I’ve never been in therapy, but I can’t imagine anything could be more cathartic than watching King Leonidas and his mighty band of Spartans brutally massacre the thousands of jihadis that descended on them at the epic Battle of Thermopylae in the blockbuster hit 300.
Did I say jihadis? I meant Persians. Sorry, about that. The two are easily confused in light of current events. While watching 300 it’s tempting to mentally substitute the freedom-loving Spartans for dedicated U.S. soldiers and swap the occultist Persians for Islamic insurgents lusting to cash in their martyrdom for 72 virgins.
Leonidas’s men are far outnumbered, but the Spartans butcher the Persian hordes that come after them one by one. The Persians cover their faces and attack the Spartans and only small slits of their eyes show, which makes the Persians look very much like contemporary terrorists in ski masks. The mystical bombs the Persians throw at the Spartans all too well resemble the IED’s terrorists have used to take pieces from our soldiers.
That view may not be politically correct, but it’s exactly why the movie is such a therapeutic pleasure to watch. That is, as long as you aren’t New York Times film critic A.O. Scott. He said, “300 is about as violent as Apocalypto and twice as stupid.”
Unsurprisingly, millions of war weary Americans ignored Scott’s negative review and marched to theaters to cheer the Spartans on to glory on 300.
300’s opening day success is similar to that of Passion of the Christ, which was equally mystifying to the mainstream media. The Spartan thriller earned $70.8 million on its opening weekend, making it the third most profitable R-rated movie opening in movie history. Passion of Christ has had the second most profitable opening. It grossed more than $83 million its first weekend. (The most successful R-rated opening was for The Matrix Reloaded, which brought in $91.7 million on opening weekend.)
Modern-Day Culture War
Immediately after the film’s release Iran, formerly Persia and now ruled by President Ahmadinejad and not the god-king Xerxes, declared war on 300 demonstrating just tolerant their culture has become since the events that inspired 300 occurred.
Iranians believe 300 is a Hollywood propaganda tool designed to stir anti-Iranian sentiments and drum up support for an American war against Iran. The Iranian representative to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization demanded the UN take action against the film in the interest of protecting Iran’s heritage.
Javad Shamghadri, cultural adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the film was manufactured by the United States to “compensate for its wrongdoings in order to provoke American soldiers and warmongers.” Additionally, government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham and four Iranian Members of Parliament have condemned the film.
Iran’s most circulated newspaper, Hamshahri, accused 300 of “serving the policy of the U.S. leadership" and predicted it will "prompt a wave of protest in the world… Iranians living in the U.S. and Europe will not be indifferent about this obvious insult." A March 13 headline of the independent Ayende-No newspaper characterized 300 as a “new effort to slander the Iranian people and civilization before world public opinion at a time of increasing American threats against Iran.”
300 apologists, those who enjoyed the film but seek to alleviate their guilt for taking pleasure in their patriotism, argue the film was never intended to have any modern-day applications, much less offend Iran. They say the film is merely an adaptation of the graphic novel published by Frank Miller in 1998 long before the war in Iraq had started.
After reading the novel and seeing the film though it’s certain that director Zack Snyder took some artistic freedoms to embellish pro-U.S. themes.
Snyder’s patriotic trimmings are best shown in the subplot that he created exclusively for the film that revolves around Queen Gorgo, King Leonidas’s wife. In an interview with MTV.com Snyder said, “By far the biggest deviation from [Miller’s story] was anything with Gorgo after the Spartan soldiers leave. That’s not in the graphic novel at all.”
When Leonidas is uncertain about taking his troops to Thermopylae, it is Queen Gorgo who assures him if the mission is unsuccessful, it would not be in vain. “It’s not a question of what a Spartan citizen should do,” she told him. “Nor a husband, nor a king. Instead, ask yourself my dearest love what should a free man do?” She then sends him off with a firm order: “Come back with your shield or on it.”
While her husband was off fighting the Persians, Queen Gorgo secured a rare opportunity to address Sparta’s prominent Council. She implored the reluctant Council to send reinforcements to her husband’s troops.
In another interview posted on Comics2Film.com Snyder explained, “She [Queen Gorgo] stays in Sparta and tries to rally the troops, you know, go in support of the King to Thermopylae.”
“Freedom is not free” Queen Gorgo said. She begged the Council to, “Send the army for the preservation of liberty. Send it for justice. Send it for law and order. Send it for reason. But, most importantly send our army for hope. Hope that our kings men have not been wasted for the pages of history. That their courage bonds us together, that we are made stronger by their actions and your choices today reflect their bravery.”
She warned the Council if the 300 Spartans don’t head off the Persians at Thermopylae, “chaos and rubble will be left to us.”
The Fight Continues
It doesn’t take a political junkie to notice the glaring similarities between Queen Gorgo’s impassioned plea to support the Spartan troops and the Bush administration’s statements asking Americans to support the war in Iraq.
Outside the theaters, liberals like Dana Stevens of Slate Magazine have sided with the Iranians. In his review of the film he wrote that if 300 “had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside ‘The Eternal Jew’ as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war.”
After losing more than 3,000 soldiers in the last four years to Iraq, maybe it’s time for a “nationalist myth” to combat the media’s half-truths about the war. Surely, 300’s blockbuster success is in no small part due to the anger and frustration our nation has fostered in losing these precious lives in this battle.
Regardless of what the Iranians or movie critics say, there’s no shame in vicariously cheering on the Spartans as they slay invading Iranians, or um, Persians. I consider it a cheap form of therapy. But, the image of the crescent arrow that kills King Leonidas in the final scene lingers in my mind like a dagger, reminding me of the danger Islamo-fascism continues to pose to free men.
It says much about the grimness of reality that such a bloody, gruesome movie is a welcome escape from it. It’s a greater pity the struggle the 300 Spartans died for hasn’t yet been won.