Saturday, March 24, 2007

300: The New Litmus Test

I previously wrote about how excited I was for 300, and well, when I am wrong and I really, really wrong. I waited a few weeks before seeing it, and so I got to see the most peculiar phenomenons: everyone I knew loved it, raved about it and even went so far as to say they thought that the Watchmen movie was now possible in Zach Snyder's hands (OK, not everyone said that, but someone did); meanwhile, every review I read said that it was a terrible movie and stopped just short of saying it was a crime against art and humanity. So, I thought: it is probably a crowd pleaser full of empty violence and rock music, but a little light on artistry or subtlety. Sure there is an uncomfortable parallel with the war in Iraq, but that's probably unintentional. Again, when I am wrong, I am really, really wrong.

300 is Triumph of the Will by way of a Marine recruitment video and a M-rated video game. Explicitly so if fact, the damn thing opens on a field of infant skulls as two flawless looking Aryan men decide whether or not to kill a baby if it fails to meet certainly eugenic standards. Even if they keep the baby, it will be beaten and starved to toughen it up. Don't worry though, the Spartans don't get off on this sort of thing, there are plenty of crying mothers around to show that they are just doing their duty creating the master race.

From that initial scene till the last overwrought second- where the whole movie is revealed to be the long version of Mel Gibson's "but they'll never take... our FREEEEdom" speech in Braveheart- 300 pits our heroes, perfect looking, straight, white guys, against the forces of evil: black people, Asian people, ugly people, gay people, diplomatic people, people who have sex outside of marriage and basically all things other. Much has been made about how gay the Spartans look oiled up in big red capes, but they make it clear that they aren't like those "boy lovers." The Spartans aren't gay, they are just phalluses that rip and tear through their effeminate others (I was tempted to reinterpret the movie as a "tops" versus "bottoms"). The slow motion shots of bloody penis spears thrusting through men only cement that image in my mind. Xeres, meanwhile, looks like a drag queen without a wig (husky voice, big cheekbones, lipstick, jewelry and glitter) and travels with a harem that includes all manner of sexuality (I saw men and women of all races plus at least a dab of transgender). These evil Persians seem to like to fuck, unlike King Leonidas who looks like he is doing it for his country even when he puts it to the missus. The lesson as always in American movies is that the glorification of violence is fine, but sex is very, very wrong and should be punished.

All of this would be fine, I mean, I liked Natural Born Killers and and A Clockwork Orange, I can appreciate a compelling psycho. However, Snyder goes out of his way to paint the Spartans as fighting for the survival of Western civilization against the hordes of barbarism. Maybe it is just my personal politics, but the Persians seem a lot more like Western Civilization to me. They don't discriminate on the basis of race, they use diplomacy to attempt to prevent war, they even hang out with monsters from Doom while Spartans are busy killing the ugly babies. Thankfully, Western Society was based on the ideals of those "boy lovers" in Athens, though this sort of single-minded militarism seems to be making a comeback.

That said, the movie isn't an allegory for the war in Iraq, at least not as a jingoistic appeal to hold the line against the onslaught of "mysticism" from Persia (aka Iran). Despite its incessant buzz about freedom and glory, the story of a small but determined group of men fighting on their home terrain against a much larger invading army sounds more like al-Queda than the United States. The Spartan "beautiful death" so closely mirrors the mindset of a suicide bomber, that the metaphor is terrifyingly apt. Although, the stilted subplot involving corrupt politicians back in Sparta makes me think that maybe Sparta is supposed to represent America after all.

But in the end, any movie that would rape its only female character as a plot device is too empty-headed to have thought through the particulars and so what is point of analysis? It is art so post-modern in that it reduces to pure ugliness if you consider it for even a moment. It is all things to all people, as long as you don't think about it at all. 300's eye candy and CGI blood feed the unwashed masses, but I feel like I just donated to the "Society for the Preservation of the Third Reich"- and all the copycats haven't even come out yet. At least I know what Michael Koresky is talking about now.

12 comments:

Captain America said...

Your blog is very confusing. Bottom line did u like the movie or not?

Annandale said...

I liked it as a stunt. It was an overtly evil movie, full of racism and racist imagery (at one point the lights go out on African Persian and his skin fades to black until all you can see is eyes and teeth) but it was dressed up in so much garbage rhetoric, nudity and violence that most people don't notice. If it was all satirical it would be genius, but I don't think it is a practical joke so I am just frightened. In ten years people might look back on 300 the way we look at the politics in Birth of a Nation, or it might be relatively tame compared to the stuff coming out then.

rob humanick said...

