The new ultra-macho war movie, 300, continues to rack up box office victories, leaving the battered and bloodied bodies of liberal critics in its wake. The movie about the brave 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas who fought the Persian Empire of King Xerxes to a standstill for three days at Thermopylae Pass has fully animated audiences nationwide.
But what has been interesting about much of the battle over 300 is not the negative reviews-- that's been going on since Dirty Harry inspired revulsion among the cognoscenti who used the word "fascist" with more unanimity against it than at any time since Mussolini hit the end of the rope. No, what is unusual is the psy-ops aimed at blunting the movie's message, which is uniformly one about freedom v. slavery, rationality v. evil mysticism, and independence v. subordination.
Many of you no doubt saw the Drudge headline the weekend before the film's opening: "BATTLE OF BUSH?: NEW MOVIE RAISES EYEBROWS WITH 'POLITICAL OVERTONE'" This was prompted by a question by an "unnamed reporter" at a press screening who asked director Zack Snyder, "Is George Bush Leonidas or Xerxes?"
The question was so stupid that "unnamed" must have been auditioning for Newsweek —you know, the publication that reported that Korans were being flushed down toilets in a place where they don't have flush toilets (no one asked the question, "How do you flush a thousand page book down a toilet?") and called the courageous Muslim dissident Ayaan Hirsi Ali a "bombthrower" even though she speaks out against people who, uh—THROW BOMBS!
The disgrace of today's topsy-turvy media world is that a reporter can ask whether the heroic Spartan king -- who preaches freedom, resists tyranny while his political foes attempt to undermine him at home, and who sacrifices everything to stand against the forces of barbarism – is more representative of George W. Bush, or Osama bin Laden without being laughed out of the room.
The star of the film, Scotsman Gerard Baker, spilled the beans in his Esquire interview before backtracking wildly to cover himself: "300 was sold to me one way: the Spartans are the US."
The film is explicit in its treatment of the conflict, which is between the West (Greece) and all it represented in 480 B.C. and East and all it represented. Even to hint that Leonidas may be a stand in for the Iraqi terrorists is absurd. First, the Spartans did not conduct sneak attacks on Persian civilians; they faced their odds head on. They weren't terrorists, they were soldiers who were willing to fight whether anyone else in the world joined them, or not. They were led by a king who scorned nuance, refused diplomacy with barbarians, and would rather fight than bow—and who struck the enemy even while his domestic rivals tried to twist the law to make him stop.
Hmmm. Who does THAT sound like?
Besides, I'm pretty sure not many Islamist terrorists have proud independent women like standing up to their rivals, looking them in the eye, and challenging them in the public square with statements like, "Freedom isn't really free at all. It is paid for in the blood of those who fight for it," as the wonderful Lena Headly does as Queen Gorgo. (Of course, the real Spartans probably didn't have such women either, but that's part of the fun of 300, and what is driving liberals nuts.)
While American liberals pretend to be confused about who's who in 300, the Holocaust-denying Iranian government understands full well the gist of the film's message. Javad Shamqadri, art advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told Fars News Agency that the film was an insult to Persian culture and in line with the American "psychological war" against Iran. His response was laughably illiterate, but it put the last nail in the coffin of political discussion about 300.
The effort to ambiguate the politics of 300 fell flat, despite the ubiquitous coverage, even before the film opened. So, another front has been opened. A majority of columns on the 300 published since opening day have taken the tone of Peter Graves' pedophilic pilot in Airplane who asks the young passenger, "So, do you like gladiator movies?"
As the war against JROTC has illustrated, the last thing the American left can stand is having young men exposed to anything that will counter the years of conditioning by public educators that war is inherently immoral and fighting for freedom isn't worth it. So, snarky comments about homoeroticism, and obsession with the stars' abs and pecs have become the focus of commentary about 300. While young adult men are flocking to the theaters and high-schoolers are trying to find someone to buy them a ticket for a show where heroes stand up for home and hearth—and kill thousands of bad guys-- the refrain from the entertainment press is, "Going to this movie is the gay thing to do," followed quickly by, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
This point is not even worth arguing. I'll just leave it at this: There are two choices here—either those columnists have a political agenda, or are revealing a lot about their own proclivities if that's what they get out of 300.
I'm usually the first guy to criticize films that adapt historical characters to modern times, and there is no doubt that the Spartans of 300 are heavily Americanized. But as classicist Victor Davis Hanson (a strong fan of this movie) points out, 300 is bringing Frank Miller's comic book to the screen, not Herodotus.
However, some of the film's lines that strike some as Schwarzenegger-like actually are from Herodotus. Memorable moments like when the Persians threaten to darken the skies with their arrows and the reply comes back from Leonidas' men, "Then we will fight in the shade:" and when the Persians cry out, "Lay down your weapons, Spartans," and are told, "Come and get them, Persians!"
Hanson summarizes the film this way:
"But most importantly, 300 preserves the spirit of the Thermopylae story. The Spartans, quoting lines known from Herodotus and themes from the lyric poets, profess unswerving loyalty to a free Greece. They will never kow-tow to the Persians, preferring to die on their feet than live on their knees.
If critics think that 300 reduces and simplifies the meaning of Thermopylae into freedom versus tyranny, they should reread carefully ancient accounts and then blame Herodotus, Plutarch, and Diodorus — who long ago boasted that Greek freedom was on trial against Persian autocracy, free men in superior fashion dying for their liberty, their enslaved enemies being whipped to enslave others."
If it's good enough for Hanson, who am I to argue?
Last year, the entertainment media limited the success of two fine 9/11 films, the superb United 93, and Oliver Stone's surprisingly good World Trade Center; but not by directly criticizing the movies. Instead by issuing warnings that the even the TRAILERS might be too intense to sit through for many people; they gave the impression to audiences that a couple of inspiring films would just be too grueling.
But moviegoers aren't buying their spin this time—they are buying tickets in numbers that would dwarf the Persian armies. That's gotta be a good thing.
Ignore the side critiques by the New York Times' A.O Scott and all the other girlie men threatened by its message. See 300 for yourself and decide. All but the faint of heart and soul will leave the theater proud to be free men and women and ready to take on the bad guys.