Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: May 27, 2007 | Publication: smart-popcorn.com | Author: Marcus Lanzana
300 is like Braveheart reading “Atlas Shrugged” in ancient Greece while gulping a tall café latte at Starbucks.
Anachronisms aside, Zack Snyder artfully adapts Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans, led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), defied their own government and took a stand against the Persian king Xerxes (Rodigo Santoro) and his invading hordes. Critics are quite outspoken in their condemnation of the film’s apparent stance against foreigners, minorities, homosexuals, and feminists; throw in a conspiracy theory that views the film as some twisted justification for a war with Iran and you get quite a controversial film. This is all in response to the film’s packaging. However, the true conflict in the film is not political, but rather philosophical.
Frank Miller—a libertarian—projects onto King Leonidas Ayn Rand’s Objectivist attributes…man is a heroic being, with happiness his only goal, productivity his noblest activity, reason his only absolute, and freedom his birthright.
Beyond the blood soaked surrealistic celluloid, lies the real battle for our minds. 300 is a rousing and uncompromising call to arms, figuratively speaking, for a world where the inviolate truth of reason vanquishes mysticism, absurdity, and apathy.
King Leonidas lived in a society of reason, but which had many of the archaic vestiges of mysticism. For instance, the most powerful governmental body in Sparta was a group of five men called the ephorate, who were elected by all the citizens. However, the ephorate needed divine proof to depose the king and to make other such important decisions. In 300, the ephorate prevent Sparta from declaring war on Persia, despite its ominous advances. The five men consult the oracle, but their judgment is actually determined by a chest of Persian gold.
Over the decision by the ephorate, King Leonidas despairingly asks, “What must a king do to save his world?” Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) replies, “Instead, ask yourself, what would a free man would do?” His wife urges King Leonidas to make an uncompromising, independent, and rational decision, despite its opposition with the view of the masses. Although anachronistic, as is the whole film, this brand of decision-making is quite prominent in Objectivism.
A common character in Ayn Rand’s works is the bribed politician (here the ephorate) who espouses mercy or divinity as his main reasoning, while, in doing so, taking his self-preservation, as well as the preservation of others, for granted. Equivocation or denial is used to obfuscate the self-inflicted harm; rationality, which would save them all, is disqualified as a mode of decision making since it is based on objectivity, which doesn’t exist in the politician’s proclaimed system of thought, which is usually a personally customized variant of Existentialism.
Reason is man’s ability to perceive the world and make sense of what he sees. Is this ability real or imagined? Existentialism implies that objective reality doesn’t exist, and this is often interpreted to mean that no one is more right than any one else. Following this reasoning, we shouldn’t let people achieve above average levels because it would mean that they are somehow better, or more correct, than the rest. How can words and proofs defeat a formless cloud that denies the existence of anything that could defeat it? King Leonidas’ solution to this conundrum is the blade. Deny all you want, but it is quite difficult to deny objective reality when a blade is coming for your head. With every mighty slash, the Spartans reaffirm the law of cause and effect. Similarly, in “Atlas Shrugged,” the world had to first collapse before John Galt’s philosophy could finally be accepted.
Xerxes in 300 is a fantastical representation of the ancient Persian king. He attempts to lead King Leonidas down a diplomatic road of compromise, one that appeals to ambition, greed, and expediency. Of course, we know that King Leonidas rejects these favors, otherwise the amazing battle sequences in the theatrical trailer would not occur in the actual film and, more importantly, Western civilization would be quite different, to say the least.
300 makes the sword a brush and blood the crimson red paint. Before 300, Gladiator was the reigning titleholder for bloody battles in swords and sandals epics. Zack Synder outdoes Ridley Scott, but is assisted by the latest CGI filming techniques, making 300 the most beautifully shot/digitized historical action epic ever made, at least in the eyes of this film critic: that is, until 301.
The striking aesthetic contrast between Xerxes, who is carried on a massive golden throne, and King Leonidas, who is quite…um…spartan, serves as an illustration of the film’s central source of tension. For dramatic effect, the differences between the Persians and Greeks are exaggerated. The Greeks are all six-foot tall muscular white men played by actors from the British Isles, whereas the opposing forces are Persian, black, Asian, faceless, deformed, handicapped, and/or effeminate. This visual dichotomy services to accentuate the philosophical one. The Greeks represent rationality, democracy, fairness, and justice while the Persians represent mysticism, slavery, greed, and mercy. To say that 300 is more of a fantasy than a documentary is an understatement. The historically inaccurate representations are solely for the storytelling.
As in all art forms, films are placed, whether knowingly or not, in political context by the audience; however, this can overshadow the objective attributes of the film. In the case of 300, these attributes are stunning.
More than just pretty packaging, the film has deep philosophical roots in Objectivism, which can be seen in many of Frank Miller’s other works. By any objective measure, 300 is one of the best films of the year.