You articulated nearly every one of my thoughts with the ease that I failed to muster. Thank you thank you thank you.

This is my first time happening upon this blog...I'll be checking back regularly. :)

Annandale said...

I am flattered that someone who writes for one of my favorite sites (I read The House Next Door daily) even read my review. I read and very much enjoyed your review of Letters from Iowa Jima and All is Quiet on the Western Front. Thank for stopping by.

The magic flute said...

I was very disappointment and troubled by the movie because I counted twice and only saw 298. If one uses imagery and hidden messages shouldn't one also use 300 instead of 298 when they call something 300. This would be like ET without an ET. Why can't anyone make a great movie like Goodfellas or Casino anymore. Where are our great filmmakers.

Demetris said...

I think that people have really got the wrong idea about 300. what people forget is that this is not a modern story, but an ancient tale of an actual event. it is the insistance of viewers to apply their own modern values and judgements that cuases problems. lets start with the inaccuracies in the review. first of all the ignorance that make you apply Nazi attributes to the Spartans. i would hardley say that an old greek man and a woman could be considered two Aryan men. i think you are trying to hard to find parallels. in terms of the inherant racism of the Spartan people, well that is the way they were, an isolated and xenophobic people who didnt like anybody else including other Greeks as faithfully represented in the film with their relationship with the Greek "allies" and with thier opinions on the Athenians. so it's not surprising that they would have consisdered a non Greek speaking people who wore make-up and womanish things like trousers and gloried in gold and luxury as being a truly auful race of people. This is especially the case as these Perisans had been attacking and trying to invade Greece for decades upon decades. so its not surprising that an insular and xenophobic people would represent the Persians in a very bad light indeed. also dont forget that this is magnified by the fact that this story/historical myth, is writen by the Spartans, the winners. the tale itself in the film comes from a Spartan mouth, someone who is famous amoungst his peers for telling great, if perhaps inacurate stories. this story in particular is meant, explicity as propaganda to inspire other xenephobic Greeks into action. what did you expect him to do, tell a fair and ballanced story or try to fire the peoples hearts with hatred and courage? in terms of the representation of the Persian people, although vastly exagerated is exactley as they would have been seen by the Greeks, and i dont think you know enough history to be pointing out inacuracies at any rate. this ignorance is shown through your comments about the Persians attempting to avoid war with diplomacy. do you think that you avoid war by invading a country? by offering them enslavement? by offering take away their liberty? I also hink that the film is not one sided in it's preresentations. the Spartans are no ideal race but blood soaked monsters who brutalise thier own and diplay inhuman attributes to everyone else. dont hear many Greeks complaning? maybe its becuase they know something of their own history to see that this is fairy acurate a representation. why dont you go to a library and find out about the history of the ancient Greeks and Persians if your actually interested, because at the moment you dont seem to have a clue.

Benaiah said...

I think that people have really got the wrong idea about 300. what people forget is that this is not a modern story, but an ancient tale of an actual event.it is the insistance of viewers to apply their own modern values and judgements that cuases problems.

This is the setting, but in reality, this is a comic book movie, based on a novel that wasn't particularly historically accurate, about events which are mythology as much as fact. It isn't like I am criticizing a documentary.

As for this popular charge of "applying modern morality", this is a movie made in 2007, not unearthed fully formed from the B.C. muck. It obviously strives for modern parallels with its incessant "freedom and glory" posturing and hinges on the idea that nothing (read: America) would exist in its present form without that brave 300. At any rate, post-modern film criticism allows one to analyze the art itself, and not worry about context. I simply don't care that it is about some mythical brutal time and place.

first of all the ignorance that make you apply Nazi attributes to the Spartans. i would hardley say that an old greek man and a woman could be considered two Aryan men.

Why not? All of the actors in the movie are White guys with nice tans. I don't even understand the point, Greek people aren't white? Really? Besides, most of the actors in the film aren't Greek. I don't care about Greek people in a larger sense, I am talking about the movie itself.

in terms of the inherant racism of the Spartan people, well that is the way they were, an isolated and xenophobic people who didnt like anybody else including other Greeks as faithfully represented in the film with their relationship with the Greek "allies" and with thier opinions on the Athenians. so it's not surprising that they would have consisdered a non Greek speaking people who wore make-up and womanish things like trousers and gloried in gold and luxury as being a truly auful race of people.

