The "300" Movie Is Fascist Filth

by Arthur B

Arthur blows his top.
Most of you will already be aware of the premise of 300, the film having been pretty heavily promoted. To recap: Xerxes, ruler of the Persian Empire, wants to conquer Greece, and Leonidas, king of Sparta, isn't cool with that. Unable to muster the entire Spartan army, he leads 300 men to Thermopylae, and there manage to hold off the massed hordes of Asia for three days, buying enough time for the rest of Greece to muster its forces and win the day. Hooray for Sparta!

Now, I don't actually mind that they gloss over the fact that the Athenians were responsible for winning the final battle against Xerxes when they sank his fleet, having abandoned their entire city so they could go and prepare an ambush. Similarly, I don't mind that Sparta is portrayed as being more democratic and nice than it was - Julian (whose Ferretbrain review of the film has doubtless already has been published, or is about to be published) pointed out that at no point did we see any of the slave-caste that the Spartans hunted for sport, for example. This was a movie, after all, not a history lesson, and it would have been difficult to engage a modern audience if the Spartans hadn't been made acceptable in some respects to a modern audience.

Strangely, though, they don't go far enough. They only half-finish the job of giving the Spartans modern values. Sometimes the Spartans talk about how they are defending freedom and democratic values. Sometimes they exalt their culture of eugenics and euthanasia, and talk about how wonderful it is to be brutalised from birth to become a soldier-citizen of Sparta. The Sparta presented in this film, while nominally democratic, is still recognisably the military absolutist state of old.

All of this would be fine by me. It would be a good opportunity for the filmmakers to make a point about how sometimes our most sacred values end up being defended, out of mutual interest, by people whose values are decidedly alien to ours - perhaps even repulsive. You could make an argument, after all, that Stalin's efforts against Hitler in World War II helped indirectly to save democracy.

However, at no point in this film is the worldview of the Spartans seriously challenged. There's one absolutely shameful bit where a twisted cripple, a Spartan child whose parents fled the city to save him from euthanasia at birth, catches up with the army. He's got his father's cloak and shield and helmet and spear, and he wants only an opportunity to fight with the Spartans. Leonidas points out that the guy can't possibly be of any use, because he can't raise his shield high enough to protect the Spartan next to him in a shield wall, and that's the way Spartans fight, so there's nothing for the guy to do except collect corpses and tend to the wounded like a bitchy-bitch bitch man. (Okay, Leonidas doesn't call the cripple a bitchy-bitch bitch man, and actually seems to feel suitably sorry for him, but it's already been well-established that being a soldier is the thing to be, and the cripple is being offered a second-class job.)

The twisted Gollum-ripoff - oh, did I mention that? The cripple is a rip-off of Gollum in appearance and mannerisms - there's even a scene where a soldier notices that the guy's been following them for a while, and another character says "yeah, he's been following us since we left Sparta," which is pretty much lifted exactly from the bit in The Fellowship of the Ring where Sam and Frodo have the same conversation. What the hell? Anyhow, the twisted Gollum-ripoff obviously then heads off to the Persian camp and offers to show the Persians how to use the goat paths to encircle the Spartans. They do so. The Spartans fight and die nobly, but not before Leonidas manages to curse not-Gollum. A few Spartans head home to tell the tale of the 300 and rally the troops (so how they knew what happened after they left is anyone's guess, but let's not probe the story's logic too much at this point).

Notice something? This whole episode only proves that the Spartan policy of eugenics is correct. Had they been more brutally efficient with the euthanasing-at-birth program, that miserable untermensch would never have had an opportunity to betray them! I could go on about other instances where the Spartans' prejudices are confirmed (a good proportion of the Persian army seem to be orcs, for example), but that would soon get tedious and depressing.

"Fair enough," you might say, "the movie's told from the point of view of a Spartan soldier, of course it's going to play to his prejudices." Perhaps. But if you present those prejudices in a film and then never, ever, ever contradict them, aren't you condoning them just a little? Furthermore, when the narrator is sent home from the front lines in order to address the Spartan assembly and rally the other Greek city-states, Leonidas gives him a little pep-talk about how the 300 need someone who can go home and tell their story, and the end monologue is all about how it is important to remember the story of these brave men who defended our common values. Effectively, the narrator is appointed propagandist by Leonidas, and the film itself says "This story is important and meaningful! Pay attention and remember the brave 300, who died for your freedom!" We have to take this as a propaganda film if we're going to review it properly: while it can be enjoyed as an exceptionally silly action movie, I found that I actually had to work to turn my brain off to allow myself to enjoy it on that level. Brainless entertainment shouldn't take that much concentration to enjoy on a brainless level.

