Greek to me: adding up 300

So far “300” has probably made enough money to pay each of the Spartans at Thermopylae, or their survivors, about 300 grand apiece. So I figured I should chime in with my opinion. Here’s the review I wrote for broadcast on WFNX followed by few extra comments and observations.


When a film makes $71 million in its opening weekend, and at the same time outrages 70 million Iranians, it pretty much demands to be interpreted as some manifestation of the Zeitgeist. Not that you need to stretch things much to come up with a political spin for Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, “300.”  Based on the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, in which a band of “300” Spartans and their fellow Greek allies held off hundreds of thousands of Persian Emperor Xerxes’s invaders, “300” offers some unavoidable parallels with the present day. Leonidas, played in bearded, buff bravura by Gerard Butler, is king of hardass hyper-militaristic Sparta. He’s someone whose idea of negotiation is shoving the Persian diplomats into a bottomless pit. So he shares certain traits with a certain US president. Similarly, against the wishes of the Spartan equivalent of Congress, Leonidas  goes off on a doomed military adventure to destroy the threat of Middle Eastern fanatics. Draw what conclusions you wish.

On the other hand, the sheer, idiotic exuberance of “300” belies such pointy headed analysis. Could any story be more simple-minded? Here the good-guys have bulging pecs and bulging leather codpieces, and the bad guys are all either deformed, non-white or wear heavy eye make-up. Any questions about whom to hate and kill? Meanwhile, Snyder’s kinetic, CGI-addled compositions, his cutting, slo-mo and blood spurts, triumphantly evoke Miller’s hyperbolic graphic style. And those so inclined can note allusions to artists like Goya or Dore or to motifs in ancient Greek pottery. If it’s mindless entertainment you want, or even entertainment for the mind, I’d  give “300”  3 stars.

Goya or Doré? Okay, so I go off the deep end a bit (though if compare with the former’s “Disasters of War” or the latter’s engravings for “Paradise Lost” you’ll see I’m not totally off base). At any rate, here’s my additional two cents worth.

1. Why is such a hit? It’s the illiterate’s “Lord of the Rings.” The parallels are nearly plagiaristic. A horde of twisted Orcs led by a superhuman malevolent tyrant against a last ditch outfit of pretty boys (okay, no dwarfs or hobbits) determined to save civilzation. There’s even a Gollum character. And like LOR, it touches on anxieties about the conflict of civilizations currently known as the “War Against Terror.”

2. Speaking of which, it seems ironic that the Iranians are complaining about the historical accuracy of the film and its negative reflections on their Persian ancestors, what with their nutty leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his denial of the Holocaust. But it seems in this case they have a point. As historians have noted in articles about the film, it was the Spartans, not the Persians who practiced slavery. And even in the context of the film, people surrender their children to brutal military training (provided they aren’t murdered at birth for not meeting the Spartan eugenics standards), and resolve disputes by disembowelling those who disagree with them. What kind of “freedom” and “reason” is this that they’re supposedly dying for?

3. The big fan base for the film appears to be red-blooded fan boys, lad magazine types who see in it the epitome of the testosterone soaked heterosexual violent guy movie. Or as this blogger  puts it in a posting titled “Guy Movies for…um…Guys:” “Leave it Frank Miller a guy who knows how to write about real men for men to bring one home for the guys. With the help of Zack Snyder, Frank’s award winning, dark graphic novel 300 has been brought to the screen with enough blood and guts to get any red blooded male with a pulse hard. This movie blew me away and could only be described as ‘dick nasty.’”

Well, I hate to be the one to break the news, but “300” is the gayest movie since “Dreamgirls.” Did you notice that except for the dutiful, grin-and-bear-it like farewell coupling of Leonidas and his queen, all the “normal” male-female nooky takes place between deformed lepers and hunchbacks and doped-up fifteen-year-old schoolgirls? Most of the film, you’ll remember, consists of phalanxes of oiled-down hunks in hot pants with shaved chests and ripped torsos prancing together in choreographed ranks like a goddamn chorus line. And don’t forget, as the historians remind us, that Leonidas’s crack about Athens and their love of philosophy and young boys notwithstanding, it was the Spartans who perfected the practice of pederasty between fellow soldiers to promote unit cohesion.

4. Which kind of brings me to  Gen. Peter Pace’s recent remarks about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy in which says that gays are “immoral” and detract from military effectiveness. It seemed to work okay for the Greek (and the Persian; those Immortals were a close-knit unit) elite forces. And check out the Macedonian army of Alexander the Great while you’re at it. If you don’t think gays should serve in the military, go tell the Spartans.

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