Again, if this was just a movie about some bloody cult then fine. But the movie goes out of its way to portray them as the greatest heroes of all time. The last real men in history, and never casts anything of the really fucked up stuff in anything but a positive light.

in terms of the representation of the Persian people, although vastly exagerated is exactley as they would have been seen by the Greeks, and i dont think you know enough history to be pointing out inacuracies at any rate. this ignorance is shown through your comments about the Persians attempting to avoid war with diplomacy. do you think that you avoid war by invading a country? by offering them enslavement? by offering take away their liberty?

History? What history? You just said it was a bunch of propaganda written by the winners. Besides which, I don't care about history! I reviewed the movie, and if I started to get into its historical accuracy it would have been more scathing if anything.

As for the diplomacy, the Persians offered the Spartans peace in exchange for a token gesture of support for the Persian empire. That was the original offer. That is a fairly diplomatic solution, which was scorned by the Spartans who murdered the messenger.

I also hink that the film is not one sided in it's preresentations. the Spartans are no ideal race but blood soaked monsters who brutalise thier own and diplay inhuman attributes to everyone else. dont hear many Greeks complaning? maybe its becuase they know something of their own history to see that this is fairy acurate a representation. why dont you go to a library and find out about the history of the ancient Greeks and Persians if your actually interested, because at the moment you dont seem to have a clue.

Not one sided? The Spartans are glorified as the greatest race ever, and the only legitimate men on the planet. You basically said as much earlier. Greeks aren't pissed because it doesn't have anything bad to say about them. The people who should be pissed, Iranians, are fucking furious. And again, I don't give a flying fuck about history. This is a movie review and for someone who talks about how ignorant I am, it looks like you typed this with your feet. Use spell check or just the preview feature next time.

Demetris said...

I can see that you don't care about history, sorry to have brought it up. I obviously just enjoyed it as an example of the way in which history can be made myth, made glorious. comming from a historical perspective it was great to see a huge event, the Persian wars, brought, to a small extent, to life.

I know a fair bit about the time period so I didnt see the film in the same light as you in terms of America and modern Iran, but instead i saw it in terms of Ancient Sparta and Ancient Persia. obviously a huge mistake on my part. maybe you are right in saying that a modern audience shouldn't have to think outside of the confines of their own experiences and contexts, maybe we should all take a leaf out of your book and not "give a flying fuck about history".

whatever you might think this was indeed a crucial period. if Greece had submitted to Persian rule (not perian support as you wrongly stated), than the world would be a very different place. maybe a better one, who knows. But certainly one without democracy as we know it. but there I am drifting into history again. maybe if your a comic book fan you would have been better pleased to have waited for the new Spiderman film instead. no history to worry about there.

benaiah said...

I can see that you don't care about history, sorry to have brought it up. I obviously just enjoyed it as an example of the way in which history can be made myth, made glorious. comming from a historical perspective it was great to see a huge event, the Persian wars, brought, to a small extent, to life.

I think I may have overstated things. I briefly considered majoring in history, I took many history classes, I borderline love history. However, history is the furthest thing from my mind when watching a movie this decidedly un-historic. This isn't Thermopylae brought to life, that is the premise, but not the result. There is a lot of really hateful bullshit shoehorned into this thing, and the idea that it is teflon resistant to criticism because it is a historical piece doesn't pass the smell test. I couldn't make a movie about Nazi's, from their point of view, with their philosophy, without a trace of condemnation and then say: "but that is what they really thought."

I know a fair bit about the time period so I didnt see the film in the same light as you in terms of America and modern Iran, but instead i saw it in terms of Ancient Sparta and Ancient Persia. obviously a huge mistake on my part. maybe you are right in saying that a modern audience shouldn't have to think outside of the confines of their own experiences and contexts, maybe we should all take a leaf out of your book and not "give a flying fuck about history".

You seem to think that my perspective is limited, while it seems to me like you are just taking the whole thing at face value. This is a movie about Western Civilization facing off against what would one day become Iran, loaded with imagery from armed forces recruitment videos (that cliff scene in particular) and loaded words ("Defense against mysticism," "freedom"), and it comes out in a time where the West is actively debating invading Iran. You might view that is being "confined to my own experiences," but this is a little too loud to ignore in context.

whatever you might think this was indeed a crucial period. if Greece had submitted to Persian rule (not perian support as you wrongly stated), than the world would be a very different place. maybe a better one, who knows. But certainly one without democracy as we know it. but there I am drifting into history again. maybe if your a comic book fan you would have been better pleased to have waited for the new Spiderman film instead. no history to worry about there.

