300:The Aesthetics, The Politics, The Ethics…..

Got around to seeing 300 last week. A decent-enough film on a superficial level – I enjoyed it, but it can’t hold a candle to Sin City (another Miller adaptation) or Dawn of the Dead 2004 (Zack Snyder‘s previous work).


Two flaws gaped me straight in the face in regard to the overall execution. First thing – the visuals came off as overdone, too try-hard; whilst I certainly love that Sin City approach to aesthetics, I saw it as laughably overdone at some points in the movie (particularly that sex scene which at the same time managed to be arousing). The cynic in me suspects that certain parts got slow-moed in order to stretch out the running time and paper over the plot and chara deficiencies, which brings me to my second point – the thinness of the characterisation. Now, what little of it Snyder and Johnstad saw fit to provide worked well enough – lionhearted Leonidas, and sinister Xerxes leading their troops into battle – yet the film’s players never really rose beyond this Saturday Morning cartoon level of definition.

Perhaps, as many suspect, with (not-so) good reason…..


Many a person, including wisdomdancer, made mention of this film being nowt more than a slab of thinly-veiled, Neo-Con, doublethink propaganda with pretensions toward “historical accuracy”; after watching the film I can certainly see how they could have arrived at the conclusion……

….however, I have two alternate views on how the flick could be read…..

1) Republican (Sparta) vs Democrat (Persia) satire. Highly unlikely, but a mildly entertaining possibility nevertheless, the director could be having a laugh at the expense of both parties and the values they (claim to) represent. Highly regimented, repressed,(off-camera) pederastic Sparta representing “freedom” and mocking Athenian “boy-lovers”? Persia embracing diversity and “deviant” lifestyles in a garish, comic-book fashion? Seen these caricatures painted anywhere before?

2) East (the Spartans) vs West (the Persians). Often it’s the nations (relatively) bound and reverent to theocracy who view the (relatively) free nations as dens of decadence and rapacious imperialism (ala Persia in the film). Sparta the rogue nation eager to assert self-determination, ups the barricades and marshals the troops in the face of freewheeling, foreign influence. Persia, viewing itself as the culturally-fitter superpower, fights to overwrite the rigidity and antiquity of Sparta, increasing its hegemonic hold on the world.

In short, it may well be propaganda Jim, but not as first thought….


All this said, the flick proved effective at inspiring a ethical mini-debate between me and the friend I saw it with.

“He was a cunt, ” he said eloquently

“Who’s that then? ” I enquired.

“That hunchback!”

The hunchback in question being the deformed Ephialtes, whose parents fled to prevent him falling victim to Sparta’s post-natal eugenics plan; scorned as a monster and rejected by his fellow Spartans, he hardly sees much call to refuse the Persians when they make him a better offer, offer him a better shot at life.

“He could have simply not got involved,” Al said when I pointed out the benefits of his betrayal.

“But why be loyal to those who don’t value you?” I asked.

On one level (the level I endorsed) Eph’s betrayal seemed like the best thing to do for himself…..

…..however (in the film at least) Leonidas himself treated Ephialtes with respect, even when his troops failed to do so; his reasons for refusing Eph’s aid (the latter’s inability to lift a shield) made perfect sense to me and did not spring from a knee-jerk prejudice.

So to those of you who still read I ask this, out of simple curiosity: what would you do in Eph’s shoes (or should that be sandals)?


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12 Responses to 300:The Aesthetics, The Politics, The Ethics…..

  1. cearrdorn says:

    I really like what the king tells him at the end. “I hope you live forever.”
    In Spartan terms he just told him to die without honor.

  2. Clearly Ephialtes regretted his decision, which was rash. Were I him, I would rather clear the field of wounded or help keep guard on that goat path than betray a king that had treated me as such.
    Overall this movie goes down as one of my favorites, partially because I was on the “Spartans are awesome, re: Thermopylae” bandwagon since I first learned about it as a wee lad. If I ever get around to it, I may write about exactly what the politico, bleeding heart, vegan-hippie, psycho-egalitarian cunts can do with their desperate scrabble at the walls of reason in regard to the critique of this film…
    But all things in due course.

