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[Movie review]‘300’ turns fascism into entertainment

Mar 16,2007
The Spartan warrior elite drive the Persians off a cliff in “300,” a piece of fas-cist pageantry dressed up in 21st century, computer-generated clothing.
Hitler’s hiding in your movie theater. The parts of Western culture that led to Nazi populism have returned to their pedestal in a surprising place: “300,” an action flick about a minor Greek battle almost 1,500 years ago.
“Fascist aesthetics,” wrote Susan Sontag, “endorse two seemingly opposite states, egomania and servitude.” Fascist art is a dance between a leader and a growing mass of identical, devoted subjects, shifting “between ceaseless motion and... ‘virile’ posing.”
Fascist work “scorns realism in the name of ‘idealism.’” It “glorifies surrender, it exalts mindlessness, it glamorizes death.”
The subject of Sontag’s essay was Leni Riefenstahl, the notorious Nazi propagandist who constructed her twin propaganda masterpieces, “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia,” for Adolf Hitler.
But Ms. Sontag’s words are also a perfect description of the special effects bloodbath that is “300.”
“300” follows the famed Battle of Thermopylae, where the Spartan leader Leonidas ― this film’s “all-powerful, hypnotic leader-figure” ― stood with 300 warriors against the Persian army in the year 480 B.C.
We are treated to the story of Leonidas’ birth and upbringing. He passes the Spartan test of physical fitness as a baby with no deformities, as the camera pans over the skulls of infants who were not so lucky. In his training and trial by blood, the agoge, he is beaten and sent into the wild with no armor to prove himself a warrior. Hitler himself cited these Spartan programs of eugenics and patriotic submission through suffering as inspirations for his Aryan master race.
When it becomes clear that the fight against the Persians is hopeless, Leonidas’ men, to the dismay of their less hardened Greek allies, look forward to a “beautiful death.” The Spartans themselves, in their small loincloths and red cloaks, are, physically, perfect warriors.
The Persians, on the other hand, are depicted alternately as physically monstrous, multiracial, unskilled, androgynous, decadent and homosexual. Their armies are populated by deformed giants, wizards and ninja-like warriors who hide their burned, twisted faces behind Asian-looking masks.
The film alternates between frenetic, and above all bloody, scenes of slaughter and long pans over the noble Spartans, or shots of them moving the dead, or standing atop cliffs ― that is, between “ceaseless motion” and “virile posing.”
Occasionally one character or another cries out that they fight for “reason” ― but this seems beyond patently ridiculous in the context of the rest of the film.
These will not be new accusations to anyone familiar with the Frank Miller comic book on which “300” is based, as the film is very faithful to its source.
What is the danger of filling our popular culture with the glorification of warriors, bred through eugenic selection and raised to crave war, death and undying loyalty to their king and to fight off the deformed and ignoble Persian hordes? It should be obvious.
Selective abortion and in vitro fertilization already allow the American elite to choose only the most physically appealing, genetically “perfect” embryo and discard the rest. Neoconservative leaders believe they can reshape the world through conquest by ignoring the law, which they see as corrupt ― just as Leonidas does. The American military even fights insurgents linked with Iran ― Persia ― and seeks to openly justify bodily torture and abuse of its enemy.
Sometimes more is at stake at the movies than popcorn and cheap thrills.

300
War / English
117 min.
Now playing

By Ben Applegate Contributing Writer [ben@joongang.co.kr]



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