The idea that not liking 300, the movie, is equivalent to wanting the Persians to win in real life, is ludicrous. As I said in my review, thank God our civilization is based on Athens, not Sparta, and for that matter Persia. When I say I don't give a fuck about history, I am saying this isn't a historical movie in any real sense. Get off your high horse because you read a book once about Thermopylae, it probably had a lot of pictures if you think this movie is that story brought to life.

Nice dig at the end with the Spiderman movie, but I don't have to read a comic book to know that one is better that 300, sight unseen. Nice job with the proofreading though, you got 90% of the errors.

Demetris said...

I wouldn’t say that this film is resistant to criticism. In fact I would say that there is much that no so good about this film. What bothers me is that films like this are hijacked by people who insist on overlaying modern political situations on ancient stories. Do you think that Miller was thinking about the looming Iranian situation when he wrote the graphic novel? In regards to you comment about not making films about Nazi’s, I’m not sure I get your point. Are you saying that there are comparisons that should be made? That the Spartans were an evil people who shouldn’t be remembered sympathetically? Is it just the eugenics that makes you continue to make this link? Or that fact that the ancient Greeks were not very multicultural?

In terms of me taking the film at face value, well to some extent this is true. When I saw this film I saw it from a perspective of the historical context, the graphic novel, and the movie itself. In fact I wouldn’t say that your perspective is limited but directed in ways which make the film into something much bigger than I think it is. I admit to not seeing the armed forces recruitment videos, I don’t live in America but would be very interested to see how they have used the material, I will try to find some online. But do you think that this is the film’s fault, or just more hijacking for modern American propaganda’s sake.

Sorry for giving you the impression that not liking 300 means you want the Persians to win. I was just trying to make a point about the significance of this battle in terms of being a part of a very important period of history. A point which you seem to completely sidestep in your rush to overlay present day situations over the narrative of the film.

Annandale said...

Do you think that Miller was thinking about the looming Iranian situation when he wrote the graphic novel?

First, I am criticizing the movie not the book. If you have read the book you will know that they added a lot to the movie. First, the book is a lot lighter on "freedom" and "glory" and second, the book doesn't have a love story or a subplot about crooked politicians. Two elements which both serve to humanize the psychopathic Spartans (and also serve as a pretty nasty view of women). So I think you can draw a line between the two works (just like all of Alan Moore's stuff holds up well, despite the abject shit of the movie remakes).

In regards to you comment about not making films about Nazi’s, I’m not sure I get your point. Are you saying that there are comparisons that should be made? That the Spartans were an evil people who shouldn’t be remembered sympathetically? Is it just the eugenics that makes you continue to make this link? Or that fact that the ancient Greeks were not very multicultural?

The eugenics and politics of the movie are both along the lines of creating a "master race" and that race is a bunch of white guys who fight against a bunch of evil black guys. Above I referenced a specific scene where a black Persian's face melted into black so you could only see the eyes and teeth. This is racist imagery and in a movie with so much other questionable race things, it goes to show me that it all isn't accidental.

The Nazi point was this: the movie isn't made for an audience of Spartans, and so it can be analyzed using the dominant morality of its intended audience, Americans. This movie has many Nazi parallels, but I have made that point above.

I admit to not seeing the armed forces recruitment videos, I don’t live in America but would be very interested to see how they have used the material, I will try to find some online. But do you think that this is the film’s fault, or just more hijacking for modern American propaganda’s sake.

The Marine ads predate the movie, so their incorporation is intentional, in my opinion anyway. Perhaps it was accidental, but I am tired of the Zack Synder's of the world saying it was all accidental and don't read into it.

Sorry for giving you the impression that not liking 300 means you want the Persians to win. I was just trying to make a point about the significance of this battle in terms of being a part of a very important period of history. A point which you seem to completely sidestep in your rush to overlay present day situations over the narrative of the film.

I specifically said, in my review: "Thankfully, Western Society was based on the ideals of those "boy lovers" in Athens, though this sort of single-minded militarism seems to be making a comeback."

In other words, I am glad Western Civilization turned out the way it did.

At any rate, thanks for posting and I note that each succeeding post was better written and more insightful that the last. Apparently people can learn from one another (and I have definitely rethought some things as a result of this discussion).

Demetris said...

And I have definitely reviewed the film in a light which now, thanks to you, incorporates “the dominant morality of its intended audience, Americans”. It has been an enlightening discussion. Thanks for taking the time.

Do you think you can give me a clue as to where I can get hold of US army recruitment material. Fascinated to see how they used those shots.

Oh and by the way, when it comes to loving boys, the Spartans really were the master race. They even went as far as to incorporate it into their military system. Apparently men fight better if they are stood next to their lovers. Do you think there might be a recruitment video there?