300: Don't act like it's your I.Q.
Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: April 4, 2007 | Publication: The Strand | Author: Johnathan Ore
I have a confession to make. I have yet to see 300 in theatres, which one might assume to be a prerequisite for any sort of column on it. However, the critical backlash against the film, which attacks it from an overwhelmingly concussive number of angles, is such that it may be looked at on its own merit. It appears to me that most of the criticisms against the ethos of the film are distressingly lacking and misguided.
A startling number of people have raised their voices against the radical historical inaccuracies contained within the movie. The notion of democracy loving Spartans versus the Persian slavers is certainly not grounded in fact, as anyone mildly versed in the history of the period can tell you. The Spartans are respectable men because they can beat the shit out of anyone else; the Persians are hideous monsters on top of their immoral political scene; and anyone besides is too weak or feminine to warrant the viewer's attention.
This might have been a problem if the film had any instructive intentions in the first place. However, any research into 300's source material can tell you that the actual events that took place at Thermopylae in 480 BCE were far down on its list of priorities.
300 was originally a graphic novel written and illustrated by Frank Miller. Yes, that same Frank Miller whose enigmatic mind spawned Sin City - also a highly stylized film. The spirit of that work must extend to our viewing of 300. It simply intends to tell a gripping tale. I reiterate that I have not seen the film, but I have read the graphic novel source; it is a masterful piece of illustrated literature, and never claims to instruct as it delights.
Racist, sexist, religiously arrogant, West-vs.-East propaganda? These are difficult accusations for a film to endure. If you prefer, one historical lens may be useful here: history is written by the victors. It is taken to ridiculous extremes in the context of this narrative - the Spartan warriors really are the greatest humans alive. It glorifies war because it is a war story. It is patriotic because it is the story of battling nations.
What better or simpler way is there to construct a reason to fight than enmity between two worlds, proud of their own customs (however bizarre they are)? The device easily sets up the heroes against the villains, a template so old and instrumental that it needs no further explanation - even as some of us wildly search for one.
I find any parallels brought up to today's international tensions to be completely irrelevant and the work of someone who may just as likely scrutinize a copy of Barbie Horse Adventures for immoral behaviour. He looks at 300, and thinks, "oh my god, this is too easy."
300 is not going to win any awards for its complex narrative and multi-dimensional characters. I don't need to remind anyone that it was never intended to do this. The story is simple and violent, appealing to the basest Alpha Male inclinations. Yet it does so in a highly stylised palette of overactive chiaroscuro modeled directly after the panels in the comics. It cannot be considered an historical film; one must stretch to even reach the level of historical fantasy.
Don't take 300 any more seriously than you should take this lightly-informed article. If you can enjoy it for the compelling yarn, coloured with several gallons of gore, human or otherwise, you'll be much better off.