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March 13, 2007

300 Lies

Oh boy. Here's what 300 didn't tell you:

We know little of King Leonidas, so creating a fictitious backstory for him is understandable. Spartan children were, indeed, taken from their mothers and given a martial education called the agoge. They were indeed toughened by beatings and dispatched into the countryside, forced to walk shoeless in winter and sleep uncovered on the ground. But future kings were exempt.

And had Leonidas undergone the agoge, he would have come of age not by slaying a wolf, but by murdering unarmed helots in a rite known as the Crypteia. These helots were the Greeks indigenous to Lakonia and Messenia, reduced to slavery by the tiny fraction of the population enjoying Spartan "freedom." By living off estates worked by helots, the Spartans could afford to be professional soldiers, although really they had no choice: securing a brutal apartheid state is a full-time job, to which end the Ephors were required to ritually declare war on the helots. [...]

300's Persians are ahistorical monsters and freaks. Xerxes is eight feet tall, clad chiefly in body piercings and garishly made up, but not disfigured. No need – it is strongly implied Xerxes is homosexual which, in the moral universe of 300, qualifies him for special freakhood. This is ironic given that pederasty was an obligatory part of a Spartan's education. This was a frequent target of Athenian comedy, wherein the verb "to Spartanize" meant "to bugger." In 300, Greek pederasty is, naturally, Athenian.

It gets worse, but remains fascinating, from there. Via Sanchez

March 13, 2007 in Film | Permalink


I find these sort of complaints somewhat ridiculous. The narrative structure of the movie was a glorified campfire tale being told to buck up Spartan soldiers before going to battle the Persians. It's filled with all sorts of bizarre exaggerations (cave troll, anyone?) and isn't even trying to be 'historical.' It's Frank Miller's interpretation of a mythical story and just oozes with the hyper-stylized machismo found in nearly all his work. By all means, criticize its story, characters, pacing, whatever, but complaining about its historical accuracy is just plain silly to me.

Posted by: drew | Mar 13, 2007 2:15:45 PM

i agree with drew.

this whole thing is hyperbole. it's a comic book, for god's sake! there's no political parallel today, there's no scandal at its inaccuracies...its a fairytale.

also, i hear from a report on another blog (forget which) that one Ezra Klein not only TEXTED during a movie, but texted a phrase rife with the sort if hyper-irony our generation is crippled by (something to the effect of "this movie is hilarious!").

a. cell phone use of any kind in a movie theater is rude. shame on you.
b. our generation's predisposition to find anything and everything that is dramatic (or yes, melodramatic) hilarious is something that annoys me. why can't we enjoy anything sincerely anymore?

plus it looked really cool...

Posted by: b.schac | Mar 13, 2007 2:27:51 PM

our generation's predisposition to find anything and everything that is dramatic (or yes, melodramatic) hilarious is something that annoys me.

Wait -- you're all really boomers? Because I thought that was my generation's problem.

Posted by: nolo | Mar 13, 2007 2:31:28 PM

Nah, that was Catherine who texted, not me. I whispered my jokes.

Meanwhile, I don't see this as movie criticism, it's just historically interesting.

Posted by: Ezra | Mar 13, 2007 2:34:21 PM

frank miller has never been particularly "PC". while "the dark knight returns" is one of my favorite graphic novels ever - it could be argued that it created the genre as we recognize it today - its reactionary subtext is disturbing. but then, so is the reactionary subtext of "conan the barbarian", and i loved both the novel AND the movie. i don't have to agree with the socio-political viewpoint of an artist to dig on her or his art if it strikes a nerve.

if i want to pay a soul-refreshing visit to the left wing echo chamber, i hit the blogs, which are largely and refreshingly free from any attempts at art. thank god for the youtube wars!

Posted by: r@d@r | Mar 13, 2007 2:40:23 PM

Well, although I don't care about historical accuracy,'300' is still a stupid movie laced with terrible politics (including a lame pseudo-feminist bent).

Also, I am tired of that obligatory post-'Gladiator' ululating soundtrack and expressionist "art scenes" of Elysian wheat fields...and how could you not giggle at those abdomens.

I did like the grotesquely rendered Persians, though...that was so over the top it crossed the line into awesome.

Posted by: Adrian | Mar 13, 2007 2:45:49 PM

Minstrel Boy at the Big Brass Blog has a good bad review:

"Even some of the most historic moments were twisted around and lost their meaning.

The most blatant of these was when they totally misrepresented the context of the laconic quip of Diekenes. In the original Heroditus account a Greek scout reports that he has seen the archers of the Persians taking their practice. He says that their arrows blot out the sun. Diekenes says "Good, then we shall have our battle in the shade." It's gallows humor. The Spartans knew they were expected to die. Every one of the Spartan similars that was at Thermopolye was the father of a son. That was what the Spartans did when there wasn't much chance of returning alive. It kept the bloodlines going. In the movie he says it angrily to a Persian envoy. Again, it was a twisting that I couldn't see a dramatic reason for.

