external rule, but most modern viewers will think the Spartans were talking about the modern idea of freedom - that is, personal political and economic freedom. Sparta wasn't exactly a shining example of this kind of freedom
, built on the slavery of serfs working the land. There was some democracy, but only for the few.
3) One of aspects of the story of this battle that made it interesting was the fact that Leonidas knew he was doomed. According to Herodotus, an oracle had told the Spartans that they would either lose their kingdom, or lose their king. So beyond the incredible odds, Leonidas would have gone knowing there was no chance of return
. In 300 instead they draw a distinction between the mysticism of Persia and the rationality of the Greeks. It's an interesting choice, but I kind of missed the fatalism of Herodotus' telling.
4) I thought the scenes back in Sparta of Gorgo's attempts to get support for sending the whole army were a good addition, but it was more than just 300 Spartans fighting this war
. Thespians and Thebans fought and died with the Spartans and Athens was busy preparing to fight Persia at sea. Adding a bit of larger context, even indirectly could have made this a better movie.
Any film worth watching will inspire different interpretations and criticisms, but I recommend you watch 300 before taking some viewer's criticisms (including mine) to heart.