Thursday, March 15, 2007

To rip off Dr. Freud, sometimes a crappy blockbuster is just a crappy blockbuster

I went to see the new movie "300" last weekend, and pretty much decided I was going to put it out of my mind as quickly as possible. Then the inevitable conversations, analogies to current events, etc. ensued, so now I have to write something down to get it back out of my head.

My favorite review (for its not-quite-intentional hilarity), is this one from Ben Shapiro:
The Spartans of "300" are brutal. The opening scene of the movie depicts a Spartan soldier, standing on a cliff overlooking a valley of skulls, inspecting a baby to make sure it is hardy enough. If the baby is too weak, we are told, it will be left for dead. This isn't exactly civilized conduct.

But the Persian hordes make the Spartans look like members of a British tea club. Xerxes is an androgynous giant of a man with more body piercings than Christina Aguilera. His camp is full of decadent bisexual promiscuity. He seeks worldwide dictatorship and threatens Sparta with mass murder of its male citizens, rape of its female citizens, and use of women and children as slaves if Sparta fails to submit to his rule.

The Spartans, by contrast, say they are fighting for "freedom." In which case, "300" is an old-fashioned battle between the forces of freedom and the forces of oppression.

And the left doesn't like it at all. Many reviewers have panned "300" not on artistic grounds, or even on grounds of inanity, but on the grounds that the Spartans in the film are a bunch of jackbooted thugs; that the tyranny they fight is less tyrannical than Sparta; that good vs. evil is too simplistic. "His troops are like al Qaeda in adult diapers," writes Kyle Smith of the New York Post. "Keeping in mind Slate's Mickey Kaus' Hitler Rule -- never compare anything to Hitler -- it isn't a stretch to imagine Adolf's boys at a "300" screening, heil-fiving each other throughout and then lining up to see it again." A.O. Scott makes the obligatory racial point: "It may be worth pointing out that unlike their mostly black and brown foes, the Spartans and their fellow Greeks are white."
First off, the reviewer here states that "the Left" doesn't like this movie "on the grounds that the Spartans in the film are a bunch of jackbooted thugs" and that "that good vs. evil is too simplistic." He quotes two other reviewers (one from the N.Y. Post!), neither of whom say anything about these claims--one seems to be making the opposite, that the right would like this movie (Nazis were right-wing, after all), and a rather obvious racial comment. So how do we have any idea at all what the "Left" thinks, at least based on his selected quotes? What we do know, however (POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT), is that the Spartans kill newborn infants deemed to be "unfit," that the Persians have threatened to kill or enslave all Spartans if they do not submit, and that the Spartans' claims to be fighting in defense of "freedom" are not especially credible. In fact, the Spartans are ultimately betrayed by an "unfit" Spartan who would have been killed at birth had his parents not hidden him, and who grew up to resemble a Gollum and Quasimodo hybrid. He is shunned by the Spartans (although not at all rudely or unreasonably) and is wooed by the Persians' kick-ass parties. Still, it begs the question of why he had to wait until adulthood to even ask for the right to exist from his own people. The Spartans of "300" are only the "good guys" if you seriously shut out and ignore most of their culture (then there's the whole Council of Sparta subplot that makes no sense at all, but I'll leave that aside.)

Calling this a classic "good vs. evil" story is really stretching it. Calling it a high-tech visual masterpiece with little or no substance is more accurate. Really, very few good stories perfectly state a good vs. evil dichotomy. "The Lord of the Rings" films were hailed a few years ago for their depiction of good vs. evil, but even those films presented the theme with a distinct lack of simplicity. (ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT, ALTHOUGH IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIES BY NOW I DOUBT YOU CARE) The little-discussed fact of that story is that the hero, Frodo, actually failed in his quest. At the critical moment, evil won out, and he refused to destroy the Ring. It was only destroyed because Gollum was (a) even more under the sway of its evil, and (b) clumsy. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the greater power of good, but a more believable story in many ways (if you accept the existence of trolls and such).

But going back to "300," if I have to choose between a despotic city-state that was safeguarding the cradle of Western civilization and a despotic empire that had goat-headed lute players and the villains from Stargate SG-1, I guess I'd have to side with Sparta. But don't ask me to feel all noble about it. After all, they practice eugenics and take their marching orders from pederastic lepers. Just enjoy the dang movie, to the extent possible, and save the politics for the blogs.

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