Okay, but what is Frank Miller trying to say here? People have made much of the Persian-Iranian connection, and that might be part of it, but this is mainly a polemic in support of the Iraq War. Think about it: an insufficient number of troops are sent out to fight a terrible enemy on behalf of freedom and succeed beyond expectations. Now they need more men, but oh no! Those pesky "realists" at home don't think the war is going so well and are trying to undermine the war effort in Congress! They're even accusing pro-war Senators of sexual misconduct, even as they themselves engage in terrible behaviour (Monica Lewinsky! Nevar Forget!).

Oh, but it goes further than that. The liberals at home are in the pay of the dark-skinned people who Hate Our Freedom, as are the molesty priests who oppose war (anti-war Catholic priests or just anti-war religious folk in general?). Sparta is a monocultural, homogeneous state full of buff white people: the Persians are of all races (including orcs). The film even expresses contempt for the Athenians as being "philosophers and boylovers", when it was exactly those intellectuals and homosexuals who finally defeated Xerxes - but wait, of course, intellectuals and homosexuals are on the enemy side in the Culture War at home.

The Persians barely resemble the historical Persians, because they are meant to embody all the evils of society which threaten modern-day Sparta/the US. Xerxes is an effeminate man, in contrast to the strict gender demarcation practised by the Spartans. If he isn't gay, he's certainly giving us the wrong impression. He has a harem full of promiscuous drug-using women. He leads a multicoloured multicultural horde who are doing their best to destroy the Good Way of Life from within and without. He has an impious attitude, like those secular Humanists that good Christians so despise.

Basically, if you don't see this as a propaganda film, you're not very familiar with current American politics. This is ultra-Republican propaganda with a decidedly harmful message - people who oppose the war are criminals and traitors, and loyal Americans would be within their rights to cut those pinko scumbags down on the Senate floor. Frank Miller's black-and-white view of the world works brilliantly in superhero comics, and sat just fine with me in Sin City, which was supposed to be pulpy crime hokum, but when applied to real-world history and given a revisionist twist... ugh.

But enough of the politics, what of the other aspects of the film? Well, there's plenty more Millerisms on display: shocking and exciting violence and objectified women abound. Not one woman appears on screen who doesn't show us her tits at some point. The violence on display is brutal and striking and often hilariously (perhaps unintentionally funny), choreographed by a director whose roots in music videos shows. (Did you know that the Spartans marched to a heavy metal soundtrack?) The directing is often mediocre, trying a little too hard to replicate specific panels on the comic on the screen like Sin City did, so that it ends up looking silly instead of stylish. And there are precisely three bits of scenery in the film: inside the city, the cornfields outside the city, and the beach at Thermopylae.

It all seems secondary to the unappealing message of the film. To be fair to the director and Miller, it is entirely possible that they set out to make a historical movie with no contemporary parallels at all, as they claim. However, if you end up sending out a message which encourages the far right accidentally that's almost as bad as doing it on purpose, and if the film is actually accidental pro-Spartan propaganda that's a failure of the director and scriptwriter. All it would have taken was one little incident to undermine the Spartan view of the world, but by leaving it essentially unchallenged - reinforced, even - by the events of the film, and by bringing the eugenic aspects of Spartan civilisation to the fore, the film effectively turns a blind eye to the Spartan's proto-fascist attitudes, if not actually condoning them.
Themes: TV & Movies, 300

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Comments (go to latest)
Michal at 17:36 on 2011-10-10
Digging this review up because this movie really annoyed me, and the defences of it even more so. The major one is, of course, that Dilios is telling war propaganda to pump up the Spartan/other Greek soldiers before the battle of Plataea.

There are huge problems with that defence.

Namely, why would Dilios completely erase any mention of homosexuality among the Spartans, when there are probably plenty of men boffing each other in the ranks of the audience? Why would he completely leave out mention of Spartan slaves, when the Greeks as a whole weren't exactly against slavery? Why would he depict the Persians as black, when Greeks had no evident care for skin colour? Why would he describe the Persian soldiers as dressed in a stereotypical (Orientalist) Arab fashion? Why would he describe the immortals as looking like goddamn samurai? Or, for all three of those "ways the Persians are depicted" questions, why would he do so when the Greeks there already know what the Persians look like, and would probably be asking "Hey, doesn't Xerxes have a beard?"? Why would he incorrectly represent Spartan government to a group of which a part are already Spartans?

But, of course, we know the answer. Because the presumed audience isn't some band of Greeks with a different world-view from our own. Because the film's presumed audience, and the message it tries to convey, are modern. Snyder continually claims that the film has no relation to the contemporary world, yet the imagery in the film speaks against him. Sure, it's partly Frank Miller's fault, but the film makers actually exaggerated these features instead of downplaying them, and then the film makers acted like they could wipe their hands clean because it was "ancient history". What sickens me is that it's so obviously not.

