Fred and I went to see the film '300' on Saturday night and ended up almost walking out half way through, so terrible was the film. It became very quickly one long sequence or a repeat of the same sequence of fighting whereby 300 Spartans would be killing hundreds and hundreds of Persians without one of them even getting a scratch. In this respect it reminded me of the film 'Black Hawk Down' where the Americans went on a killing rampage shooting hundreds of Somalis, who would drop like flies. We were then asked to be concerned with and have sympathy with the handful of Americans who became trapped in Mogadishu and died. Why should we? What is so important about an American life over a Somali who is defending his country from foreign invasion and interference?
Anyway, back to Sparta, we were being asked to buy into the Spartan ideals of freedom and liberty against the dark brooding masses of Persians and feel sympathy when the son of one of the commanders is beheaded in battle.
Well, I have read my 'History of Western Philosophy' by Bertrand Russell where he devotes ten pages or so to describing Spartan society and political organisation. What is interesting is that almost all the elements of Spartan society described by Russell found their way into the film, albeit in a fictionalised way.
However, there was one major omission and that was to do with the fact that the aristocracy lived off the back of their serfs, called helots. They owned such serfs and could trade them. They also declared war on their serfs, the helots, so that they could legally kill them if they had any dispute with them.
One of the main taunts against the Persians in the film was that they were slave drivers. Well, maybe the Persians sent their slaves to war, in their armies (I am not sure) but it was hypocrisy of the highest order for the Spartans to be claiming to be fighting for this freedom and liberty.
What was strange in the film was that they showed very clearly what a militaristic society, Sparta was, showing how weak babies were killed at birth, how boys were put into schools to learn how to fight, to put up with pain and hardships and generally get tough and become highly skilled and well disciplined soldiers. (What the film did not show was that girls received a similar education and would perform sports with the boys, both sexes being naked - modern sensibilities being such that scenes like these could not be filmed). Anyway, the point is, even within the film it was clear to see that Spartan society was a militaristic, totalitarian society where individual needs were subjugated to that of the state, whereby the battle cries for SPARTA!!!, for freedom and for liberty ringed pretty hollow.
The film not only portrayed the Persians in a negative light but also the Greeks, the Arcadians, who were taunted as being boy-lovers and were shown as being weak, cowardly and unprofessional. Well, it was the Greeks who eventually beat the Persians (albeit with Spartan help) ten years after the battle of Thermopylae. And, it sems that the Spartans were also not averse to homsoexual love and relations themselves. However, in the context of the film, there was this easy association of homosexuality to weakness, which was quite distateful.
However, historical quibbles aside, the film failed because it lacked any real sense of drama and became very easily and quickly an exercise in digitally recreating bloody battle scenes, which despite the expertise involved, were very boring.