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.