Last weekend my son and I went to the movies. We saw 300, the new Frank Miller-inspired movie adaptation of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. in which soldiers from an alliance of independent Greek states staved off an invasion by a huge Persian army against overwhelming odds. It is a great piece of history on its own and its military tactics, as well as its cultural significance, is still studied today. The movie, of course, was a fictionalized account centering on the 300 Spartan warriors under King Leonidas.
The look and feel of the film was great. Some folks won’t like the violence, but we’ve all seen worse, I think, and it was pretty stylized, comic-book style. I really liked the musical score too, alternately dense and minimalistic, symphonic and powerfully expressive.
The parallels between the story and our own modern times were inescapable and, surprisingly, wholly politically incorrect by typical Hollywood standards.
King Leonidas was not authorized to go to war and defied the law of the land to do so. The Spartan Senate was decidedly against what seemed to them an improper and provocative preemptive measure, deeming the Persian threat distant and improbable. Yes, the Persian threat. Leonidas took his troops to war anyway, recognizing that the unappeasable Xerxes, the Man-God, sought nothing less than the complete conquest and subjugation of the then Western world. While the King was fighting off the totalitarian, religiously fanatical invaders, there was great turmoil and treachery in the government back home as unscrupulous politicians sought to undermine the war effort abroad in any way possible.
This story of the violent clash between two cultures is an unmistakable analogue to our present world state today. The story ends essentially faithful to the historical account and I’m not interested in quibbling over the details.
What I liked about this movie, beyond its marvelous cinematic qualities and engrossing story was it’s moral clarity. There are good guys bent on doing what is right who would gladly die before seeing it any other way. And there are bad guys with evil designs who need to be encouraged to either go away or, barring that, need to be ushered into the presence of their Maker with as much haste as possible and as much violence as required. It is, at least in part, a movie about the price of freedom.
It’s just not that complicated.