300 and United States foreign policy.
When I first saw Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s “300” graphic novel, it was at the local cineplex and looked mightily impressive up there on the big screen. The ‘super-imposition chroma key technique’ (yeah, I looked it up) which Snyder used to give the film a unique, part animated part real life look was perfectly suited to this over the top tale of excessive bravado and the various battles and combat scenes especially profited from the Director’s ability to be freed from the burden of conventional logic and physical limitations.
It was no classic by any stretch of the imagination. The plot was fairly simple, hard blokes walk off to face much bigger group of hard blokes in order to safeguard their way of life, …Casablanca it ain’t. Snyder also appeared to adopt the Dean Learner from Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place approach to editing, “anything without dialogue was considered for slow motion.” Visually however, it was pretty enjoyable. Snyder’s stylized depiction of ancient warfare was suitably entertaining and fuelled the inner Neanderthal in me.
Recently however, I re-watched 300 on the small screen and saw the film in a slightly less enjoyable light. Much was made of this at the time of the film’s release, so I’m well aware that I’m not the first person to point it out, but the very thinly veiled subtext of this film sees the white freedom-loving West taking on a tyrannical regime of the East and ultimately, though losing the battle, emerging victorious. It’s not that I didn’t see this at all the first time I watched 300, it’s hard not to notice the decidedly unsubtle talk of safeguarding freedom and fighting the just fight, but I was more willing to overlook it the first time round as I was too focused on the crash, bang, wallop visual effects. The first time you see a film like 300, you aren’t too concerned with any subtexts or alternative readings. You just sit back, let it wash over you and gorge yourself on popcorn.
Watching again though, with eyes afresh and perhaps now looking for something more than just a good fight scene, there are clear parallels with modern day American foreign policy in both Iraq and Afghanistan and Snyder appears to be beating the drum in favour of American imperialism. I don’t think this is a case of simply reading too much into a film, the parallels are fairly clear to see. Firstly there is the noticeably un-Greek looking Spartan warriors. The 300 Spartan Warriors are all markedly Anglo/American in appearance, with Gerard Butler looking about as Greek as John Wayne looked like Genghis Khan in The Conqueror (1956) http://bit.ly/fTX6he.
The Persian hoards on the other hand take on a range of foreign guises with baddies drawn from across Africa, the Middle East and even the Orient. They are all shown as either soulless barbarians who rely on their ineffective ‘mysticism’ when they run into trouble, or, particularly in the case of Persian Leader Xerxes himself, effeminate almost androgynous characters who lead debauched and freakish lifestyles. This is in direct contrast to the tall, muscular and honourable Americans/Spartans whose chiseled abs and flowing hair make them the pinnacle of physical specimens.Purely on a visual level, there is little doubt that this story is a battle between the predominately Anglo-Saxon West and the generically evil Asian East.
The much espoused rhetoric of the Spartans is also worryingly similar to that delivered by the proponents of American neo-con foreign policy. At one point the Spartan Queen (who is later abused by McNulty from the Wire, …I bet he was bragging about it to Bunk later that night at the local Taverna), says to a local politician, “freedom isn’t free at all, It comes with the highest of costs. The cost of blood.” If ever there was a line out of the Rumsfeld/Cheney play book of post-bombing raid justifications, it was this one.
The whole film is littered with a distinctly modern day American rhetoric, with the unseen narrator telling us how “free men stood against a tyrant” and the same character, now back on screen, closes the film by saying “this day, we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny, and usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine.” At this point I pictured a cringe worthy blend of George Dubya on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln claiming ‘Mission Accompalished’ and President Thomas J. Whitmore rallying his troops in Independence Day.
Obviously, the Director himself denies any such parallels, and quite rightly points out that he is merely attempting to transpose a pre-existing graphic novel to the big screen and that we can’t impart modern day foreign policy readings onto ancient Greek tales. Yet surely, when Snyder was making the film, he could see the controversy looming on the horizon. He was making a film based on an ancient battle of Good Vs Evil based along race lines and shrouded in uber-nationalistic ideals. I fail to believe that as Snyder went along, he didn’t catch on to the glaring parallels between this and the current ongoing battle between East Vs West based upon socio-political lines, again shrouded in nationalistic ideals.
If he genuinely didn’t mean to nod towards modern day politics, then fair enough. It’s all just an unfortunate coincidence I’m sure and the desire to cash in on American national pride never even crossed Mr. Snyder’s mind.Even if this is the case, watching 300 is still hard to undertake without a strong sense that you are watching an attempt to justify American wars in the middle east in the name of democracy and freedom. As I said at the beginning of this ramble, this argument is not new, it has been made before, but only with my second or third viewing does the full extent of the dubious onscreen message really sink in. Oh, and we haven’t even touched on the distinctly fascist approach the film takes towards racial purity and eugenics or the unashamedly homophobic dialoguse.
Ah well, that’s another film ruined for myself by over-analysis, time to cleanse my film pallet with something good, honest and wholesome, free from nationalistic breast-beating and brazen stereotyping……now where’s that copy of Casablanca? Oh wait.