300 - Two minutes hate

by Julian Lynch

Julian Lynch joins the "Having A Go At 300" club.
This review has gone through a lot of incarnations. Most of them started turning into history essays. This is Not Fun, and also not really about 300. So fuck it, I'm gonna go through 300 chronologically, because there's no better way to demonstrate what a fucked-up piece of racist, misogynist, eugenicist crap it is.

Oh, and, spoilers ahoy! Although frankly I hope everyone will read this review and so not go to see the movie the people who made it don't need to be encouraged. That said, here we go:

Opening Scene: some Spartans are standing on a cliff, fondling a baby. A voice over tells us that deformed Spartan children are killed shortly after birth so that all Spartans will be healthy, strong warriors. Remember this, 'cos it's going to come up a few times. Cut to how a Spartan boy is taken from his mother at 8 and begins being taught to be a warrior in a particularly brutal way. It's all very manly. Throughout this scene, we see King Leonidas, our main protagonist, growing up. At the climax of the scene, he kills a big, CG wolf with only a pointy stick, because he's a buff, manly man. He's pretty much naked for all these scenes (in fact the entire film), because manly men can show off their powerful, rippling muscles [without fear of questions about their sexuality?]. Incredibly homoerotic? Of course. Remember this too, because we're going to come back to it as well.

There are some things being glossed over in this scene, which I'm going to mention. I'm going to do this with every scene, to show why the choice of what is glossed over indicates some rather sinister things about the film-makers, and Frank Miller. But in any case, the things glossed over in this scene are: Leonidas does not hunt and kill a slave for sport, as was frequently part of the training regime for young Spartan citizens. The fact that the Spartans had slaves at all is entirely ignored in this film. No slaves are shown. No Helots toil in the over-used Ancient History Wheat Fields. The Spartan system of slavery was considered cruel by the ancient Greeks, who themselves were people who would make their waiters wear wooden disks around their neck so they couldn't eat any of the food they were serving; people who thought nothing of selling the entire populations of cities into slavery. These people thought the Spartans took it a bit far, that they should have fewer slaves and be nicer to them. No slaves in 300's Sparta though. Remember THAT too, because again we're going to come back to it.

Scene 2: Some evil looking emissaries ride to Sparta. The guards wear Persian dress. Their leader is a black [African are you sure?] man. They arrive at Sparta. Sparta is full of semi-naked, happy, Aryan Greeks. No slaves. Oh no. The black man has a belt of skulls. Nice. He's there under a flag of truce though, as an ambassador. He chats with Leonidas, asking that Sparta submit to the Great King Xerxes, who is marching on Greece. The Spartan's are upset, asking how they could submit to Xerxes, when even the 'boy-loving intellectuals', the Athenians, are resisting. Then, the Black Man says that all of Spartans men will be killed, and all its women made slaves 'or worse' unless Sparta submits.

Woah there! Did the black man just threaten to rape the white women!! Let's lynch him! So the Spartans do exactly that, throwing him down a well. Phew! The white women are safe now. That was a close one. Good thing they had burly Aryan men in leather underpants to protect them. So what's getting glossed over here? Well, I have to wonder why they chose a sub-Saharan African to be Xerxes messenger. Xerxes didn't rule sub-Saharan Africa. He ruled Egypt, but Egyptians are of a different ethnicity altogether. So why have an African instead of a Persian? Surely the default choice would be the historically accurate one? Unless a black man is more appropriate somehow? More appropriate as an emissary of a tyrant, who threatens our protagonist and suggest he's gonna rape their women? Now why would that be? Also, the Spartans complain that the Persians are all slaves to Xerxes, and that Greeks are lovers of freedom. They can only get away with saying that of course because the movie has excised all the slavery from ancient Sparta. But that's necessary, because this film is going to show us how the freedom loving Aryan democrats escaped conquest by dangerous, degenerate black people.

Scene 3: Leonidas climbs a mountain to speak to the Ephors, who will consult the oracles to see if Sparta will go to war. He has to bribe them, of course. It is revealed that the Ephors pick the prettiest Spartan women to be prophetesses so they can rape them as much as they want. The Ephors are physically deformed. And evil. Looks like the euthanasia we saw in scene one was a good idea, doesn't it! Because physically deformed people are rapists! The Ephors take the oracle, and tell Leonidas he cannot go to war because of a religious festival. Damn. If only these deformed people had been killed at birth, we'd have no rapes and we'd be able to fight the evil Persians. Double damn. Worse still, it turns out they made this decision because they were being bribed with Persian gold, provided by a corrupt Spartan politician, and another black man. Yep, seemingly Xerxes is outsourcing emissary duties to foreign lands. Unless there's some other reason it's a black man, rather than someone from the Persian Empire. Oh, and before we go one, let's point out that during the oracle's prophecy, we see her tits. Not for any reason, other than that it's fun, and the audience need a break from man-nipples for a while. We'll come back to this one.

