300 Movie Review


Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Michael Gordon
Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Vincent Regan, David Wenham

Yes, I know damn good and well this movie came out three years ago. I think I can do it better justice now.

300 has taken a lot of abuse. I think war porn is my favorite epithet applied to the movie directed by Zack Snyder. There are many just criticisms that can be leveled against the movie, but I think that most critics miss the point. Hell, it is possible that even Frank Miller misses the point. Nonetheless, the Battle of Thermopylae has loomed large in the Western imagination for 2500 years, so a modern reimagination is not unexpected. The least fair complaint is the dialogue of the movie. Part of the consensus stated on Rotten Tomatoes, "full of...ready-made movie quotes," is at best ignorant. All of the seemingly worst lines from the movie are actually contained in the most ancient historical source. For example, the boast of the Spartan Dieneces that if the Persian army was capable of shooting so many arrows that the sun would darken, "...we shall have our fight in the shade," is from Herodotus.

So what is the point? The point of the movie is to make a modern man feel what a Greek man would feel, a resident of Thebes or Athens, or even Sparta, in 480 BC. The function of fiction is to make arguments by means of appealing to the emotions, and thereby to affect the world when reason alone is insufficient to the task. The intended audience is the average modern man, so I think the comic book/comic book movie is pretty much the perfect demotic medium for this. I say man, and for once I actually mean men, because this story is really intended for men, because it is meant to instruct us in one of our proper tasks.

The Battle of Thermopylae teaches us that a man fights mostly nobly for his wife and his children, and his comrades, and for the land that he loves. This story would have less resonance in the West [and Christian parts of the East such as Russia, where Leonid is still a popular name], were it not firmly in accord with Christian doctrine: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

The culture of the West is founded upon three great cities: Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome. Athens can be understood to include that that was meritorious in Greece, which must surely include the stand of the 300 at the Hot Gates. This is so even though all great cities were built upon a foundation of sand. Sparta was a cruel place, built by the sweat of slaves, unforgiving and ruthless. Rome and Jerusalem were no better, yet some places and some regimes really are worth defending, even though all merely human things fall short.

The fundamental question a man [or woman in this context] must ask himself [or herself], is do I love pleasure, or wealth, or even life itself, more than the good of my brethren? If the time came that I were forced to choose, what choice would I make?

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by
that here, obedient to their law, we lie.

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