Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Message of 300

I've recently watched the movie 300, about the battle between the Spartans and the Persians at the pass of Thermopylae many centuries ago. The movie does not seek to be a faithful retelling but is rather a stylized war movie based on historical events. Thus, while you can't call it fantastic history, you could call it "historical fantasy."

Critics have had a range of reactions to this ultra-violent film about men standing up for their country and their families. They've panned it as an ahistorical video-game romp, and they've praised it as a powerful war-film ode to men. 300 surely has both good and bad elements. It does not tell a complete story of the Spartans (editing out their homosexual tendencies) and it contains a number of sexual scenes that sent me to the concession stand. It is also gratuitously violent. But with these flaws, and they are significant, the film makes some powerful statements. I think the chief description of the film I would offer is this: it is a postmodern film about premodern principles. The men of 300 are strong, courageous, and fearless, daring their massive enemy to come and fight them. They are physically rippling, psychologically crazy, and yet faithful to their families and their country. One of the most touching aspects--surprising that 300 would be touching, I know--is found in the love the main character, Leonidas, has for his wife. As a married man, I was quite touched both by this aspect of the film and of the director's clear portrayal of father's love for their sons. In all of these ways, the movie seems to be about more than just blood and guts. It seems to actually have a soul, to be saying that men are to be something, that men are to stand for something with their lives, or else all is nothing, and life is meaningless.

Is this a good statement--a true one? Tomorrow, I'll seek to answer this question.


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