  3. wisdomdancer says:

    Another misrepresentation in the movie to add: my understanding is that the architect of the overall defensive strategy was probably Themistocles, who used the time the Spartans and Thespians bought to better prepare for the turning-point naval victory at Salamis, and had been instrumental in convincing the Athenians to build their navy in the first place. One of those effete Athenians, in other words, was the real reason Greece defeated Persia. The Spartans wanted to hide in the Peleponnese, where the Persian navy could have just dropped off the Persian army, if the navy was not checked.
    Another note: by all accounts the Persians barely cared about Sparta itself, compared to Athens. Athens had started this by pissing Persia off by supporting revolts against them, and then defeated the Persian army sent against them at Marathon. Revenge against Athens for Marathon was finally accomplished when it was burned to the ground, after Thermopylae. Sparta was by no means the central focus of the attack, although presumably all of Greece might eventually have been made a nominal part of the Empire without Salamis making it impossible to supply the troops.
    Sparta probably cared as much as they did about the invasion not because they would be enslaved (the Persians were relatively speaking very benevolent hands-off rulers who generally let locals have their way) but because the Persians would no doubt have freed the Spartans’ own slave class, the helots, made the perioikoi ruled by Sparta into independent poleis, and ended the Spartans’ cruel, hyper-militarist way of life devoted entirely to eugenics and perfection of their heavy infantry (much to the fear of all their neighbors).

    • Re: history
      It’s a movie based on a comic based on a battle that historians still bicker over. It was never billed as a historically accurate portrayal of events by ANY stretch of the imagination.
      Because obviously super rhinoceroses, Lord of the Rings style elephant archer towers, and 10 foot tall troll-man beasts took part in the fight.
      In addition, Snyder said multiple times that he wanted a visually stunning, action-packed thrill ride of a movie. He wasn’t out to make political statements.

  4. ubermensch says:

    A: so did you hear about the new lord of the rings movie?
    B: ????
    A: its called 300
    truth be told tho, the “propaganda speeches” of the movie struck me as more randian than neocon in nature. I kept on thinknig to myself “someone really wants to be john galt”

  5. you’ve really inspired me to see this movie now, your critique is interesting and now i’m intrigued to see how what you said plays out.
    …that, and the chick in me wants to see all the pretty costumes! haha XD

  6. bastardzero says:

    I saw it as a betrayal of a King who offers respect and dignity for a King who offers prizes for slavery. It was in line with the theme of freedom being more valuable than gold. I think the movie may’ve worked better at forty minutes. The book itself is no longer than a Sin City story, but it was drawn out to make a feature. In being a feature, as much as I love it, it does feel a little empty, less dense with meaning. It’s not that the movie is superficial, it’s just not meaningful enough to justify ninety minutes. If you cut out the fat, I think it’d be just as good as Sin City.

  7. phyrbyrd says:

    I have a friend who says that 300 as a propaganda movie is there to reinforce the idea that it’s OK for white people to kill black people.

  8. psuedoid says:

    A facade of a movie
    The dialog was, besides the cool few seconds shown in previews and a couple jokes, wretched. The whole “lets try to make it epic physically and intellectually to make it more legit” is getting old since it’s just the same old cliches again and again in every movie like this. Gladiator, I liked a lot. So many movies try way too hard to spin their own worldviews in a couple hours, and this one shouldn’t have even tried. Very weak movie in that regard…about as mature as an intelligent 15 year old in terms of ideals and the like. I found that the limited setting of the movie made it rather stagnant. Overall the movie was trying way too fucking hard! What this movie had for it were the battles and how they were portrayed. They kicked ass. Was that worth 9 bucks, a bunch of cheesy dialog, and seriously underdeveloped characters that made me feel more amused than sympathetic? Only if there’s very little else to do. The trailers for the movie fired me up way more than the movie itself. This movie is all about enjoying the action and relaxing the brain as much as possible, preferably to a coma-like state. I wish they had dropped the nonsense and made it more of what it should have been, a pure warrior movie.

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