The Bad Guy

300

First off, 300 RULED!!! Let’s move on. Over the past few days I have read a few articles that made some very valid criticisms of the film. Some writers spoke about how the movie was not historically accurate. Then the Art Adviser to the Iranian Prime Minister got involved. He didn’t like the movie because of how it portrayed the Persian Empire, in particular, Xerxes. What was not mentioned, and is the main point here, is that all of those inaccuracies and distortions are what the movie is about.

Let’s start at the beginning of the film. The story is told by the one Spartan who survived the battle of Thermopylae to the larger Spartan army on the eve of battle. The story is a pep talk to rile up the troops and every distortion and inaccuracy works to make the Spartans proud of their heritage and revile the invaders. The story story also is meant to bring Spartan rage over the situation to boil showing all the ways they were stabbed in the back. As a whole, the movie should not be considered a condemnation of the ancient Persian Empire or Hollywood’s attempt to do the Spartans a solid. It should rather be seen as an example of how and why societies create myths to serve their own purposes.

The narrator then speaks of the Ephors who were considered by Spartans to be inbred, corrupt, diseased, and deformed traitors. Why are they characterised so? What was the real resentment? That they demanded the finest Spartan women to be their oracles. Just because tradition and law demanded this be done, the Spartans didn’t have to like it. And after all the sacrifice of the Spartans, the Ephors were still so greedy as to make a deal with the Persians for more gold and more women to defile. And what better way to defy the orders of the Ephors (who ordered the Spartans to not fight) than to declare them corrupt agents of the Persians?

The Queen of Sparta speaks of this in the scene with the Persian messenger. When Leonidas is questioned why a woman is allowed to speak among men she replies “Because only Spartan women give birth to real men.” Think about that one a second. The Ephors took away a vital Spartan commodity: a woman who would have given birth to a great warrior. Of course the Spartan warrior culture would be pissed off by this.

And What of Ephilates, the deformed hunchback? In the movie he betrays Sparta by helping the Persian forces to defeat Leonidas. He is persuaded by decedent pleasures he could never hope to obtain on his own. It has been stated many times that Ephilates was not deformed, but that would do little to illustrate his treachory. In an epic story of heroism, you make your villains look like villains. So he was re-imagined by the narrator as a petty, vengeful monster. He was already an outcast to the Spartans, not worthy to wear the uniform of a Spartan warrior. Best make him into a weak-willed monster who should have been discarded at birth than show him as just a man.

And what of the Persian army and Xerxes? All of them are decedent monsters to the Spartans. The “immortals” (the elite guard of Xerxes) wear frightening masks to hide their even more horrifying faces. And Xerxes is made out to be an effeminate tyrant who seeks to put the whole earth under his control for his sick, sexual pleasures. Sure, as the invader he is already the villain. But to drive the point home the narrator makes him out to be the antithesis of everything Sparta stands for. And yes, the depiction of Xerxes takes many liberties. I’ve seen a few pictures of Xerxes and none portray him as Mr. Clean at the Folsom Street Fair. But by the same token, the Spartans, on the eve of battle would have had a vested interest in picturing the man as a depraved monster. Hence his portrayal.

The end of the movie shows the narrator, once again, among his fellow Spartans about to defeat the Persians. And of course the narrator does not forget to mention that the king told him to leave the battle and rally the troops. We have no way of knowing if he turned tail and ran. But his story makes him look good to the rest of the troops and he lives to fight another day. And after the story they have just heard the army is ready, too. And all they know of their enemy is that they have corrupted parts of their society, killed their king and now they must fight. And after their general has told them such a heroic story they will indeed fight.

So, yes, I agree that the movie is inaccurate to history and unfair to Persians. But a tale of heroism on the eve battle is not about being fair, just like when any myth is perpetuated by any culture. A myth is not about the truth behind it, rather the reactions and emotions it evokes. You don’t rally the troops by telling them “I’m sure the Persians are great guys, but let’s kick their asses anyway.” No, you tell them about the 300 soldiers lead by their king who died fighting a force of millions. You tell the troops about how the enemy wants to corrupt their society and make them slaves. So don’t go to this movie to see history, see it to learn more about myth.

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March 14, 2007 - Posted by | 300, movies, News and politics

2 Comments »

  1. “learn more about myth”. So going to see this film will help you understand that black people and gays are bad. I suppose there’s a myth out there that the disabled don’t contribute to society and are inherently treasonous.

    Comment by Concerned | November 11, 2007 | Reply

  2. see it as mind blowing entertainment. nothing more. only a fool will look for accuracy in this film.

    Comment by jonathan | September 3, 2008 | Reply


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