Ooooh and let's talk about the glossing over here. Let's leave aside the inaccurate portrayal of Spartan government, because actually what they've got wrong isn't all that important, and because no one is really sure what the Ephors actually did. Let's look instead at the racism and misogyny. And the pro-Euthanasia. 'Aint it lovely? Fuckers.

Scene 4: Leonidas sits up at night, wondering what he should do. He has sex with his wife, so we can be sure that despite the dripping homoeroticism, he's not gay. His wife, the only speaking female in the film other than the prophetess, shows us her boobs. Leonidas decides to get around the Ephors' decision by taking 300 followers, and going to Thermopylae, a narrow pass where Persian numbers will count for nothing, and having a big scrap with them. His side-kicks are introduced, including an old friend who's brought his young son on this suicide mission. On the way north, they pick up some non-Spartan, Lesser Greeks. These guys are not very buff. The Spartans mock them for having jobs other than soldiers. Because soldiers are the best type of people, presumably. They also encounter a bunch of people slaughtered by the Persian Immortals: Xerxes' personal guard. The dead include a blond, blue-eyed Aryan boy. Those meanies with their dark skin tones and foreign ways!

Let me take this opportunity to point out that we have now seen the boobs of every speaking female character in this film. We will see the boobs of almost every female extra too. This never serves the plot... just the titillation of the audience. Personally, I'd like the film-makers to show me more respect than that, but maybe I'm unusual.

Scene 5: The Spartans arrive at the pass. Xerxes' army arrives. ANOTHER Black emissary approaches the Spartans. Again he threatens them and their women, so the Spartans cut off his arm. Then, a badly deformed gentleman wearing Spartan costume appears. He talks to Leonidas, and tells him that there is a goat path around the pass that the Persians could use to surround the Spartans. Leonidas sends some of the Lesser Greeks to watch the path. The deformed one, (Hephaestus is his name), says that he was a Spartan whose parents refused to euthanize him at birth, despite his deformities. All he wants is to fight along side the Spartans in battle. Leonidas says he's too deformed to fight, and says he can collect the dead and carry water if he likes. Hephaestus unsurprisingly takes offence, and leaves.

OK, things here to point out. Well, the big one is Hephaestus. He's a historical figure, but was not a deformed Spartan, but instead a local goatherd. He never spoke to Leonidas that anyone knows of. Watch this, because we're going to come back to it later. Oh, and the emissary was a black African again. What-a-fucking-surprise.

Scene 6: The Persians attack the Spartans, and get pasted. The Spartans, heroes that they are, kill all the wounded as they beg for mercy. And exchange quips. Lovely fellows these Spartans. At this point, Xerxes himself comes forward to have discussions with Leonidas. He offers Leonidas lots of stuff to surrender. He touches Leonidas in a sexualized, effeminate way, suggesting he may be a homosexual. Obviously, this makes him much more evil. Leonidas tells him to piss off.

Let's take an aside here to consider the presentation of Xerxes. First of all, let's assume that a historical Xerxes would be a default starting point in the design process for Miller et al. He'd be a Persian - that is to say, of a similar ethnicity to modern Iranians. He would wear elaborate robes, a head-dress, and would have a mighty, curled beard. What is 300's Xerxes like? Well, he's not a Persian. He looks to be of North African descent, and he dresses in a very African manner, with gold chains and anklets and so on. He wears almost no clothes. He has no beard, and a shaved head. He behaves in an exaggeratedly effeminate manner. Why did the film- makers and Miller decide to deviate from the default position? Because he's a bad guy of course, which must mean Miller and the film- makers wanted to give him the characteristics of "a bad guy". They must have thought that a historical Xerxes wouldn't have looked bad enough. So they made him more African. More homosexual. Words cannot express my contempt.

Scene 7: Back in Sparta, the evil politician, bribed with Persian gold, is preventing the Spartan army from marching. Leonidas' wife is trying to change this. A friendly politician says that if she whores herself out to the evil politician, she might get him on-side. Because women can only exercise power through their sexuality, natch. Still no Helots in evidence.

