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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

300 review

The girlfriend and I went to see “300” Saturday night. I had been looking forward to seeing the movie for many months as I am quite the fan of Frank Miller, the comic book artist/writer who created the graphic novel that the movie is based on. I was also looking forward to the movie as, I hoped, a piece of great libertarian art. 300, of course, is a fictional account of the Battle of Thermopylae, where King Leonidas defends ancient Greece against the imperial aims of Xerxes and his Persian hordes. As a pure action movie, I give it a big “thumbs up”. It has a great style to it and is a wonderful visual feast. As a piece of libertarian art, it doesn’t fare so well. While the basic premise of an independent city-state engaging in a defensive war against an aggressive leviathan is sound, once one gets into the details, it starts to falter.

The film has three basic problems. First and foremost is that it glorifies war, death and service to the state. And in the case of Sparta, it’s a pretty evil state as well. The movie doesn’t hide the fact that imperfectly born children are left to die in the wilderness and that at the age of seven, they are taken from their parents and forced to undergo military training until adulthood. But even with that nastiness, the evil nature of Sparta is underplayed. The required rite of passage for young men, not seen in the movie, is to kill an innocent slave! Thus, each of the "noble" Spartan warriors seen in the movie, is, in fact, a confirmed murderer!

The second problem is the the deeply distorted picture painted of Athens. In reality, it was Athens that led the call to fend off the Persian army and who contacted Sparta to form an alliance. In the movie, Athenians are depicted as dithering philosophers and "boy-lovers". The reality is that the Spartans would have failed miserably without the support of the Athenian navy. In the movie, the Persian navy is depicted as being wiped out by weather, not by Greek ships led by Athenian commander Themistocles. Indeed, it is Themistocles who later causes the Persian forces to withdraw. Where's his movie?

The last problem is in the larger context of the war. The Persian attack is depicted solely as imperial expansion, but there is good reason to believe that Xerxes, the Persian King is motivated, not by empire, but by revenge. Decades earlier, the Athenians had supported the Ionian revolt in Persia and sacked the city of Sardis, burning it to the ground. If only Athens had pursued a non-interventionist foreign policy, it could have avoided completely the Battle of Thermopylae and the earlier battle at Marathon as well!

Naturally, simplifications of real events are necessary in any movie that aims to describe such a sweeping event in history, but all the simplifications in this movie favor the militaristic Spartans.

I know some libertarians see this as a great story about freedom, but I just can’t recommend it as a truly pro-freedom movie.

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