The teenagers loved the action and the gore. They loved the bare tits (even cartoon tits can excite these boys) on the oracle. They loved the ass kicking fire of the Spartan women (which was pretty accurate).

I recommend passing on this one. It's really not worth the money. The action is cartoonish and lurid. The script is stupid and factually unsupportable. The part that puzzles me is why they did it at all."

Posted by: litbrit | Mar 13, 2007 2:46:39 PM

It's cartoonish and lurid AND IT HAS NEARLY NAKED BOYS!

Let's not overlook what few pluses there are to it. :)

I agree mostly with what's been said - quibbling over historical accuracy in big budget Hollywood films is a fool's errand - the real test is naming one that doesn't take liberties with a real story. But then, that's also the nature of drama and storytelling. I'm not sure I find the corrected details so fasinating - except to say I'm damn glad I was never a Spartan. :) Well, maybe that whole male initiation thing... but all that and you have to be a soldier? Nah... ;)

Anyway, as I keep saying - as long as one takes it for the perfectly silly, ludicrous film it is, I think it will wind up being a weird campy masterpiece. Of a sort. Or we can protest the cruel mistreatment of 8 foot tall golden Persians, I suppose. :)

Posted by: weboy | Mar 13, 2007 3:29:26 PM

I'm ambivalent about massacres of history in movies. If there's a good enough dramatic reason for departing from the actual events, then it can work just fine, as Minstrel Boy implies. But usually what happens, as MB says happens with 300, is that the story is changed in ways that make it worse, or at least don't improve it. That bugs me; seems to show a lack of due respect and appreciation for what was already something great. Still, if the film works well enough on its own terms, I can sometimes put all that aside. This one isn't to my taste, but it's cleaning up at the box office.

The real historical context is pretty interesting, and the real story (or our best accounts of it) compelling.

The Athenians were also pederasts, of course, so their poking fun at the Spartans was somewhat hypocritical.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 13, 2007 3:36:34 PM

I don't expect Hollywood to be historically accurate (although I don't really understand why they aren't sometimes--the changes from history in many Hollywood movies are arbitrary and don't really make the movies better). Still, since this movie may be many people's only contact with this story--one that is, in its way, an important one in the history of Western civilization--it is only right that "nitpickers" come out of the woodwork and tell us, to the best of their knowledge, what the real story was.

Personally I'd rather see a movie about the conniving Themistocles and the victory at Salamis. But the whole Persian war is interesting, as are the stories of Cyrus, Cambysis, and Darius--not to mention my favorite loser, Croesus, who has got to be one of the great survivors of history (if Herodotus is to be believed).

Posted by: RWB | Mar 13, 2007 4:51:46 PM

Sanpete - I think the historical liberties in 300 are meant - in Miller's intent, anyway - to make the event more stark: this is that David vs. Goliath story (literally, given the way they present Xerxes), ultimately, of a small band of heroes taking on the big horde trying to kill them and enslave their women and children. The details that were dropped would either complicate their "heroic" presence (that whole getting raped as part of your solider training, for instance) or the magnitude of their heroism (the fact that other Greeks were fighting the Persians as well). Given that we're talking about a period of history given to many legends and myths, the liberties seem meant to elevate an already gripping tale to something mythic. I don't know that the reason for taking liberties is unclear: I think the problem is that for all the liberties, you have a glossy physique pictorial with disturbing racial overtones and a discomforting emphasis on violence. But hey, it's selling tickets... isn't that what's important? After a weekend like they just had, I'd bet we're due for more "sword and sandal" flicks, and probably even more creepy body-con emphasis on distorted notions of physical perfection. And if people think 300 is bad, I'd expect what's coming to be even worse.

Posted by: weboy | Mar 13, 2007 4:52:45 PM

This wasn't meant to be a historical telling so why would anyone argue the historical validity of the film? Neither the author, screenwriter, director nor producers ever said this was meant to be historically accurate. Go to your local book store and read through the comic then you'll have a much better understanding of the movie.

Posted by: Fred | Mar 13, 2007 5:01:29 PM

Weboy, you're undoubtedly right that there are dramatic reasons for many of the inaccuracies, and some of them are probably good reasons. I don't expect to see 300, for reasons you and others have mentioned about questionable themes and subtexts and because, like you, I prefer my over-the-top-violence in some more intelligent form.

I don't mind some "sword and sandal" movies, but you're probably right that none good will come in the trail of this one. (I actually love Ben Hur, even if the supposed point of the film is close to smothered by the all-too-successful chariot race/revenge scene.)

