Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons
of violence are their swords. O my soul,
come not into their council; O my spirit,
be not joined to their company; for in
their anger they slay men, and in their
wantonness they hamstring oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce;
and their wrath, for it is cruel!
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord just as Christ has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
300 is definitely not a date picture with its depictions of battle blood and gore and homo-erotic depictions of the Evil Oriental Menace faced off by the gorgeous “300” hunks who look like the “After” picture in the old Charles Atlas body building ads. Director Zack Snyder and screenwriters Kurt Johnstad, Michael B. Gordon have fashioned from Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s graphic novel what amounts to a cinematic paean to brute violence as a way of life.
The film pushes its R rating close to NC-17 territory with so many graphic decapitations of violence, such as the spurting blood from sword-pierced bodies and hacked off heads and limbs. We are supposed to admire the hero King Leonidas (Gerald Butler) who murders the Persian emissaries from King Xerxes when they demand that he submit to Persian rule. Granted that the ambassadors are so arrogant that the audience applauds their fate, but Leonidas’s pushing them into the abyss of the pit violates the international protocol of any age. In the prologue to the film we are introduced to Spartan life by the sequence in which the boy Leonidas is often beaten to toughen him up and then torn from his mother and forced into the wilderness where he must either fight off the dangerous beasts or perish. Thus all Spartan males who do survive their brutalized childhood become soldiers through and through with no time for pursuit of the arts or philosophy, their slogan being, “Only the hard and strong may call himself Spartan. Only the hard. The strong.” .
Leonidas refers contemptuously to the Athenians as “philosophers and boy lovers,” an anti-intellectualism that finds reflections in our own society. Indeed, one could view the graphic novel and the film as a diatribe against left wingers who “lost” Vietnam to Communists. The film could be invoked today against those opposed to the Iraqi war, often accused as “not supporting the troops.” King Leonidas’ decision to resist the impending Persian invasion by force is opposed by those controlling the Council, so he chooses 300 of his bravest soldiers (and who must have one grown son at home to support the family) and says that they will be his body guard accompanying him on “a stroll” to the north. They are depicted as the ultimate fighting machine. Indeed, the only time we see a touch of humanity is when the Captain (Vincent Regan), devastated by the death of his son by decapitation, breaks down for a moment and utters his regret that he had never expressed his special love for him—a sentiment going against Spartan propriety.
We do have to admire the courage of the 300 and their resolve to hold the huge Persian horde at the spot chosen by Leonidas. It is at the pass of Thermopylae, strategic because it is such a narrow place between the mountains and the Aegean Sea. Here the advantage of the huge number of the Persians will be offset somewhat. The pluck of Leonidas is also admirable, causing him to respond to the Persian emissary’s boast that their arrows will blot out the sun with, “Good, then we will fight in the shade.” (This and other bits of dialogue were also used in the 1962 film The 300 Spartans.) The slaughter is tremendous, with the piles of Persian slain forming a small mountain blocking the path of the enemy. We are saved from any feelings of sympathy for the Persians by never really seeing any of them as humans—indeed, the filmmakers bring in some legend and mythology, the Persian army populated with large, misshapen giants and fearsome ogre-like creatures. King Xerxes himself (Rodrigo Santoro) is not depicted in his full-bearded Persian-robed splendor, but rather as a hairless homo-erotic belonging more to the Rome of Fellini’s Satyricon than to the Middle East.
The special effects, including the use of computer-generated landscapes are impressive. Most of the color is washed out, except for the red cloaks of the Spartans and the gaudy clothes of the Persians. Far more than the 1962 film, this one depicts the horrible gore of battle, even celebrating it as a sign of manliness. The glory that Leonidas extols in his address to his men, based on the sword, is a world away from the “kingdom, the power, and the glory” which Christ teaches in the gospels. No room for compassion or love of enemies in Spartan life, Leonidas and his men being very much like the dying Hebrew patriarch Jacob’s description of his son’s Simeon and Levi .
1) How did you feel when Leonidas kills the Persian ambassadors who come to him at Sparta? What was the reaction of the audience to this sequence? What would you say to an attempt to ethically justify the act?
2) How do you think that the murder of the ambassadors stem directly from Spartan beliefs? Compare the Spartan lifestyle with that of Athens? If you have seen To End All Wars, how is it like the Japanese Bushito code? Would you want to live under this? What signs of anti-intellectualism do you see in our own culture?
3) What do you think Leonidas would think of the apostle Paul’s words to the Colossians? How have the Spartans’ extreme emphasis upon manly courage distorted their way of life? And yet how did it, in a real sense, save Greek civilization?
4) How is the film’s distortion of the Persians’ character (which included their calling them “barbarians” ) similar to what ever nation does in regard to its enemies during wartime? (Remember that it was the Persian conqueror of Babylon who put forth the humane police of letting the captives return to their homelands, among whom were the Jews: would you call this the act of “a barbarian “?)
5) How do the 300, in sacrificing their lives for others, bear some resemblance to the teaching of taking up the cross?