'Should I Go See "300"?': A Woman's Perspective on the Honorable Barbarian

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Mar 23, 2007 6:31 PM

A conversation from inside the Townhall offices:

MKH: "So, I saw "300."

Katie: "Really? Should I go see it? Someone told me it was a little heavy on the violence and creepy creatures for my taste."
 


1-pack, 2-pack, 3-pack, 4, 5, 6...

MKH: "What's 6 times 300? Because I can give you that many reasons to see this movie."

 
Oh, I keed, I keed. There are plenty of other substantial, high-minded, geo-political and philosophical reasons to see this movie, but there are also many visceral, gut-thumping, blood-pumping reasons to watch the film (for both sexes). Which, incidentally is exactly why it's a fun film, particularly for teenage guys and political conservatives.

It was not fun, however, for the girl who was sitting next to me. She spent three quarters of the admittedly very violent movie, with her head buried behind her hands. She was squealing, but it wasn't for the eye candy (I hate the phrase "eye candy," but I've never been able to come up with a suitable synonym).

But, as I was saying, for the adolescent male there's unapologetic kicking ass and taking names, times a million. For the red-blooded political conservative who hasn't been refined and emasculated beyond his abliity to admire the kicking of asses and the taking of names, there's high-minded rhetoric to justify the kicking and taking thereof.

Everyone wins-- except whiners. Oh, I keed again. There are reasons to consider whether you're really up for the violence in this movie, which is almost constant and constantly brutal. The violence, just like the rest of the movie, is also beautiful. I was planning to see the film before I knew about the political implications simply because the trailers looked so gorgeous-- the backlit Persian warriors cresting a hill on horseback, the shadows of a million Persian arrows blotting the glints on 300 Spartan shields.

The blood and the spear-stabs and the head-chopping is just as stylized, and there's plenty of it. The fact that it's so stylized makes it easier to stomach, and I'll leave it to other cultural critics to decide whether that's a good thing. Someone asked me how the violence compares to that of "Braveheart" or the first scenes of "Saving Private Ryan." I'd say if you can take either of those, "300" would bother you less. It did me, because our historical distance and physical difference from the characters is so much greater.

I will say that I feel a twinge of discomfort at making extreme violence so pretty, but the Spartans were fighting for survival and for the survival of freedom, so if violence is going to be glamorized, I'd rather it be theirs than 50 Cent's (sorry, Fiddy).

And, as I said, the violence is part of what makes it fun. When I was watching, I remembered having similar feelings at another movie, so I looked up an old post. The merciless beating the Spartans gave the Persians for much of the movie gave me a little bit of this feeling without all the weight of reliving 9/11:

I won't tell all the action, but I will say that when they beat downthat first terrorist, it was quite possibly the most satisfying,cinematic moment I've ever experienced. I'm not sure what that saysabout me, but it felt good.

Watching the terrorists' faces drop as they realize they won't beable to complete their mission for god-- priceless. The terrorists areportrayed mercilessly. They celebrate as the news of the World TradeCenter attacks comes over the cockpit radio. They stab passengers, slitthe throat of a stewardess saying, "let's go ahead and kill her. Wedon't need her," and strike an EMT for trying to attend to bleedingpassengers.

Does that make sense? All the satisfaction of watching the bad guys get it because they deserve it while remaining entertainment, not painful introspection. I enjoyed it.

Most of the dialogue was good and inspiring, and that dude who played Leonidas has a damn good yell on him. The comic relief, such that it was, was successful in its dark humor, though one or two lines of battlefield banter had a bit too much of an Axl Foley feel to them. The movie is melodramatic, insensitive to enemies, and at times, barbaric, but it is necessarily so.

The men of Sparta stood 300 against millions, choosing certain obliteration over obeisance to anyone.

The fight is barbaric. But they were barbarians for freedom. It's telling how many people watching today don't think that's a good enough reason.

And, did I mention the six-packs?

Update: Lest anyone e-mail me with a history lesson, I understand that the Spartans weren't "barbarians" in the historical sense, but putting that in there kinda messed up my pretty sentences, so I left it out and trusted that y'all would understand I was using "barbaric" only in a descriptive sense for the fighting, which was indeed "barbaric" by the standards of the average, suburban moviegoer. This concludes my PSA.