Directed by Zack Snyder
Warner Bros. Pictures, 2007
The new movie “300” is based on a graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics that retells the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. between the Persian Empire and the Greek city-states.
King Xerxes of the Persian Empire continues the work of his father, King Darius, in trying to expand his empire into Europe and crush the Greeks. King Leonidas, the ruler of Sparta, is forced to muster 300 Spartans to fight off the Persian army that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.
Yet “300” is not simply a blood-and-gore fighting movie. Don’t get me wrong. The fight scenes and visual effects are stunning. The camera work builds on the style used in “The Matrix.” The camera speeds up as a warrior slashes at his enemy only to slow down to a crawl as the sword slides in. Even the splatters of blood are well placed.
While the graphic novel the movie is based on was written in 1998, the political messaging and language used in the film are extremely relevant to how Bush’s “war on terror” and the war in Iraq are justified and carried out.
The movie depicts the battle between the Spartans and the Persians not as a battle of expansion and empire, but as about the forces of democracy and reason (the Spartans) against the forces of tyranny and mysticism (the Persians). If we replace mysticism with Islam, we find the basic premise that is used to support today’s so-called war on terror.
The Spartans are portrayed as a stoic people who would rather not go to war, but are being forced into the situation because of the warmongering of the Persians. They are marching to war, with their perfectly sculpted and chiseled physiques and skimpy speedos, willing to die to protect all of Greece.
The Persians, on the other hand, are depicted as deceitful and willing to go to any length to get what they want. The Persian army is filled with monsters and disfigured humans. Even King Xerxes himself is shown as a pierced, 8-foot-tall monster.
The movie uses homophobia as a way to further humiliate the Persians. King Xerxes is extremely effeminate and spends most of the movie pouting and whining rather than leading his army. When Xerxes was first introduced, the audience I saw the film with erupted in laughter and disgust.
Through these depictions of the Spartans and the Persians, we are given the viewpoint of the ultra-right when it comes to the “war on terror,” the war in Iraq and threats against Iran. The U.S. is represented by the Spartans fighting against the “tyranny and violence” of Middle Easterners and Islamic fundamentalists. The message is that the U.S. people were forced into the Iraq war to fight for democracy, reason and everything we hold true. And if you don’t support the war, just as there were Spartans who didn’t support Leonidas, then you are aiding the enemy.
Unfortunately, the political message overrides the fantastic camera work and ends up ruining the movie.
atenney @ yclusa.org