By now, dozens of critics have weighed in on the massive box office success of 300, but not one I’ve read has figured out the reason for it. I have: it’s a terrific picture, one of the best in years. When I compare it to the movies that were nominated for Best Picture Oscars last year, it makes them seem to be exactly what they were: watered-down warm milk for liberal baby boomers who want to close the curtains on World War III, and snuggle down under their tie-dyed covers for a long winter’s nap full of tangerine dreams.
They are a weary failure of a generation. Like the British Edwardians before them, they could not live up to the achievements of their elders. So they invented a new set of rules, rules that sounded daring and dangerous and radical, but are in fact puerile, safe and anesthetic. Does western civilization require defense and sacrifice? Well, then ho, ho, ho, western civ has got to go. Does political freedom require responsibility and self-discipline? Well, then we’ll redefine freedom as individual licentiousness. Do other, lesser cultures want to destroy us? Well, then, we’ll join them in blaming America and avoid any unpleasantness. In short, the baby boomers’ leftist philosophy amounts to nothing more than an elaborate rationalization of their own cowardice and a way to dull the pain of the resultant self-disgust.
Now here’s 300, the mythologized story of the battle of Thermopylae, delivering the message of Thermopylae: if you want to be free, men have to be willing to fight and die to stay that way, just as the Spartans did 480 years before Christ. And watch the liberal critics throw their aprons over their faces and run, screaming, “Racist! Fascist!” and the deepest insult of the supposedly gay-friendly left, “Homo-erotic!” The film is none of these things. If white men kill darker men in this story, it’s not because of their color, it’s to stave off their slavish culture, just as we must do today. And what’s fascist about a film that defends freedom? As for homo-erotic – I suspect in this day and age that a celebration of martial virility makes some men so uncomfortable with themselves, they think it must somehow be gay. Nonsense.
300 is directed in the style of the Frank Miller comic that inspired it, but it also borrows heavily from video games like God of War. Among elites, to say a movie is like a video game is supposed to be an insult. It’s not – it’s a compliment. Elite art is a bunch of splotches on a canvas. Video game art creates fresh worlds that both echo and haunt the imagination. Elite films offer us male heroes who look like women and can only be masculine with quotation marks. Video games give us men who act like men. Elite stories preach to us not to glorify war. Video games understand that stories are made to glorify glory, which is sometimes found in war. Give me a film like a video game any day over the sort of films elite critics praise.
But there is one persistent criticism of 300 even among critics who liked it: the film contains no complex ideas. Maybe so. But since when are great movies made of ideas? 300 contains as many ideas as Casablanca does and at least, like Casablanca, the ideas it does contain are actually true – as opposed to, say, the balderdash in Babel or the suppposedly nuanced but, in fact, shallow notions in Flags of our Fathers.
Flags and its sister film Letters from Iwo Jima – though directed by the indubitably great Clint Eastwood – tell us nothing more than that our Japanese enemies in World War II were human beings fighting for their country just like us. Yes, I suppose they were. But the films never once take into account that the countries they fought for stood for different things and that some of those things, like freedom, are good and some, like genocidal tyrrany – well, not so much.
What’s more, Flags tells us that “there are no such things as heroes,” and portrays our celebration of heroism as something ultimately misguided and even destructive.
300 rejects this view and rightly so. The film understands that we celebrate heroes because we dine on the fruits of their sacrifice. The greatest of these fruits is liberty, more precious than life itself. And when we glorify the heroes who defend our liberty with their lives, it reminds us too that we must live in responsibility to them, not only in our actions but in our philosophies as well. Every day that we preserve and cherish our freedom is a monument to them, a sign that they are not forgotten. They are never forgotten.
Go tell the Spartans.
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