A Gentleman's War

15-Apr-07 12:21 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 2 comments.

The second film I saw this year was 300 — and I could've done without it.

We all know by now that 300 is a film of the Spartans' stand against the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae in the year 480 BC. But it's unfortunate that many people believe this film to be a direct retelling of that historical event, when it is in fact adapted from Frank Miller's 1998 graphic novel of the same name, which itself is based on the 1962 film The 300 Spartans, which is based on Herodotus' recording of the events. Being so removed from a faithful and accurate recording, and not knowing enough to separate truth from tale, I applied the same skepticism when watching this film that I did when reading The Da Vinci Code (another snorer) and safely accepted nothing as canon.

Fortunately, there wasn't much of substance I needed to filter out. The film's plot is contained wholly within its title; there is nothing surprising or original beyond the fifteen score of soldiers. Sure, there is some diplomatic bureacracy, and the requisite betrayal, but 300 is almost entirely an action flick — and not a very good one. How many different slow-motion thrusts, impalements, and beheadings can we experience in just two hours? That is the only question 300 seeks to resolve. I am not a prude, and I do not fault this film for being too bloody; it wasn't even that. It was simply a two-hour heated battle that left me cold.

But it did give me one thought worth mulling.

At one point in the battle, the Persians launch a massive volley of arrows at the Spartans. King Leonidas, seeing the sky darkened with their missiles, curses his enemies as "cowards" for refusing to meet them face-to-face.

Yet hasn't modern warface evolved to be conducted almost exclusively through such cowardly means? We have practically eliminated melee combat from our violent conflicts, fighting instead from afar. We no longer see the whites of the enemy's eyes; we do not feel his dying breath against our skin. We launch missiles, we fire rifles, we do everything we can to keep our killing and our victims as remote and distant as possible.

Could we as effectively kill each other if we had our enemy, and the consequences of our decisions, in our hands? Has eliminating hand-to-hand combat also eliminated the hand-to-hand shake of peace, truce, consensus?

We watch this film and look at how barbaric and savage the Spartans are — yet they have something we do not. I wonder how many of us consider that these protagonists have earned our respect with not just their cunning, but also their honor.

See also: 300: Truth or Tale?

2 Responses to “A Gentleman's War”

  1. GeneD adds:

    For centuries, elite warriors have claimed that it's more honorable to look one's enemy in the eye while killing him, but those same "noble" warriors have thought little of throwing masses of lower-ranking soldiers at one another using whatever weapons are available, from farming implements to arrows to machine guns.

    Prior to the relative ease of modern firearms, men did collide in fatal lines of massed troops, if not with the slow-motion editing and acrobatic leaps of recent movies such as Troy and 300.

    I don't know if such personal combat restrained humanity's aggressive tendencies any more than our society's sanitization of conflict through long-range missiles, carefully controlled "embedded" journalists, and continuing demonization of "the other."

    To be fair, my own experiences in re-enacting, wargaming, and weapon collecting belie my pacifist ideals, but there is a difference between sanguinary entertainment and real tragedies such as those in the Middle East and this week in Virginia. Let us hope that humanity can still evolve past its taste for violence.

  2. Ken Gagne adds:

    This film is now mocked on RiffTrax. Click for a free sample!.