Reflecting on “300”

First, if you haven’t seen “300”, you really need to watch the trailer. Go on; I’ll wait here.

Now, based on that trailer, it would be hard to expect a reasoned, historical presentation the Battle of Thermopylae. “300” is not about history; it’s about the myth of the 300 Spartans, the ultimate last stand, that we love to tell over and over. So, “300” homes in on those features, not the uncomfortable history that actually sits behind the story.

And is this really a bad thing? When I went to see “300”, I was expecting an uber-macho film with over-the-top action and crazy costuming. And that’s what I got: Spartan supermen with tough guy lines.

Of course, the fun bit is that some of the tough guy quotes were actually said. “Come and get them” has to rank up there with the best that Schwarzenegger has given us.

I must confess, though, that I left the movie theater uncertain as to what I thought of the film. There were several areas that concerned me.

The first was the sexual explicitness of the movie. There were several scenes that were fairly explicit, including one with rampant sexual deviancy. Now, I understand why those scenes were there. (Well, two of the three; the whole thing with the Oracle was actually gratuitous.) However, I wish that the filmmakers had decided to achieve their story goals in other ways. As it is, I’m hesitant to recommend the movie as it stands.

I’m also concerned about the violence in the film. Let me be clear; I’m not throwing out the use of violence. I spoke highly of Apocalypto, which was another violent film. Also, the violence in “300” was highly stylized, reflecting its comic book origins. There was lots of blood, but it was more like Mortal Kombat than true battlefield carnage. And yet…what does it say about our society that a popcorn movie is full of such violence?

Also, I had to laugh when the movie tried to set up the Spartans as the guardians of freedom and liberty. Since I’m too lazy to do my own research, I simply refer you to this link, where some of the actual history is discussed. I’ll let a quote suffice:

The Spartans were a highly militarized, brutally hierarchal, and ferociously violent civilization. And that’s the opinion of a Greek who is very friendly to the Spartans. They often refused to fight in foreign wars — like the Ionian Revolt — because they were afraid of their own slaves revolting.

For that matter, what about the Spartan childhood which was depicted fairly accurately by the movie? The physically imperfect are killed at birth. At six you are taken from your family to live in communal barracks, where you are brutalized until you survive your rite of passage. Nice place, eh?

So, yeah, I’m not really buying “Sparta the free”. Or, as was said by Joshua BishopRoby

300 is a movie about a city that intentionally turns its citizenry into psychopaths and the one moment in history when that turned out to be a good idea.

That all being said, there were some positive things about “300” that I’m going to point out.

First, there’s something irresistably attractive about someone who refuses to be corrupted, even if taking the high road is harder. Leonidas is easy to like for this reason.

But, even moreso, I want to call attention to Gorgo, his wife. Now, my understanding of Greek history and culture is that there’s no way that a woman would have had the sort of sway that Gorgo has in the movie. Chalk it up to another anachronism. But I think that Gorgo is a wonderful picture of what a good wife can look like. Gorgo is a submissive wife, to be sure. She was trying to be a helpmeet to her husband, not pursue her independent goals. Yet, at the same time, no one could accuse Gorgo of being weak. On the contrary, she was tough as nails without ceasing to be feminine.

As a result, her husband values her opinion greatly. In the trailer, you can see the brief exchange between Leonidas and Gorgo, right before he kicks the Persian messenger into the well. He has drawn his sword and has it to the messenger’s neck. But, before he takes irreversible action, he looks to his wife. You can see the conversation play out in their expressions.

“What do you think, dear?” Leonidas says. “Should I kill the Persian messenger and plunge us into war? I’m thinking that I should, but I wanted to know if you were seeing something that I’m missing.”

“Hmm,” Gorgo says. “No, you’re right. Better go ahead and do it.”

Now that’s a wife.

So, what did I think of “300”? As a raw action film, I rather enjoyed it, and I think that there are some valuable examples in the film. Just, don’t expect too much of it.

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