4.17.2007

The social ramifications of ‘300?'

"WE DIDN'T MEAN TO OFFEND ANYONE!!!"
While I certainly appreciate and welcome the clear homoerotic tone of Matt Click’s review of the movie “300,” and while I certainly will refrain from taking issue with the blatant distortion of historical accuracy of the film (I do not turn to Hollywood for history, after all), still, I am troubled by the reviewer’s clear adoration for the fantastical and bloody mutilation of the Persian army and why he is “thankful” that the cinematography was such that it captured not the chaos and confusion of war, but provided instead a position from which one might comfortably view the “collective dismemberment of the Persian army.”

It is good to take this film for what it is: an adaptation of a comic book treatment of Herodotus’ history of the battle at the pass of Thermopylae.

It is clear that the reviewer understands that. What the reviewer does not understand—or perhaps does not want to address—is that there are social ramifications for depicting “spears skewering Persian after Persian, their swords removing legs, arms and heads by the dozen.” A truly thoughtful treatment of this important film would consider not only the film itself but consideration of the timeliness of its release. The identity, strength and purpose of PLU lies in the fact that students here are unwilling to cater to the status quo of American pop culture, to feed the maw of mediocrity; I find that this review does not reflect PLU’s commitment to “thoughtful inquiry” as a tool of conscience.

Brenda Ihssen,
professor
Several weeks ago, shortly before the Easter holiday, I reviewed “300,” Zack Snyder’s innovative retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae. I praised the film for its stylistic visuals, carefully choreographed action and larger-than-life characters. It was an immensely enjoyable film, one that I had been anticipating for quite some time. I walked out guilt-free and completely satisfied, thinking only of how awesome it all was.

But I opened The Mast (PLU's campus paper) last Friday morning to find a letter from Professor Brenda Ihssen regarding my review. Ihssen made an exceedingly valid and enlightening point concerning the subversive effects of the film. “What the reviewer does not understand—or perhaps does not want to address—is that there are social ramifications for depicting ‘spears skewering Persian after Persian, their swords removing legs, arms and heads by the dozens,’” Ihssen wrote, calling to my attention to the fact that, indeed, in this time of conflict and strife in the Middle East, there are definite and irrefutable consequences.

I pondered the letter over the course of the week, at first tending to my injured ego (“homoerotic tone” – come on, really?) and then seriously considering the reactions such a film might warrant. Can a movie depicting Greeks slaughtering Persians really be apolitical at a time when America is at war in the Middle East? Could Snyder really have crafted a completely neutral action film? For one, wild moment, I almost agreed with you, Professor Ihssen.

But Snyder has persisted that he absolutely did not intend the film as a social statement. Come on, we’re talking about the guy who somehow managed to remake George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” – a film ripe with critical allusions to American commercialism – free of any and all social commentary. “300,” from its days on Frank Miller’s drawing pad to its final hours in the editing room, was always meant to be a simple tale of 300 men facing unfathomable odds. It’s a pseudo-historical, somewhat mythological story of passion and perseverance, a legend many have come to know over the centuries as a hallmark example of standing up for what you believe in.

You see, Professor Ihssen, it’s not that I didn’t understand the social ramifications of such a film, and it’s certainly not that I wished to overlook them – it’s that “300” is a simple action movie; an adaptation of a hyper-stylized and gratuitously violent graphic novel. For me, “300” was merely a kickass action movie. That’s what I went in expecting, and that’s exactly what I received in return.

Would you find subversive social commentary in films like “Die Hard” and “Predator?” Like all art, what you take from the film is a direct result what you bring into it; our reactions depend heavily on our own personal preconceptions.

You may have found these social facets of the film severely prominent, and I can most assuredly respect that. I cannot deny the parallels between the film’s theme and our own troubles times. In return, however, you must be content with the fact that I’m a simple guy who enjoys well-made action flicks. You might call this naivety, or blissful ignorance. Call it what you will, I am but a humble film commentator who knows naught but cinema.

And in the end, why can’t a movie about a bunch of guys kicking the crap out of each other simply be a movie about a bunch of guys kicking the crap out of each other?

9 comments:

  1. Bravo!!!!

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  2. You should really have included the original letter before this or something. It's not long, by any means.

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  3. I was going to include the original letter, but I figured my explanation of the letter was sufficient. I might type it up later and add it.

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  4. Wholeheartedly concur!! Why does everything have to have a meaning? It's ridiculous the way people over analyze something that was meant for pure entertainment.

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  5. I'm curious about how you intend a career in film journalism when you assume that any film can simply be taken in without any sort of social context. And I would argue that 300, Die Hard, and Predator are hardly subversive. Rather, they reinforce and the powers that be and organize our viewing pleasure around the violent dismemberment foreigners. I think Professor Ihssen's reading of the film is the subversive voice, and have to concur with her.

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  6. A valid point, Troadje. But you seem to be forgetting that different films warrant different reactions from different people. What I found to be a simple action film can be something entirely different to other people. Am I supposed to cater my reviews and commentary to anyone who might find the film offensive? No, the commentary is my own experience, my own opinion of the film.

    I can most certainly respect your opinion, but you seem to be misjudging mine.

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  7. I didn't mean to put words in your mouth. My main point is that this film glorifies a foundational myth of Western identity as arising out of a heroic resistance to a violent Asiatic horde, represented by Persians (Iranians). When this film is released as the US appears to be gearing up for war with Iran, and when the proponents of that war trying to portray it as another desperate resistance to an Asiatic threat, this film is not impact-free. It mobilizes our scopophilia (a film criticism term for viewing pleasure and the way we are manipulated into empathizing with certain characters) around the killing of Asians. And it presents that killing as justified and glorious.

    300 is visually stunning, but this only makes it more seductive. It is our job as critics not to be seduced into blindly accepting the ideology of the film (which is what we do when we see it simply as harmless entertainment). We need to keep our heads and critique the film.

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  8. Hey, no problem. You make a very valid point, and I can definitely respect it. My point is, I can most assuredly recognize the film's social repercussions, and I realize that they exist prevalently. However, I didn't feel the need to mention it in my review, simply because these aspects of the film didn't resonate with me as heavily as the visuals, the characters or the action.

    Thanks much for the comments, though. I love me some intelligent film discussion!

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  9. After reading all the comments and especially the reviewing professor’s comments I feel myself disheartened by the plight of the United States of America. As we have become so centered on not offending anyone we have managed to make everyone analyze what they say, what they do and what they see as to how it may or may not be “politically” correct. From not saying the Pledge of Allegiance in class rooms all the way to what underlying political message a movie may or may not be trying to promote, we as people seem to be trying to find something offensive in everything we say or do. I truly dislike those who try to blame movies & television for all our worldly woes. I’m wonder if the professor watched this movie the first time with already preconceived notions as to its intent. I didn’t and I enjoyed the movie very much!

    (better late the never)

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