I Like Big Shields and I Cannot Lie
“300” is the most brainless, blood-sodden, blatantly racist, fascistic-wet-dream-like atrocity to have emerged from the bowels of Hollywood in a long, long time. And god was it awesome!!!
After much hacking at Gordian schedules, your mindless-violence-loving correspondent finally had a chance to see said grisly gore-fest last night, forming a phalanx with my compatriots Faith Accompli and Unsuspecting Wallaby and trekking to an IMAX screen at my insistence – if I’m going to see Persian intestines fly, I want it to be at maximum magnification. And I was certainly not disappointed – the balletic slow-motion flight of severed limbs was worth the price of admission alone. If you see one film this year about the bat-shit insane stand of a psychotic crew of Spartans against the mincing minions of Persia at the Battle of Thermopylae, make it this one.
I myself found the proceedings quite enlightening. While this period in ancient history was apparently not short on Ab Rollers™ and multiple cheek piercings, the following had clearly not been yet been invented: all clothing other than Speedo-tight loin-cloths, gyrating child courtesans free of multiple amputations, nipple pasties for ecstatic teenage oracles, and foresight. The Spartans could really have used some of the latter. Here’s a few tips: if you’re a Spartan queen desperate to convince a reluctant Spartan government to send reinforcements to your warrior king in the field, don’t accede to the sexual demands of the corrupt, slimy politician played by Dominic West in the hopes that he’ll keep his end of the bargain and support your motion in the senate (rather than calling you out as a royal slut). The man has an English accent for Christ’s sake! This is Hollywood – he can’t be trusted.
Second, if you’re a loyal Spartan captain going off with aforementioned warrior king to fight the Persians at the pass, don’t bring your young son – the one you haven’t yet had a chance to tell how much you love – along with you. And for god’s sake don’t point him out to the audience in the mustering scene beforehand. His ass is going to get decapitated as a result (well, actually I guess his head is going to get decapitated, but you get the idea). Those are the rules.
Third, if you are the aforementioned Spartan warrior king, the one thing you most definitely should not do is humiliate and reject the grotesquely deformed Spartan cast-off who wants to fight with you – the poor man’s Gollum who only wants to give his wretched life for precious glory and happens to know the location of the one slender goat-herding path that would allow the Persian hordes to surround you. (And when I say grotesquely deformed I mean that this dude makes the Elephant man look like Ricardo Montalbán. Baby got hunchback.) Letting him become disgruntled is a bad idea, especially when Xerxes has gyrating multiple-amputee child courtesans to offer in return for his treachery.
As to the, uh, more controversial aspects of the film it’s hard not to notice that all the Spartans are white and everyone else is, well, not. Swarthiness, rather than fighting skill, appears to be the prerequisite for service in Xerxes’ armies. Granted, the Persian empire was indeed a multi-ethnic entity, I’m just not sure whether its officer corps consisted entirely of Little Richard’s ancestors.
Which brings us to the gay issue. Never mind the fact that the Spartans in this film deride the Athenians as boy-fuckers (which is rather rich coming from a nation known historically to be pretty boy-fuck-happy itself), the fact is that ‘300’ could well be simultaneously the most homophobic and homoerotic motion picture of all time.
Between portraying Xerxes as a nine-foot drag queen with eye-shade so thick it could blot out the sun and filming King Leonidas contemplating his impending death in full monty, his buttocks shimmering in the moonlight, the gayness quotient is so high only massive slaughter on an epic scale could nudge the dial back toward hetero. Thankfully, we get plenty of same but the hysterical homophobia is a little troubling to say the least.
Troubling too is the film’s resemblance to a black-shirt recruiting party. Death for the nation, glory in killing, blood superiority over the Asiatic scum – it’s all here. But then again, many ancient societies were pretty fascistic. And the forebears of ‘300’ don’t end with Leni Riefenstahl. More than “Triumph of the Will,” the film brought to mind good King Hal and his frog-wrecking crew in Henry V. We happy few, we band of brothers and all that. Reading Shakespeare’s work, it’s striking how attractive a concept the Bard (or his audience) found glory in slaughter and militarism for its own sake. This isn’t unfamiliar territory, however uncomfortable it might make one feel.
And yes, there’s a lot of Bush “Freedom isn’t free” crap in there too. In fact the words “freedom is not free” are uttered verbatim by that same Spartan queen. Like her, that ideology has ended up getting us fucked. But the film’s ideology is so convoluted, self-contradictory and downright cheesy only a moron could take it seriously, which I suppose is the problem. Leonidas turns down a pretty generous deal from Xerxes to accept formal submission and a tax but to otherwise basically be left alone, thereby jeopardizing the survival of his entire people. And all this apparently for the sake of pride.
There’s a great deal of talk about safeguarding “freedom” but it’s never made clear what that freedom really consists of or why it’s worth dying for. Leonidas rants about dying according to Spartan law but he defies the law to wage battle. Anyone who counsels against violence or bloodshed is portrayed as a lying rapist or a corrupt, hideously inbred, irrational fool, and while Leonidas proclaims Spartan superiority based on enlightenment and reason, in practice this just seems to mean chopping a lot of heads off.
None of this, however, changes the fact that this movie was awesome. Really friggin’ awesome. I look forward to the sequel in which Xerxes and Leonidas take jobs as sheepherders on a remote Wyoming mountain, sparking a passionate life-long love affair that dare not speak its name.