Right-wing propaganda! Extreme violence! Nipples! Homoerotism! All that was fitted into 117 minutes of my life, I went from on to the other so quickly it made my head spin, it really did. I’m talking about the film 300, for those who live under a rock this is a film adapted from the graphic novel dubbed 300 by Frank Miller, which itself was party inspired by another film called 300 Spartans. It is a quasi-historical account of the Battle of Thermopylae which happened in 480 BCE.
The basic outline of the plot is: Persia plans to invade modern Europe to extend its empire, Sparta rejects this and so are forced to battle with the Persian Army; although they can’t because as they cannot interrupt the sacred Carneian festival. Despite this King Leonidas gathers 300 of the finest Spartan warriors and heads off to wage war with the million strong Persian Army. A lot of fighting ensues and the Persians receive a lot of fatalities as do the Spartans who are eventually slaughtered after a climatic ending. Well that’s just brilliant seems like another war epic spouted out of Hollywood, but this film has caused a lot of controversy within Iran, I’m going to explain to you whether this controversy is worth all the bother.
So after buying our tickets and haggling with the cinema staff to let one of my mates in (you see the film is rated for 15 year olds and over, we’re all 14 but we all were allowed but one of my mates wasn’t but thanks to my flattery we all went through), and buying our snacks we entered the cinema. We sat down through the stretched out trailers whilst joking and talking and then the film came on. My immediate thought was…
“Wow, this is amazingly shot; I love the backdrops and directing.”
And this is true; the film in my opinion will definitely pick up the director a Best Director award. It is immaculately shot but that was about the only good point in the film for about the first 30 to 60 minutes. It just dragged on and on, trying to give the film's plot some depth but it failed. The dialogue was boring, the writing was generally poor and as an overall it was just an offense to my rights. I felt violated and dirty. The film incorporates a narrative technique throughout the entire duration of the film which is quite effective; it began with showing the up-bringing of a Spartan boy.
To put it short, Spartan boys for they were born were trained towards one goal, and one goal only; to be a master soldiers. When they were born they were expected and if they were as the film puts it, “puny and weak” they would be thrown in to a little landfill site of dead babies skeletons. Then from the moment they could stand they were taught to fight, they fought against grown men who would savagely beat them, then they were trained further and were encouraged to become empty, cold and feral creatures. The film actually depicts King Leonidas as a child about 5 years of age killing another child.
That’s great, let’s raise our children to not show pain, or any kind of emotion. So after that violation, the other violations of my human rights just kept flooding in. To be honest, I was very close to leaving at one point, it just felt like this movie was made to insult me, I felt like I had wasted £11 to watch a poorly written film. After that little section of the film, we are shown King Leonidas as a grown man and we finally see the image of a Persian. I was not impressed.
What I saw was an image of a Persian I had never seen before, I was used to seeing the quite noble looking, bearded image of a Persian that were engraved into walls. This however was a man with random piercings all over his face and dressed nothing like a Persian and didn’t have a beard. I mean… I can understand most of those, you’re just dressing them up (or down in the case of the Spartans) to sell the movie but what is with the meaningless piercings? Then of course we have the Spartans who are dressed in basically nothing, all they have is a cape and a pair of leather speedos. Which introduces a level of ambiguous homoerotism, which is then denounced when Leonidas refers to a race of Greeks as “boy lovers” which makes the film safe for homophobes.
Then we’re introduced to some mystics which are deformed for no apparent reason, who tell Leonidas that war is not the right choice and would interrupt the sacred Carneian Festival, in a scene with a random girl waving around as if she were high on some kind of hallucinogenic drug whilst showing her nipples. Leonidas heads home confused as he has been refused the right to go to war even though it the right thing to do. Then a random sex scene ensues between Leonidas and his wife, the Queen. Which was quite tastefully done. Then to cut a long and excruciatingly boring story short, the King takes 300 of his finest warriors to war with Persian Army.
Along the way, the Spartans join up with some Thespians, although they don’t really contribute much to the film, they were just there to add some credentials to the accuracy of the historical events but failed there because the Thespians waged war alongside the Spartans but in the film they only fight for about 5 minutes before they are cut down by the Immortals, the Persian Elite. Also in this scene they mess up, as there are only 20 or so Thespians where in reality it was 700.
So after more dragging on, the first of many war scenes ensues. This is where I decided not to leave. Despite the lack of a good storyline and really boring writing, the fight scenes are spectacular. Although the power of the Spartan 300 is really overblown, they are shown as an elite force whilst the Persians are shown as an unorganized, demonic and mutated horde that don’t have a fraction of the strength that the Spartans do. So after the first and second waves of Persian forces are killed the Spartans have not yet had one fatality, then we are introduced to King Xerxes and here is what really degraded this film to a new level of low. King Xerxes is portrayed as an androgynous man, basically a feminine man. He has drawn on eyebrows, eyeliner and lip-gloss on. Along with the womanly nails, and his face was enveloped in countless piercings. Which is ridiculous, plain and simple.
Persians in this film are shown in very absurd ways. They are either androgynous, deformed, homosexual or handicapped. They also showed as a power-hungry virus, enslaving everything in sight. Which in stark contrast to the Spartans who are shown as free and democracy loving people, where in reality the Persians were possibly the most merciful of all empires, they hired and paid people regardless of ethnicity and gender. The Spartans weren’t even a democratic state; they were a military monarchy and collectively owned an entire slave population called the Helots.
Later on the film, a deformed Spartan known as Ephialtes who was earlier rejected to fight in the Spartan army by Leonidas meets with Xerxes to tell him of a passage which they can easily enter Greece from. In this scene we see plenty of lesbian Persian women, all of which are erotically dancing, moving or rubbing themselves against another woman. There’s plenty of nudity in this scene and one lesbian kiss where at first glance the two woman seem fine but they turn and half of their faces are deformed, again for no apparent reason.
Now we go back to the fights, we’ve seen some Immortals who looking amazing with their intimidating masks but when removed underneath they are also mutated and deformed, then we’re introduced to a horde of totally mutated Persian soldiers, which seem to be unable to anything but beat the stuffing out of things and shout. Now we come to the final battle scene. Here Xerxes tells Leonidas to bow down to him and Leonidas, his 300 men and Sparta will be spared. Leonidas does so, but then shouts out a command, a Spartan soldier runs out jumps off his back and impales the nearest Persian soldier with a spear. Leonidas then stands, grabs his spear and launches it at Xerxes but it only manages to scrap his face and make him bleed. Soon after, waves of arrows are launched at the Spartans and that is the end of them. The film then ends a year after that battle and it ends with the beginning of the Battle of Plataea.
Is this controversy warranted? Yes, definitely. My friends even agreed with me that the depiction of the Persians in this film is ridiculous and the whole film seems to woven in ignorance and racism. Persians are shown as mutated and demonic, whilst Spartans are shown as master warriors and elite soldiers. The ideals of both in the film are polar opposites of what they were in real life. The storyline is lacking and the writing was mediocre at best. If not for the amazing directing and backdrops this film would’ve been a complete disaster.