Peter M Howard ::

wintermute.com.au

300

08April2007 /08April2007 [movies]
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In which I wonder just whose politics got into *300*

Went into 300 expecting a violent, stylish comic book movie, and was suitably entertained. The intro did probably a bit more setup than was necessary, but once it got going it was gripping to the end. It looked stunning, melded CG and live-action nearly flawlessly (there were a couple minor shots where buildings looked like models), built and unfolded well, and dropped some very cool fantastical elements in there (I loved the weird old priests and their oracle, despite the fact they could’ve done more interesting things with the actual historical priests). David Wenham’s narration takes some getting used to, but really suits the mood, and I started to see it as the text written across the top of the comic’s panels. I am curious though, as I didn’t feel it added anything to the film - it served as continuity and exposition, but I’m not sure he gave away any crucial information. The visuals were so powerful that the narration was made redundant.

I don’t want to pretend that 300 is anything more than entertainment - it at least made no pretentions to history - but I’d seen/heard some discussions of its politics, so I was kind of watching out for them. Sure, one can read almost anything into some of these things, but still - there are two (almost conflicting) stories I got from it.

The first was something that struck me prior to watching the film, and was only strengthened by some of the dialogue. There’s an inescapable feeling that you’re watching these guys defend freedom, democracy, and the foundations of western culture against a barbarian horde - Persian, no less. And these crypto-Muslims come with a combination of recognisable groups (‘whirling dervish’-like) and of devil-worship-invoking goats’ (and other antlered) heads. And though the Spartans obviously aren’t Christian, our heroes have rejected the old (pagan) gods, and talk about ‘god’ in the singular - so it’s okay for Christians to sympathise with them? And the war talk reaches its peak when the Spartan Queen addresses Congress begging them to send more troops (meanwhile troops are dying on the front lines).

And the second was throughout the film, but only hit home right at the end, when David Wenham’s narrator makes a statement about ushering in a new age of reason and banishing the old ways of mysticism. Combine that with the aforementioned rejection of the pagan gods, and the fact that Xerxes shares various epithets with God (eg, “Lord of Lords”, “Lord of Hosts”, &c) and there’s a strong anti-religion bent (in its anti-superstition variety).

So I’m left wondering who put those politics in there… Is the latter stuff there just for people who get creeped out by the former? I’ve no familiarity with Miller nor with his work, so I don’t know if it was his doing, and the guys that wrote the screenplay haven’t written much else, so I can’t really tell… In any case, it’s never a surprise when a war film glorifies war, so I’m only left curious rather than railing against it.

Edit: Oh yeah, there’s also the whole ridiculous macho versus effeminate thing going on, but that’s way too obvious.

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