My initial reaction to the movie was that I want to read ‘Persian Fire‘ again. I was surprised at the level of historical accuracy, given that this is Hollywood.
Am I slow or is it simply that I’m not wired up that way? It was an hour and a half into watching before I wondered if there was meant to be an homo-erotic element to the film? Slow? Or a case of “to the pure all things are pure”? Surely, never has there been such a gathering of ‘iron pumpers’ and oiled at that! For portraying the 300 Spartans, how did they get so many people with such similar physiques? Was the cast really made up of a load of ‘gym haunters’ or were they digitally altered? Or perhaps they were the real actors heads on other people’s bodies. I thought the Spartans fought naked, unsurprisingly they were not portrayed like that in the film, they all very tastefully sported leather ‘Y fronts’.
While the historical accounts tell us of an amazing military feat by so few, I was wondering, before I saw ‘300’, how they would manage to make a story out it. The use of the romantic link between Leonidas and his wife, between the battlefield and the home, was a clever one. Though in such a strange brutalising society I am not convinced such romanticism existed. After all, this was a society where boys were taken away from their parents and entrusted to ‘boy-herders’ to be turned into warriors, and where girls were similarly treated that they might produce more warriors. A whole society dedicated to breeding fighters, where love was scorned.
The Spartans had the first state run universal education system
The Spartans had the first state run universal education system in the world. But this was not for the personal development of the individual, this was designed to indoctrinate and shape minds to conformity. Yet, as I write this, I wonder if it is so different in this respect today.
It was generally agreed then to be “a terrible thing to fight the Spartans”. Other peoples, towns and cities would practice the business of peace with weapons in store for the dreaded and avoided times of war and threat. Yet the Spartans played, drilled and practised warfare constantly. A society in which every citizen was tracked and supervised by their neighbour. Like gaolers each generation watched the next. The weak were discarded. The first eugenic society. Unfortunate that in the film the perfect physical specimens are glorious and moral, while the man with the gross physical deformity is deformed morally too.
No sense of joy in the lives of the Spartans
I get no sense of joy in the lives of the Spartans compared to God’s plan for us as declared by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:10) “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” And Jesus’ declaration, He came that we might have life and life in all its fullness (John 10:10).
If I were to choose, I would choose the empire of Xerxes as far more civilized and cultured. I think of the Spartans as the heroes of the story but not as the goodies or the Persians as the baddies.
Held up as admirable to us was the ideal of the loss of individualism in the cause of the unit, the group. Interesting that it can be portrayed in film, hoped to be a popular and successful one, in an age (in the West at least) when the demands of the group counts for little next to the wants and cravings of the individual.
The Spartans used the hopla, a circular shield a metre in diameter. The hoplon holders were known as ‘hoplites’. Tom Holland tells us,
“A line of hoplon – holders – ‘hoplites’ – advancing in a phalanx, protected as, perhaps, by bronze helmets and cuirasses, and bristling with spears, was potentially a devastating offensive weapon; and the Spartans, in the course of the Messenian War, had been given every opportunity to experiment with this radical and lethal new form of warfare. Yet it is not easily waged. A particular breed of man was required to make it succeed. Every hoplon, if it were to serve its purpose, had to offer protection to its neighbour as well as its holder – so that the line of a phalanx, as it advanced towards an enemy, risked being cut to pieces on any show of social division.
‘Keep together,’ exhorted a Spartan battle hymn, ‘hold the line, do not give in to alarm, or disgraceful rout.‘” (P70 Persian Fire)
The New Testament also teaches us of the preciousness of each single human life
For a believer the unit, the group, is an important idea whether in celebrating the ‘body’ by sharing bread and wine, or being exhorted to use our gifts as part of Christ’s ‘body’. Believers, plural, are likened by the Apostle Peter to a building of whom the individual is a single stone or brick. But the New Testament also teaches us of the preciousness of each single human life, being the recipient of God’s love and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The individual may be called upon to play their part in making the world a better place, to find their place in the ‘body’, yet it is as an individual, all alone, that each bows to Jesus in repentance and with the request for His forgiveness and salvation.
Nothing glorious about death
As a Christian I think there is nothing glorious about death yet this is a film where death is gloried. If it were not for Jesus, death would certainly have a bitter sting (1 Corinthians 15:55) and we would grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). In an age of easy death, in the first century of the Roman Empire, the Christan message of hope was grabbed with hungry hands, as heaven was opened and eternity was offered to those who had been heading for a lost eternity.
Frank Miller wrote and illustrated the graphic novel ‘300’, he’s like the Quentin Tarantino of comic books. This is the third of his graphic novels to be turned into a feature film. The first, ‘Elektra’ had none of the glossy production of 300 and has only been rated 5.0 on imdb. The second, ‘Sin City’, like 300, was shot almost entirely on Digital Backlot. Actors stand in front of Green Screens to give us the impression they are in Neo-Noir Basin City or battling the Persians in the Hot Gates. Only one scene in 300, one in which horses travel across countryside, was shot outdoors. These films have lengthy Post Production periods where colours are manipulated, light and dark contrasts increased, desaturated and tinted to create beautiful illusions.
300 was shot frame by frame as it appears in the novel except for the sub plot involving Leonidas’ wife, where she campaigns for reinforcements on his behalf while he is off battling. It was Dawn of the Dead Director Zack Snyder who wanted to include this, I suppose it allows the film to cover a few more bases and therefore appeal to a wider audience. He enjoyed directing 300 so much that his next film is also an adaption of a graphic novel, Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen‘. And he must have got on well with Leonidas actor, scotsman Gerard Butler as he is rumoured to have a leading role in Watchmen. Roll on 2008.