On a glossing note, we should observe that no other Greek city state is really shown in this film, especially as regards decisions about forming an alliance to resist the Persians. This is because Miller and the film-makers need to show their heroes, the Spartans, in the best light they can, supporting freedom and democracy. Of course, Sparta was one of the least free or democratic states in Greece, and was far from alone in resisting the Persians. The more free, more democratic Athenians played a more important role than the Spartans. But the Athenians are intellectuals and boy lovers. Not manly men of war and action. Who we must exalt. For they are the ubermench who should rule, and must resist the evil dark-skinned folks. Thinking, or not being heterosexual is Bad. *sigh*

Scene 8. Xerxes send his Immortals to fight the Spartans. The Immortals wear masks, but when their masks are knocked off, it's revealed that they are orcs. I wish I was shitting you, but they're ORCS. They have fangs and glowing eyes. The Spartans beat them, so a variety of other exotic foes attack them. In the course of the fight, the son of Leonidas' side-kick gets his head chopped off, so his dad frenzies and kills lots of Persians.

Note that, AGAIN, deformed people are shown to be evil monsters. Good thing the Spartan euthanize such people at birth, eh!

Scene 9: Hephaestus goes to speak to Xerxes. He's willing to show him the goat path that will let him surround the Spartans. Xerxes offers him hot sex with lots of women in return. We see Xerxes' harem, which includes lots of naked boobies. There is also a deformed chick, which should get our hackles rising. Because deformity indicates evil, as we've known since the Middle Ages! Like when the Black Death struck down only the morally impure people. Ancient wisdom is indeed the best.

Scene 10: Back in Sparta. Leonidas wife whores herself out to the Bad Politician so he'll send aid to her husband. But he's a liar, and makes a fool of her in the council chamber. So she stabs him, proving again that the best way to solve a political impasse is with sudden violence, and that murder is generally OK, providing you're killing a bad man. For some reason, the Bad Politician was carrying lots of gold with Xerxes face stamped on it. Where he was going to spend this incriminating evidence, I have no idea. Why Xerxes couldn't have given him unmarked bullion, I have no idea. Why this scene, or Leonidas' wife are in the movie at all, I have no idea.

Scene 11: Back to the battle. The Spartans are surrounded. The lesser Greeks have run away. Leonidas has sent back one of his Spartans so he can tell the other Spartans about their sacrifice, and rouse them to fight the Persians. Xerxes sends an emissary (about the only Iranian-looking Persian in the whole movie) to offer them a chance to surrender. Leonidas kills him and throws his spear at Xerxes, but misses. All the Spartans are shot down with arrows, thus proving something or other. We are told by means of a short epilogue that the Spartans later rallied the Greeks to defeat the Persians at the battle of Plataea. No mention of the important contribution of Athens or other Greek states is made. The fact that the emissaries Leonidas sent back were shunned by the Spartans as cowards and committed suicide within a year is ignored.

So, that's the movie. Did you spot the racism? Did you spot that every woman in the film was a sex object? Did you spot that all the deformed people were evil, and that the film tells us that if the Spartans had only successfully euthanized ALL the deformed babies, they'd have won at Thermopylae?

All of which is, frankly, sickening. If the movie were well shot or acted, I might have forgiven it to some extent, but it was neither. I suppose the film-makers might make the excuse that they were just authentically converting Miller's work to the big screen. Except that they didn't have to do that. They could have not made the movie. But they did. And it's as morally repulsive as it is an artistic void.

The film's worst crime is its approach to history though. If it whitewashed the Spartans completely, I'd have been fine. Most people would never know what the Spartans were really like, and lesson taken away would have been that whatever modern values they were spuriously given were good ones. But Miller and the film-makers don't do that. They keep the most fascistic values of the Spartans, and then actually present them as good. They present euthanasia and racism as the foundation of freedom and democracy. They paint people of darker skins as being slavish and degenerate, even as they ignore the Spartans own massive use of slaves. They excise from the history any Greeks whose opinions were less fascistic than the Spartans', or present them as weaklings and cowards. The film displays massive, repressed homosexuality, yet portrays effeminacy and actual homosexuality as a symbol of moral degradation and decay. They show all deformed people as evil and corrupt, and advocate their murder at birth. The only thing that should have been murdered at birth is this travesty of a film. I pray it bankrupts its makers, so they can never again visit on us such filth.
Themes: TV & Movies, 300

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Comments (go to latest)
Wardog at 16:51 on 2007-03-29
This is *fascinating* - I mean the article itself is great but also there's the fact that three of us went away and independently reviewed this movie and yet all came out with differing complaints. That says something deep. Or the movie was very very bad.
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