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 13, 2007 5:27:18 PM

This puts a whole new spin on the term Spartan accomodations.

I also relish the spectacle of Victor Davis Hanson and the other conservative war porn fans extolling the virtues of a society that was like a NAMBLA convention with a whole lot of weaponry and a bad attitude.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Mar 13, 2007 5:52:15 PM

Not to get all high and mighty (and I have only read the comic and not seen the movie) but it sounds like textbook Orientalism at its finest. 8 ft tall monsters? Professor Said could have written a whole chapter. I have to say while I enjoy Frank Millers artwork his stories are usually pretty bad and misogynistic. If only he would just do the drawings.

Posted by: Eli | Mar 13, 2007 7:09:04 PM

This seems off the mark. It makes sense to tackle, say a movie like Gladiator for it's ahistoricism. Criticizing The 300 on the grounds that the real life Xerxes was not really 9 feet tall and that Leonidas didn't really slay an 800 pound wolf with glowing red eyes, is missing the point by a wide mark.

It's a crap movie because of it's retrogression and hyperjingoism, not because it's a highly stylized adaptation of a comic book rendition of real history.

Posted by: DRR | Mar 13, 2007 8:35:53 PM

Movies should not be required to be historically accurate. Nor should they be politically correct. However, both things are irrelevant to why this movie sucks. it sucks because its just not a well made movie. End of story for me really on that point alone. I need not ever get to what I think about the rest of what is being said about it. How I long for the days of One Flew Over the Cuckkoos Nest and Dog Day Afternoon.

Posted by: akaison | Mar 13, 2007 9:10:47 PM

ps - if you couldn't tell- Iam making fun of the dialogue from the movie

Posted by: akaison | Mar 13, 2007 9:11:38 PM

Klein's tiny left nut leaves nothing unsaid that must be said. "Spartan accomodations" and "nambla convention with a bad attitude" are my favorite comments of the week.


Posted by: aimai | Mar 13, 2007 9:55:32 PM

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Dog Day Afternoon.

akaison, we must be around the same age. I felt that those two movies were masterpieces of cinema then, and even now. (I didn't see 300, so I did not get your dialogue references, sorry.) As to recent stuff, I thought The Constant Gardener was excellent, but it was a rare example of good cinema storytelling in these times. Mostly, it's either predictable, ditchwater-dull stuff or flying glass and fireballs. Of course, I haven't seen Helen Mirren's Queen yet.

Posted by: litbrit | Mar 13, 2007 10:13:37 PM

litbrit, I'm not sure we are the same age. I'm in my 30s so I saw them in the 1990s. 70s Hollywood realism is just one of my benchmark's for filmmaking. I have others and it doesn't have to be highbrow. There are some well made films- certainly the film you mention- the director of that film- his other film City of God is incredible (unfortunate I'm afraid they are going to ruin it with a sequel). And for pure popcorn empty calories kind of film making fun I like Tarantino's film Kill Bill, Vol 1. In part because Uma Thurman vamps it up so well. And there is more, 40 Year Old Virgin was funny. And from the era I mention Cool Hand Luke is also as good. Lord of the Rings is also fun as an actual allegory that doesn't pretend to have anything to do with real history. I am just trying to get at not confusing hype of the moment with whether a movie is any good. I mean I love Heathers but I would never tell anyone its a good movie. Its just a nostalgia thing.

Posted by: akaison | Mar 13, 2007 10:24:59 PM

ps also the best movie of last year Borat was brilliant too.

Posted by: akaison | Mar 13, 2007 10:26:12 PM

What? Historical revisionism? In Hollywood? In Washington maybe, but not Hollywood!

Posted by: Tony | Mar 14, 2007 12:34:58 AM

hell in the general american public likes historical revisionism. anecdotal: I remember talking to a follow african american who happens to be highly religious about how slavery was justified by the slavers based on biblical text (the story of Hamm). He got angry, and said I was making it up. That it didn't happen, and even if that it did happen they weren't really Christians. it was an interesting conversation in which I got to see the power of denial in the middle of while it was happening. this guy is a lawyer- we are taught to be cynical and skeptical as a part of doing our job. heaven help us (part the pun) but I think this is a general element of politics, especially right wing politics today.

Posted by: akaison | Mar 14, 2007 12:48:39 AM

There is another reason I really hated this movie, and it certainly is not based on a fetish for historical purity: Making a big Thermopolae movie now likely procludes the chance of ever getting "gates of fire" made into something. I have no idea if that was ever an idea in hollywood, but I really enjoyed that book and it would have made a far superior movie.

So we got a really bad movie that fills the "space" for a movie on this subject. It seems to me if you are going to make a movie on a great subject matter the least you can do is not stink it up. 300 stunk it up baaaaaaaaad.

Posted by: greg | Mar 14, 2007 1:09:05 AM

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