Thursday, March 29, 2007

300: The Review (abridged)

I just saw 300 in the IMAX Theater this past weekend. It is virtually undisputed that this movie looks and sounds amazing. So I will leave that alone. What is in dispute however are the underlying tones of the movie; the representation and significance in light of the world’s political climate, and its potential impact on public audiences and opinions created. The reader will fall under one of the three following theories. (This review assumes the reader has seen the movie)

Theory 1: The roles of the warring parties are clear and distinct.

It takes less brainpower to tell oneself that what they are seeing is obvious. So what do we see? The Spartans represent the western world and the Persians represent the Middle East. Leonidas’ army represents the free-world; small in number at first (similar to the Bush administration being practically alone among Western powers when appealing to invade Iraq), 300 muscular and chiseled 6-pack men, confident, glowing, “the finest soldiers the world has ever known”. Xerxes’ army is an unorganized, rag-tag bunch of hooligans, mostly slaves untrained in the art of combat. They are dark-skinned, funny sounding people. Very funny sounding. It is without doubt that these images create a perception in people’s minds even if they are overly exaggerated. It creates a sense of acceptance that whatever is going on in the Middle East is ok because these people are scary looking and unfamiliar. Add some goat-men, crab-men, prehistorically-looking rhinoceroses, and a crazy zombie giant in the mix to emphasize how unlike us they really are. Bizarre? This tactic was commonly used in the political cartoons of World War II against the Germans and the Japanese.

The last war cry of the film: “This day we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny, and usher in a future brighter than anything we could imagine!” Sound familiar? Haven’t we heard the Bush administration’s trumpeting on about how they believe as if they should save the world (the Muslim world in particular) with its American brand of democracy? It sounded better in the movie, because back in Ancient Greece practically EVERYONE was an orator. But Mysticism and tyranny? I thought it was the Spartans who consulted a sexy, intoxicated virgin female’s intuition to decide whether to engage in battle. I thought that the Spartans were known to kill off their “weak” and “unfit” offspring. This could all just be a dirty mirror, which brings to theory number 2.

Theory 2: The roles are actually reversed.

It may be a stretch, but it is a more-so-than-not accepted that Zack Snyder and Frank Miller are not without a sense of clever subtlety, that the Persian army actually represents America and the Spartans represent the Middle East. The Persians were bent on spreading their influences to every corner of the world, and the last stop was Sparta. History tells us that over-confidence and cockiness is the common ingredient in the demise of every empire. Although the Persians beat the Spartans, the Persians suffered great loses. Innumerable loses in perspective. Similarly, America under-estimated their invasion of Iraq and now they are stuck in a four year long conflict. After the defeat of the 300, will communities and countries join together against the imperialistic power…bound by an “enough is enough” mentality? Is this message prophetic in any way? Hard to say, because it is more favorable to be associated with the looks of a hero than a scoundrel and therefore, no lesson would be learned from it. One of my favorite lines of the movie: “The Immortals, they failed our king's [Leonidas] test, and a man [Xerxes] who fancies himself a god feels a very human chill run up his spine.” I would like to think that this line illustrates the cockiness of imperialist powers of history and specifically the handling of Iraq by the Bush administration.

This theory is probably the most difficult to see because it takes some Socratic self-questioning and critical thinking. Reserved for the few truly curious people left in the world. The movie would scream to us, we should not be in the Middle East because we really do not have any business there. What business did the Persian Empire have in Ancient Greece? “Land and water”. Valuable resources.

Theory 3: Relax, it is just a movie!

It takes even LESS brainpower to tell oneself that what they are seeing is the obvious, AND it is purely for entertainment. And because it is purely entertainment, perceptions will leave people’s minds as soon as they enter. Believe it or not, this is probably the most unlikely of the three. But it might have been the intention all along. “Very accurate, detailed figures walking around in battle is boring,” Frank Miller said. “The most important thing was to strip them down to helmets and red capes…. Spartans move like lightning. Reality be damned.” (LA Times)

So is this movie any reflection of reality? That depends on you the reader. There are different possibilities and interpretations out there for everything. A little bit of curiosity can go a long way. Ask yourself if you are willing to put in the effort to explore.

In the seven years he worked on the film, Zack Snyder said, “The politics caught up with us. I've had people ask me if Xerxes or Leonidas is George W. Bush. I say, ‘Great. Awesome. If it inspires you to think about the current geopolitical situation, cool.’”


Racist cartoons of WWII

LA Times article

The Battle of Thermopylae (what movie is based on)


Affad Shaikh said...

I actually think you missed the concept of masculinity that is being protrayed in the movie. The idea of what "a real man is" versus what every person is. I had did briefly write about it, you can find it on my blog.

Naveed Ahmad said...

good point...i thought there were many quotes in the movie depicting the misconception of what a man is. A real man isnt one thats just tough and void of emotions. Here's an example of a Spartan's already-too-late realization.

Captain (upon his son's death): "I had lived my entire life without regret until now. It's not that he died for his country. It's that I never got to tell him that I loved him the most. That he had stood by me with honor. That he was the best in me."

and we know Leonidas' last words as well. but it goes back to the obvious and the subtle.

Huda Shaka` said...

Check out what Frank Miller (the author of the novel) has to say about the 'War on Terror' (thanks Yasser Ahmed!):

Affad Shaikh said...

I think theory number 2, the one about america being like the persian empire fails when you see in the light of what Frank Miller really believes and we can go back to thinking that this like Bush is a propaganda whore of a movie?

Naveed Ahmad said...

i think thats really hard to say, being that all five issues of the comic were published in 1998.

thanks Huda for posting the NPR interview, so to your point Affad yes Miller has an oblong view of the current political situation

but the real intent of the post was not to suggest what the movie means, but more to suggest what the movie could mean. we should study media pieces and broaden our scopes to be open to a variety of interpretations, thats how we get to truth.