Good people don’t wear clothes.
I was prepared to dislike 300, and feel bad about feeding its insatiable money machine. I had read about the film’s “Assault on the Gay Past” and expected the worst.
There are indeed some misgivings on that front, but 300 is in my eyes a film that is so ultimately inconsequential that it should have no lasting effect. Unfortunately, the meme hungry internet has latched onto 300, making it a huge beast. It is a beast made of nought but air, but a beast nonetheless. We shall see where this movie, which didn’t really need to be made beyond the trailer, finds itself in several years’ time.
Dilios (David Wenham) regales the people of Sparta with the tale of how King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and 300 of his finest men took on the Persian King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and … cut the Persian king’s face a little?
Meanwhile Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey, unfortunately not playing “Gorgo 13”, which would have made this story the best ever), has to convince the council of Sparta to send an actual army out to assist, while fighting off the sleaziness of corrupt councillor Theron (Dominic West).
Beyond all of the politicising that goes on in Sparta, 300 can essentially be summarised as follows:
I was going to put that in words, but my friend Annie did it so perfectly and saved me the effort.
I can’t really begin to fathom, then, why 300 has captured the hearts of internet denizens and frat members the world (or America, in the case of frats) over. It just seems so insubstantial, lurching from one fight to another. I never really expected any sort of high quality from this movie, beyond it being an effective action film, and so I wasn’t really disappointed. I did want something more, though: a bit more story, a bit less nonsense.
The problem with 300 is that its ideas are wildly contradictory. The movie makes a big deal of the idea that the Spartan men were dedicated to combat to the exclusion of all else, while showing that they were dedicated to their women and to each other. I now know all too well how poorly movies that feature emotionless protagonists can turn out, so we’re fortunate in that regard on 300.
Yet it’s kind of silly. A lot of the dialogue makes absolutely no sense. Here I paraphrase.
Leonidas: You, Arcadian! What is your profession?
Arcadian 1: I’m a potter.
Leonidas: Arcadian up the back! You, with the snubnose! What is your profession?
Arcadian 2: I’m a blacksmith.
Leonidas: Spartans! What is your profession?!
Those last two lines are exactly as they appear in the movie, and I have to ask what that means. The only thing I can possibly think is that all of the men in the Spartan army were saying that they’re Hard Gay, which makes absolutely no sense at all. How can three hundred Spartans all be Hard Gay? There can be only one.
I have nothing to say about the whole perceived East versus West thing because the whole thing is so far divorced from reality that whatever we see here doesn’t really mean anything. Snyder has said that the historical accuracy in regards to crab men and rhinos is to be put down to Dilios making stuff up for propaganda purposes – and several critics have indeed said that 300 is the sort of movie that Hitler would have loved – and, you know, it’s kind of hard to take a wave of rampaging elephants, rhinos and silver faced double sworded ninjas, not to mention Gollum himself, as meaning anything. How can any of this movie mean anything?
Naturally, anyone making a movie wants to pretend that their movie means something, and this is where my problems arrive. Snyder said in one interview with Entertainment Weekly that he didn’t see the movie as homophobic or homoerotic, and that people should make up their own minds. However, the same interview contains the following:
The director says that the film’s (homo)sexual undertones were intended to make young straight males in the audience uncomfortable, because “What’s more scary to a 20-year-old boy than a giant god-king who wants to have his way with you?”
I would hardly see this as a healthy attitude to promote, and it is the hardest thing to accept about this movie. You can take a pointless bloodbath all well and good, and cultural stereotypes that don’t mean much because … well, what the hell are they? … but Xerxes? Come on, man!
Xerxes was a bearded dude in real life, and here he may as well have been Rupaul. He places his perfectly manicured hands around Leonidas’ shoulders, and tells him to submit. In other contexts, I’m all for Rupaul. It’s just I’m not for Rupaul in the context of representing an entire nation as a bunch of degenerate homosexuals while, at the same time, subtly drawing attention away from the fact that Greece was not without its fair share of gay people (although the Athenians get denounced as “philosophers and boy lovers” … which is great).
This is another part where the film’s content accidentally destroys what is says: two of the Spartans – Astinos and one other – are quite clearly gay. One of them dies, and only his father is allowed to mourn. The other Spartan, one of the few who has been allowed fairly consistent dialogue among those who say more than “hoo!” silently and conspicuously disappears.
To get this allowance, the rest of the audience is “rewarded” with Gorgo and Leonidas making love as only a King and Queen can … in a variety of positions.
“Yes,” says Snyder to his audience, “King Leonidas is totally straight. Kindly accept having seen his buttocks just prior to this.”
This sexual dichotomy is coded so heavily into the character of Xerxes that the true meaning of the final confrontation ‘twixt himself and Leonidas gets totally lost. Highlight the paragraph below for spoilers:
Rather than a loss of Xerxes’ claim to divinity, the shots and acting are played precisely as if Xerxes’ is playing a “my beautiful face!” game.
I expect that kind of play from anime, but from the King of Persia? The point could have been made so much better and so much less stereotypically.
I would be more offended if I were physically capable of taking 300 seriously at all. It has great ideas: Spartan baby inspector! A human piñata who bleeds incriminating evidence! Clumsy, clumsy elephants! Ultimately 300 doesn’t mean anything; even if its scenery is sometimes visually arresting, at other times it is dull and, frankly, embarrassing (close up on a guy falling into a bottomless pit!). Dilios accuses Xerxes of great hubris when of course the conceit of the Leonidas’ plan is entirely hubristic.
Unfortunately, hubris sells and pointless epic battles are what people are looking for on today’s market. Historically, Sparta had a point in standing up to Persia: in 300 one can concede their point but be hard pressed to care.
Madness? This is a case of mild inanity.