It's not a critique of Sparta, as some have tried to say, because the film never questions the Spartans' ideologies. It just affirms them, and a whole bunch of ideologies the Spartans never had. It's not "accidentally" condoning anything but cheering those values along at full volume. at 22:56 on 2011-10-11
I think that you are taking it waaay too seriously here.
Janne Kirjasniemi at 23:34 on 2011-10-11
Yeah, I always thought that that whole untrustworthy narrator stuff was just there in a significant way for the purpose of plausible deniability. The details of the comic and movie play a bit too loose with the facts to be even a failed attempt to recreate antiquity for a modern audience. If they ever read Herodotus for research purposes, they(Miller and the movie people) must have promptly ignored the more nuanced perspective to the matter.

As to taking things seriously, I found that 300 pretty much rubs one's face in its misguided glorification and obtuse take on Thermopylae grifted straight from some 19th century justification of European specialness. Usually movies that you don't have to take seriously can be watched without feeling uncomfortable and annoyed, if not straight out angry.
Arthur B at 00:28 on 2011-10-12
As to taking things seriously, I found that 300 pretty much rubs one's face in its misguided glorification and obtuse take on Thermopylae grifted straight from some 19th century justification of European specialness.

Don't forget a healthy dose of Iraq War-supporting under the guise of "supporting our troops". Remember, kids, if a politician is opposed to war, it's because he's in the pay of the enemy. So you should murder him and you'll be hailed a hero. at 02:34 on 2011-10-12
Ok, those are valid points. But, you know what?

a)This is the brainchild of Frank "Goddamn Batman" Miller, hack author extraordinarie. Who, when called on his historical innacuracy, basically said "it looks cool".
b)I decided that Hollywood wasn't getting my money anymore after watching James Cameron's Avatar.

So, whatever.
Robinson L at 03:06 on 2011-10-12
Oh wow. Coincidentally, I reread all three 300 reviews just a few days ago. Ah, lovely.

I saw snatches of this movie when I was in uni several years ago. I missed pretty much all the points you all raised, except one which I think Kyra made: How the bleeding hell do you fail to notice a guy on horseback riding up right behind you? Seriously, how is it fecking possible?
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 03:39 on 2011-10-12
How the bleeding hell do you fail to notice a guy on horseback riding up right behind you? Seriously, how is it fecking possible?

Perhaps it's actually a pegasus?

Failing that, composite armor.
Michal at 05:56 on 2011-10-12
How the bleeding hell do you fail to notice a guy on horseback riding up right behind you? Seriously, how is it fecking possible?

Obviously, he was one of the elite Persian stealth horsemen. You know, the ones with the hoof-mufflers.
Arthur B at 08:31 on 2011-10-12
a)This is the brainchild of Frank "Goddamn Batman" Miller, hack author extraordinarie. Who, when called on his historical innacuracy, basically said "it looks cool".

It's not the historical inaccuracy that gets to me, it's the way the story (inaccuracies and all) seems to be used in the film to promote a particular political agenda.
Wardog at 10:18 on 2011-10-21
So, whatever.

I think the reason we have so many hate-filled 300 articles is that we all went to see it together and came away hating it for a variety of different (if valid) reasons. Julian couldn't bear the historical inaccuracies, Arthur hated the dodgy politics and I just thought it was a lousy movie.

The thing is, I think it's perfectly possibly to create a movie that is blatantly an excuse for ultraviolence, machismo and shallow visual excess and for that movie to still be entertaining.

I mean, I enjoyed Troy for God's sake. I have NO TASTE. I will enjoy anything as long as there are spears and ships in it.

The problem with 300 is that it's just plain crap - and, for many people, offensive along with it.
Michal at 16:48 on 2013-08-27
There is a sequel. I'm quite terrified of how Artemisia of Caria is going to be handled in this one. I'm also puzzled by the fact that Xerxes' ships have beards, but he doesn't.
Arthur B at 16:55 on 2013-08-27
I'm sure it isn't on purpose that it's coming out in time for a nascent war against Syria - let's face it, you could have thrown a war at any point in the past few decades and there'd be nasty Hollywood depictions of people from the Middle East making the rounds - but the coincidence is galling.
Janne Kirjasniemi at 17:24 on 2013-08-27
Huh, it also says that they'll include the Battle of Marathon, Salamis and background for Xerxes into this one. So they basically just chose a naval engagement from the time of the battle of Thermopylai and then just added filler, which eventually became the title of the film. The title is still nonsensical, since the empire was already in place by the time Xerxes ascended and the battle of Marathon was just a sideshow for Darius. There is no way for this to be a good film, although ancient naval battles is an interesting thing. Too bad that they will make a mess of that as well. Or perhaps the empire in question is the Athenian Empire? No.
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