Friday, October 05, 2007

300 by Zack Snyder

In The Battle of Thermopylae, circa 480 BC, three hundred Spartans, under the leadership of King Leonidas, and a few hundred Greek allies valiantly held back the invading Persian armies (with a combined strength of more than half a million people) for 3 days. Their superhuman herosim inspired the Greek army to rise and defeat the Persian invasion of King Xerxes and his armies.

This film is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. The dialogue and the composition of several scenes is taken directly from the novel.

Visually stunning, with state of the art audio-visual effects, the film is a masterful choreography of war. Seen on a purely sensate level, the artists have created some of the most awe-inspring frames in cinema history. There are a few scenes which stand out as truly remarkable, including the last of King Leonidas, in which his teary but valiant eyes look up to his fate.

The story, though an actual historical event, is the stuff of mythic hero-worship and legend, and the director doesn't hold back in any way. This film is a rendition of hyperbole, and should be enjoyed as such (at least on a first viewing), as children who hear about an ancient battle from a grandfather.


The criticism that the film is racist is indeed valid, and in the current world-stage, such a depiction of white supremacy may fuel an already heightened sense of one's communal and racial identities.

But some say that this is after all a comic book adaptation, and it is perhaps to be enjoyed as such. The response to that is: Even comic books are a part of one's culture, and deconstruction must happen where the audience will be hypnotized by the scale and felicity of the narrative. Because something can be enjoyed at such a visceral level and provoke such a strong adrenaline response, therefore must a critic be extremely calm, balanced and clinical when talking about it. It is no use recommending a film to someone just after one has had a cathartic or heartfelt response to it in the theater. One must wait, let the rush pass, and then reflect on the artistry and the message.

I enjoyed the film immensely, but I also thought about it later. Just as in most films of modern wars, this film also individuates the occidental man, and creates a crowd of the oriental ones. The occidental man is man in the image of God, such art proclaims, whereas the oriental herds are no better than cattle driven by a master. This worldview is partly driven by the fact that the films are primarily for a western audience, most of who have little motivation, or capability, to empathise or understand the mystic and hazy East. Almost all the films made in Hollywood related to the Vietnam war fall in the same trap.

There have been a few films which have depicted the German experience of the First or Second World War, and strangely, one is led to conclude that racial identities are stronger than national ones. Germans are usually not depicted as part of a herd, but as opaque, brave and empathize-able victims of a megalomaniac.

Only recently, a director (Clint Eastwood) has tried to do something different. He has crafted two films about the Battle of Iwo Jima in the second world war. Flags of Our Fathers sees the battle from American eyes, and Letters from Iwo Jima see it from the Japanese ones. I am yet to see both the films, but just the conception of this theme deserves commendation.

The war affects both the invaders and the invaded. And in the Kings' lust for power and revenge, the soldiers on both sides are unwitting pawns, maimed and murdered in the belief that one is serving one's destiny.

Bravery, heroism against insurmountable odds and testosterone-driven aggression appeal at an instinctual level, but is killing, without mercy, something that we, as humans, were "born to do" (as Dilios says in the voice-over)?

Haven't we come far from that primitive stage?

Probably not.

Recommendation: Must-see.

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