Sometimes a Violent Action Flick is just a Violent Action Flick

I suppose it was inevitable that conservatives and liberals alike would try to spin 300 in the service of their own ideologies.  But let’s be perfectly frank; the Spartans were not a particularly admirable society.  Sparta was very highly regulated, with statutes that would make the heads of  modern-day libertarians explode;  the state intruded into even minor personal grooming issues like beards and hair length.  The Spartan state was ruled by a pair of autocratic, hereditary co-kings, and the senate / council was a gerontocracy of 28 members, all over the age of 60, and all elected for life.  Sparta had a rigid caste system whereupon only descendants of the original inhabitants (the Spartiate) had access to military training and full citizenship.  The others were either lower-class civilians (Perioeci) or state-owned slaves (Helots).  Sparta did not have much commerce and for the most part, did not even have coins; personal luxuries were forbidden.  If a Spartan could not pay his mess hall dues, he got demoted out of the Spartiate caste, with the attendant loss of privileges.

Sparta’s mythic status today stems from her stalwart righteous bellicosity in defence of other, worthier Hellenistic city-states.  But it was not the sort of society that any sensible person living today would want to emulate or re-create.

Which makes it all the more entertaining to see conservative and progressive movie reviewers tie themselves in knots to praise or denigrate this film.  I don’t, incidentally, see 300 as a film with a conservative (or even an anti-progressive) message.  No conservative worth the name would like to see Sparta resurrected on our shores.  Leonidas’s sacrifice is worthy because, flawed as he and his state were, they still committed to bleed and die for places like Athens, natal home of many Western values and philosophies.  And the Athenians, bless their hearts, did not forget it.

It’s also worth remembering that this movie was based on a five-part comic series written nine years ago.  Any resonance with this generation’s war on Islamist extremism is entirely in the eyes of the beholder; Islam, founded in 622 A.D., did not even exist within the timeframe of the movie, set in 480 A.D.

Perhaps my favourite movie criticism levelled by some opponents is that director Zack Snyder is somehow blind to the reactionary politics of his own work.  This presupposes that everything must have an inherent political slant — whether or not the creator intends it — a notion to which I do not subscribe.  Poring over reviews after seeing the film, I Googled a hilarious interview with director Zack Snyder on SuicideGirls (which is, regrettably, NSFW).  He could not be any clearer about his intentions for this film, and he is also quite aware of Sparta’s failings.  These are the most illuminating ‘graphs:

SuicideGirls:  You don’t feel bad when the Spartans die because that’s what they’re meant to do, how do you make people feel sympathy for people who are doing exactly what they want?

Zack Snyder:  Yeah and that’s why, in some ways, we avoided that sentiment or sympathy for the Spartans. It was whether or not they fulfilled the task they set out for. That’s what was at stake. I always said “We’re not Spartans in the movie.”  They throw their kids off cliffs and beat the snot out of them. Whenever I could I tried to remind the audience, “Guess what? You’re not a Spartan. It is fun to be with them and hang out with them. But it ends in death on the battlefield. That’s how that road goes.”

SuicideGirls:  What’s the mindset you want your actors in when you’re doing that scene where this is the last time they’re ever going to intimately touch?

Zack Snyder: I wanted Leonidas and Gorgo to be in crazy love with each other, like stupid love. With shooting a love scene, I don’t know how people do it but it’s awkward [laughs] and weird. I’m like “Okay, throw her like this! Flip her over! Okay, Lena grab him by the face! Kiss him hard!” “Be more naked!” I don’t know what you say to people. It’s embarrassing, but at the same time it is part of the movie. I made this movie for adults. One of the things I think is missing from movies is fun for adults.

SuicideGirls:  Yeah there’s a lot of seriousness.

Zack Snyder:  A lot of seriousness. A lot of “The world is fucked up, this is rated R!” I love movies like Children of Men and Pan’s Labyrinth. Couldn’t f**king love it more. But a f**king a fun ride where a lot of people get killed, good sex and all that doesn’t exist. They want to make the movies PG-13.

SuicideGirls:  They want to get the kids in.

Zack Snyder:  Yeah! It’s for the kids! I’m like “No it’s not for the kids! F**k the kids! I got some shit I want to show you!” I think that’s what I wanted to do with 300. I want adults to go “Yeah! That f**king rocked!” not “Oh, I want to kill myself.”

NOTE: Bold emphasis is mine, and the swearing has also been redacted by me.  It remains in the original SG interview.

Couldn’t agree more.  A fun movie for adults, from a guy who likes seeing violent action movies.  If you’re looking for some kind of political message, you’re looking in the wrong place.

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3 Responses
  1. Alan says:

    It is quite funny that SuicideGirls use the word “F**k”.

  2. Chris Taylor says:

    Actually they leave it all hanging out there. I redacted the swearing and will note that in the post itself.
    This is not a family-oriented blog per se, and I don’t police the comments for similar cussing, but there are some things I feel 18th century Tories ought not to print in the post itself.
    If the internet has taught us anything, it is that you will reach a much wider audience than you ever intended, and the consequences are unpredictable.

  3. Nathan B. says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head there. I happen to be on a “scholarly” listserv, and have been astonished at the lengths to which people have gone to denigrate the film as a product of xenophobic prejudice. Still, while it may be just an action flick, the environment that the movie was made in does allow it to tap into what many people are feeling, I think. Tolkien’s “not-an-allegory” LOTR might be similar that way.