I found myself in Langley on Saturday, and I decided to catch 300 at the local IMAX. I could see at once why it had earned 70 million on the opening weekend. It was the ultimate swan song for cool dudes saying cool stuff, fighting cool battles, and dying in really cool ways. For the background, 300 refers to the 300 soldiers led by the Spartan King Leonidas who defended Greece against the full might of the Persian empire at the Battle of Thermopylae. The film itself lends to my theory (stop me if you know who came up with it first) that successful art is equal parts titillation and equal parts innovation. It’s full of platitudes on heroism, courage and masculinity, but care and attention to detail is evident in every shot in the movie. Most of it was shot on a soundstage in Montreal and special software was used to give many of its scenes an illustrative quality, like the graphic novel it was based on.
I thought the most refreshing aspect of 300 was that given all of the stylization and simulacra used in its production, no one could possibly accuse it of trying to be historically accurate. Alas, according to many reviews, this was not the case. People have accused it for being a polemic for the Iraq war, that King Leonidas was George Bush trying to hold the terrorists in Iraq. Iran has even made a complaint to UNESCO on the basis that the film-makers made Xerxes look like Mr. Clean in drag. This is despite the fact that the Battle of Thermopylae has more in common with the Battle of Britain than Bush’s campaign of vanity, and the Spartans themselves wouldn’t be out of place in a gay pride parade.
It saddens me that in out post-modern society, nothing is taken within its own context anymore. 300 is not about Persian homosexuality, the Iraq war, or any of the pet issues of today. It is about the heroism of the Spartans, written about by Herodotus, which inspired the 1962 movie “300 Spartans”, which inspired Frank Miller to draw the graphic novel “300” that the 2007 movie is based on. The Persians depicted in the film were not even real. They were based on the testimony of the only soldier to return from King Leonidas’ expedition. As Director Zack Snyder described the character as a guy who knows how not to wreck a good story with truth”. It’s a problem I find with many drawn-out historical epics on film. As they refuse to take a side in the debate of history and take on a documentary stance, the elements of the story that inspire human emotion are lost. A complete picture of history is made of many first and second-hand accounts, and if discount one because your country looks bad, you might as well discount them all.