Tuesday, 13 March 2007


Why, you ask, would a pacifist even want to go see a film like 300 (in an IMAX cinema, no less)? The answer: I am doing a presentation on violence in film at the end of the month and thought I would need to see this to be truly contemporary. Besides, I had a free ticket.

Make no mistake - 300 is a work of art. It is surely one of the most visually stunning films ever made. The only downside to its cinematography was the way it copied some of the feel of Gladiator. This is a gorgeous film. But the seductive beauty of 300 only serves to make the film more dangerous - a hook to draw in and entertain the masses with a tale of redemptive ultraviolence. And this is a very dangerous film indeed.

To start with, we have 300 Spartan soldiers (all perfect beautiful specimens of humanity) facing a vast horde of monsters, magicians and mystics fighting for the Persian king Xerxes (the one Spartan who is a deformed hunchback becomes a traitor). That one fact alone makes the film dangerous; the film is an ode to dehumanization and there is not much worse I could ever say about a film. The fact that the beautiful heroic Spartans are westerners facing Persian monsters is also very dangerous in a time when the country that fabricated an excuse to justify the invasion of Iraq is now trying to fabricate excuses to invade Iran. Of course, in this case it is the U.S. which represents the invading Empire of its time, so perhaps the film is a work of irony (do the Spartans then represent terrorists?). But the real danger lies in the hugely excessive display of virtually non-stop graphic violence. Sure the violence is stylized, with countless slow-motion scenes of spear thrusts and sword thrusts and heads being sliced off, etc. But don’t try to tell me this makes the bloodfest okay. On the contrary, it just makes people think it’s okay to watch hundreds of people mercilessly butchered. It’s not okay.

I confess that I thought 2005’s Sin City, also based on a violent graphic novel (novels) by Frank Miller, was a work of genius. I wasn’t a fan of the endless violence in that film either, but at least that violence could accurately be described as comic book violence, even cartoon violence. The violence in Sin City had nowhere near the impact on me that the violence in 300 did. I was numbed and horrified by the cold and grisly deaths of the Persians, all the more so because they were so “beautiful”.

In a world at war, what kind of message does a film like 300 send to the millions who are apparently flocking to the cinemas in the U.S.? The glory of war, of fighting for freedom, of not showing weakness, of not negotiating, of showing no mercy: this is Sparta. Let’s try to have a world full of Spartans, shall we? If the writers and filmmakers were trying for some irony in their heroic beautiful depiction of the Spartans, I fear it will be lost on the masses, especially the young men toward whom the film is clearly aimed.

But there is yet another danger, related to the last: the religious symbolism which looked to me like it was trying to make the Spartan king (Leonidas) into a Christ-figure. There is the scene, for example, where Leonidas is tempted by Xerxes (who sees himself as a God): “Bow down before me and I will give you the world” and of course the seemingly irresistible crucifixion scene at the end. I fear that some Christians will think Leonidas indeed stands for Jesus, leading his perfect beautiful followers into a battle against Satan and his hideous deformed minions, a small army of Christians who will stand firm against the horde of Muslims and atheists (traitors) who are trying to attack the only true faith. That Leonidas is the exact opposite of Jesus (a man of compassion and mercy who saw it as his mission to humanize those who were seen as less than human and to love his enemies, not brutally slay them) will be missed by too many.

Gorgeous cinematography aside, 300 get’s a mug down for its dangerous assault on the mind, the senses and humanity. Can’t wait for the video game (how many Persians can you slice in half in ten minutes?)!


  1. I personally loved this movie, and i found the violence affected me less than that of Sin City.

  2. You haven't yet responded to my remarks about Perfume, so this comment may be premature. But why is the violence of 300 "not okay" when it wasn't a noteworthy facet of Perfume. I haven't seen it, and I doubt I'd have much positive to say if I did, but personally I suspect that 300 has less likelihood to mess with people's heads than Perfume (unless maybe it's that whole idea of joining a sense of honour and courage with war and violence).

  3. I took my 18 year old son and a friend of his to 300 last night. I too was struck by the nonstop violence, but I'll have to admit that the beauty of the graphics impressed me, somehow balancing out the brutality. Somehow, the vehicle for displaying the violence lessened its impact because I was constantly aware of the vehicle. But what impressed me most was the blatant agenda to glorify war and death for a nation. It was in your face the whole time. To resist war was "weakness", and to remember the fallen dead was most important. I think the not-so-hidden agenda was to support the ideology of war, actual war, financing wars, and honoring wars. Shame on those who oppose! The shedding of blood through violence is the only way to peace, according to 300.

  4. Daniel, we need to talk about this some time. I saw 300 with three Christian men. Two of them shared your opinion (and I think that of nakedpastor) about the violence, so clearly people respond differently to different kinds of violence in film. This is also evident in Walter's comments about Perfume, which I didn't even think of as a violent film (see my comments under Perfume - coming soon).

  5. I didn't see the film, but would like to. I'm just glad to see that somebody cares about the world behind the screen.

    Go great guns... I mean... swords... no... go great caring - that's it... care deeply.