Is it over? Has the initial post-orgasmic glow from this debaucherous orgy of violence and machismo worn off yet? Have we woken up on a Sunday morning beside the empty-headed imbecility of 300, nursing embarrassment and a bad hangover? Because if we have, I’d like everyone who thought this movie was as bad as I did to admit to it, instead of pretending it never happened, like a one-night stand with a co-worker, or throwing up on a bar patio.
Because as beautiful and gloriously gory as this film is, I require more in a movie than the stimulation of my Leydig cells and the subsequent rush of testosterone. But 300, directed by the Dawn of the Dead remake filmmaker Zach Snyder, offers nothing but the same kind of lustmord inspired by a particularly Full Metal Jacket-like drill instructor. Based on Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s comic book miniseries, the film retells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, or rather what the story would be like if it took place on a soundstage in a Montreal warehouse in front of a variable speed camera. When an emissary of the Persians offers to spare the city of Sparta if only they will provide Xerxes with an offering of fire and water, King Leonidas, apparently having gone through the American school system and been thoroughly indoctrinated with patriotism and ‘Army of One’ military ads, promptly kills the emissary and declares war on the Persian Empire. He then leads 300 brave Spartan warriors and a several tens of thousand of assorted Greeks against a Persian horde numbering in the millions. In the mêlée that ensues, the Greeks fight a hopeless battle against the Persians in the name of democracy, freedom, and the Patriot Act. The film is so jingoistic, so thoughtless and reflexively prideful, so binary in its hysterical division between good and evil, that it becomes nothing more than an elaborate and bloody argument for both the Second Amendment and Manifest Destiny, worded with all the subtlety of a Ted Nugent song.
This, it seems, is what we're fighting in Iraq. And, soon, Iran.
But is it only the film’s meat-headed military fervor that I object to, its mindless worship of death before dishonor? No. It’s the fact that every second word is “Sparta”, yelled with all the emphasis of a crowd chanting “USA” at a Pride match where a guy from Texas fights a Brazilian ju-jitsu master. It’s the fact that Gerald Butler, as King Leonidas, seems incapable of uttering his lines at a volume lower than a bellow, and a bellowed Irish brogue at that, having learned to speak ancient Greek by watching Colin Farrell in Alexander. It’s the fact that the movie is nothing more than an extended fight scene, carefully crafted to appear chaotic, so stylized that it loses all ability to connect with the audience on anything other than a visceral level. It’s the fact that what doesn’t involve swords is either colossally boring or colossally stupid, essentially functioning as bathroom breaks for the poor girls who got dragged to this movie by boyfriends weaned on professional wrestling. It’s the fact that actor David Wenham, who plays narrator Dilios, looks like David Thewlis reflected in a fun house mirror. It’s the fact that this is certainly not the time to be releasing a movie about proud white ‘freedom fighters” battling Arabic monsters. And finally, it’s the fact that no matter how much I try, the one-night stand I had with this movie will not black out from my memory.