Many have already heard the buzz, if not already seen the movie itself, about the latest "graphic novel" (remember when they used to be called just comic books?) to become enshrined in celluloid, 300. I came in not expecting another V for Vendetta, but instead a Sin City. Cinematically "cool," the whole black/white noir thing with only select objects being colorized, no real deep meaning other than blood, guts, brawn, and over-the-top macho males parading as violent heroes. Kinda like eating kettle corn & cotton candy for dinner when a salmon salad would have been "better" for me, but I had no pretensions at the time that it would be anything else. Oh how wrong I was…
I don’t know at what point I stopped seeing it as comic book fluff, like how the Spartans have the most conveniently placed bottomless pit ever (classic comic book gold), but I’m sure it was probably after the first time Leonidas (King of Sparta) bloviated about "logic" and "reason." While the graphics never went downhill, the script proceeded to practically nosedive into a redux of Bush’s "freedom and liberty" Inauguration speech whenever Leonidas opened his mouth. Before the major battle even begins one is besieged by inconsistencies and blatant parallels. "Reluctant to battle" Sparta is forced into a war with Persia in order to "defend logic and reason" from the "tyranny and slavery of Asia" and are being hampered at home only by the Spartan council politicians who are being paid off by the enemy to not fund the Spartan army; it was like National Review commissioned its own version of reality. The audience that complained about Bush’s "cowboy diplomacy," cheers on Leonidas when he boldly marches his 300 men off to the "Hot Gates" (a narrow mountain passage right on the coast where Xerxes’ troops plan to land) without approval from the bumbling old men that make up the Congr-I mean Council.
Of course there were a few "inconvenient truths" of blood-thirsty Spartan society that don’t appease National Greatness Conservatives that were sanitized. The destruction of the family by the Spartan state, which was even documented at the beginning with Leonidas being "sent off" to be brutally tortured at the age of 7 to become a "real Spartan," somehow morphs into Leonidas play wrestling at the most with his boy and then kissing him on the head (?!). Also forgotten down the memory hole (hey maybe that’s what that bottomless pit was!) was that Spartans molded their strong camaraderie through practicing violence AND homosexuality on/with each other. This was sophomorically deflected by the inclusion of two jokes made by Spartan soldiers on how Athenians (the real defenders of logic and reason!) were known only for being effeminate homosexuals in an other wise completely straight ancient Greece … yeah right. While one never sees any Athenians, too busy cowardly prancing about in their walled city discussing that useless thing called "mathematics" no doubt, the Spartans do have an equally pathetic Greek ally in the Arcadians. Their uselessness as spear fodder was displayed in a prominent scene where Leonidas quizzes a couple Arcadians on what their jobs are. "Potter." "Sculptor." "Blacksmith." Reply the three visibly weak and pale 1-dimensional characters like its something to be ashamed of to be skilled in a peaceful and constructive skill that can be traded for goods or services. "Spartans!" bellows Leonidas, "what’s your occupation?" and before I can yell out "florist!" in frustration at this comic book turned neo-conservative passion play three hundred beautiful and strong slightly tanned white men proudly yell back "Soldier!" to an audience hushed in awe of them and me in shock that I’m still sitting there watching it.
I was rescued from dialogue finally by the staggeringly large sea landing of Xerxes during a fantastic storm and some pretty sweet slow motion spear-to-torso combat accompanied by electric guitar, which is pretty much mandatory now in action movies. Besides curiously portraying the Persians as almost uniformly swarthy if not outright black (like all of the bombastic emissaries were) I found comic relief at least in that they wanted the audience to associate Xerxes, an over the top decadent tall light black androgynous male with a deep voice that thinks he’s a god, with Prince obviously. Or maybe I really was the only one humming "Purple Rain" in the theater whenever the Persians fired a massive volley of arrows at the Spartans. Frank Miller (writer) and Zack Snyder (director) of course had to ruin even this moment for me with their inclusion, and subsequent legitimization of by far the most Nazi-esque feature of Spartan society, eugenics. The Spartan Army had been followed to the Hot Gates by an odd figure named Ephialtes who was deemed "unfit" for Spartan society at birth and instead of nobly leaving him on a hillside to die like most normal Spartan parents did, they had the nerve to keep him and escaped Sparta to raise him elsewheres. So of course they’re going to show how this practice was barbaric if not utterly stupid to make such a definitive decision on just physicality at birth, right? Nope, bring on the horribly disfigured and disloyal hunchback! That’s right, even though Ephialtes had been sentenced to death by his State he still tries to come back and fight for his family’s honor by joining them in battle. Leonidas asks him to hold his shield up while crouching, something he can’t do because of the hunched back I’m sure all of those babies left on hillsides had because of superior Spartan knowledge of post-natal anatomy, and is offered only the position of clean-up guy, literally. He gets mad, stomps off, and joins the Persians because he knows of a secret goat pass (lousy unpatriotic goats) where the Persians can attack the Spartans from above the Hot Gates. This disgusting oversimplification was only redeemed at the end when he appears with the Persian army and Leonidas realizes his betrayal and I realize just how funny he looks in a silly hat the Persians made him wear.
Ultimately the smarter Arcadians realize this battle is lost and go back to their jobs in the free market, the Spartans fight until they all die, and I get to groan/roll my eyes at the end when the lone survivor (sent back before final assault to tell story) talks of how Sparta stood as the "lone light of reason & logic in the world and preserved liberty for later humankind to keep because"…wait for it… "freedom isn’t free!" I leave the theater exhausted and hopeful that Americans have become so sheepled at this point that they don’t even recognize the underlying message (or want one) and that they just came to watch moving pictures that also happened to have blood and female nudity in them. The next morning online I find my optimism bubble popped by the blood-thirsty artists at Cox and Forkum, the always "imaginative" Victor Davis Hanson, and reports that people are going to see 300 to "inform themselves on history." Like someone wanting to "eat healthy" by ordering a salad, and then having it only be full of iceberg lettuce and 5 lbs. of ranch dressing, Messrs. Miller and Snyder have made history appetizing to the American booboisee the only way they know how, by drenching it in misinformation and the myth of the "glorious war." To have such a movie be the Pied Piper to millions of Americans that the only way to fight a tyrannical superpower is to become … a tyrannical superpower makes me question if William F. Buckley hasn’t found a second calling in directing.
March 15, 2007