2007Director: Zach Snyder
Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham
partan women must have had it good. Between long naps in those omnipresent fields of digitized wheat and some rather sumptuous views (not of the landscape), I’m just saying that Spartan women were pretty lucky. But 300, the horrifically brutal, monstrously graphic and commercially lucrative new fascination of American moviegoers is decidedly uninterested in the many hedonistic pleasures of Spartan women. Rather, it is a film single-mindedly obsessed with men.
Based on a Frank Miller (Sin City) graphic creation, the film is a hyper-stylized account of the extremely well remembered (and perhaps even more romanticized) Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 presumably virile Spartan soldier-men held off an army of thousands at a small mountain pass. The skirmish has been historically viewed as a turning point in the Persian Wars because the time it afforded Athenian and Spartan forces to rally was the key to subsequent victory, and, on a more symbolic level, because the Persian forces led by Xerxes suffered such disproportionately heavy losses.
So much for history. Frank Miller and director Zach Snyder are more interested in the airbrushing of the Spartan abs than the specifics of military tactics. They also like the squish of sharp metal things being jabbed into human flesh, and the particular force with which blood spouts from a severed artery. The movie is of that sort that takes battlefield violence to a level of artistry better appreciated with the eyes than the stomach. At least the men are gorgeous, and wearing little.
The code these nearly-naked Spartans live by is as clean and exaggerated as the very CGI world they inhabit: simply put, they’re men. Being men means living without fear, without surrender and without admission of blatant homoerotic yearnings. To make the point, the film opens with a pile of dead baby bones—the weak and the puny are discarded. This hyper-masculinity of the Spartan spirit is in deliberate contrast to the Persians, led by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, who must get better work than this), whose lavish lifestyle includes decorative jewelry, a court of writhing belly dancers and some of the best kept eyebrows I’ve seen since those of Charlize Theron. But just when the yin and yang seem sorted out, you realize the bloodthirsty Spartans look more like underwear models than warriors.
The application of a very distinctly new technology in the telling of a very old story, and the insistence on a very complicated exposition to tell what is essentially a very simple story; these are the dichotomies that echo precisely that central and extremely persistent anxiety about gender—one that paints masculinity not as a birthright or even as an achievement, but as an endless narrative of constant struggle.
To be fair, though, that might not have been intentional. Miller’s Sin City was a far more direct exploration of human depravity, and issues of gender interaction stripped of societal niceties came to the forefront. 300 seems less like an experiment and more like a movie, if not quite as visually ostentatious and still pretty pointless, but the undertones of anxiety feel more like the context and less like the point.
Ultimately, I suppose it doesn’t matter. 300 is far from brilliant and could best be described as a freakish hybrid of Gladiator and Sin City (exactly how they pitched it), but it’s actually a little bit likeable. I’m completely unsold on why it was a good idea to make a movie about a western nation fighting the “mysticism and tyranny” of “Persia,” but the effects are killer, the storyboards drawn heavily on comic panels make for some very creative shots, and despite the not-entirely-successful brand of storytelling (which comes complete with a laughable voiceover), it’s a movie with plenty of substance to scream about. With a first weekend gross that practically eclipsed the lifetime domestic total of its closest comparison point, men across the country seem to agree. Sure, as far as touchy-feely man movies go, I still like Fight Club better, but I’m a girl. And as such, all I can say about it is that I’d rather be in Sparta.
300 is currently in wide release.
By: Amanda Andrade
Published on: 2007-03-13