I watched 300 the other day. A relentlessly bloody movie, it’s definitely worth watching – at least if you have a Y chromosome.
Of course, being the student of history that I am, I can’t leave it at that. You see, the tale of the three hundred Spartans defending the pass at Thermopylae was penned by Herodotus, the father of history himself. So while I can forgive the portrayal of Ephialtes as a grotesque mutant, while I can forgive Xerxes being a nine feet tall bondage victim with the voice of a Goa’uld from Stargate, while I can forgive the Spartans sporting nothing but a loin cloth and six pack into battle, there is one thing I cannot forgive.
In this movie the Spartans fight for freedom, truth, justice and the
American Spartan way.
Frequently Leonidas, the kind of the Spartans, gives grandiose speeches about how the Spartans are free men. He sites it as a source of strength against the forces of Persia, whose soldiers he claims are all slaves. This struggle of oppression, of freedom vs slavery is obviously attempting to ingratiate itself with the audience from the “land of the free”. The filmmakers want Americans to identify themselves with the Spartans. The fact that Sparta wasn’t exactly the “land of the free” is completely ignored.
In one scene, the Spartan soldiers meet up with their Athenian counterparts. Leonidas is questioned as to why he brought so few soldiers, but responds that he has brought more soldiers than the Athenians. To demonstrate this he asks several Athenians what their professions are. “Blacksmith”, “Sculptor”, “Carpenter” they answer. Then he asks the Spartans what their professions are – “Soldier” they all reply. What is never stated is why all Spartan men are raised as soldiers, why they are such a militant society.
Every Spartan man was a soldier in order to keep the slave population of Sparta in check. These slaves, or Helots, were property belonging to the state. The problem was that the Helot population outnumbered their masters ten to one. It is for this reason that Sparta developed as the most militaristic society to ever exist – to keep the Helots subdued, to maintain their oppression, to prevent their uprising. In the movie, when Leonidas grandstands in the name of freedom, it is the freedom of the upper class he is fighting for.
I just hope that this omission, this failing comes from the movie adoption, and not from Frank Miller’s comic book that the movie was based on.