Michael Poliakoff (classicist and an administrative bigwig at UColorado) comments on 300 as #5 on National Review‘s list of the Best Conservative movies of the past 25 years:
During the Bush years, Hollywood neglected the heroism of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan—but it did release this action film about martial honor, unflinching courage, and the oft-ignored truth that freedom isn’t free. Beneath a layer of egregious non-history—including goblin-like creatures that belong in a fantasy epic—is a stylized story about the ancient battle of Thermopylae and the Spartan defense of the West’s fledgling institutions. It contrasts a small band of Spartans, motivated by their convictions and a commitment to the law, with a Persian horde that is driven forward by whips. In the words recorded by the real-life Herodotus: “Law is their master, which they fear more than your men[, Xerxes,] fear you.”
8 thoughts on “Best Conservative Movies”
King Leonidas and a force of 300 men fight the Persians at Thermopylae, a bold move made by the Spartans considering the size of the Persians fleet. The arrogance of the Persians is noted, “Xerxes listened but could not understand: that the Lacedaemonians were really preparing to kill or be killed, to fight as much as war in their power, seemed to him to be the height of folly, the action of fools. “ The timing of this remake came in 2006, the fifth year of the Iraq war. We have been in a continuous battle, and in the public eyes there has been little gain and little to fight for. The movie 300 gives a different perspective of war, one that enhances the thought of such an event. While there were only 300 soldiers fighting, their willingness to totally disregard their life was what made the story intriguing. Perhaps the making was meant to alter the United States thought process about joining the fight. The movie shows us how if you are going into war it is necessary to have an unselfish mindset; you should have a strong desire to fight for your society and be willing to risk everything. The Spartans did not even second guess the fight, while at times many Americans cannot over look the importance of their life in order to save thousands others. Not saying the point of the movie was to in store confidence into the US population, but it sure seems like it came at a time when we needed motivation to keep fighting.
With so much emphasize placed on Xerxes and his power, it is ironic that on two separate occasions, Demaratos warns Xerxes of the resilience and strength of the Spartan warriors. First, Demaratos warns Xerxes that it does not matter the number of Spartans that will fight because “they will fight you all the same” [7.102.3]. Demaratos adds that when the Spartans “unite and fight together, they are the best warriors of all” [7.104.4]. Before invading Thermopylae and after suffering substantial losses, Xerxes again inquires to Demaratos as to the intentions of the small army of Spartans. Once again, Demaratos explains that in attacking Thermopylae, the Hellenes will be “attacking the most noble of kingdom[s]” and “the best of men” [7.209.4]. Demaratos even risks being treated as a liar if “things do not turn out the just as I claim” [7.209.5]. For the second time, Xerxes ignores the timely advice of Demaratos and attacks Thermopylae. Xerxes continuously underestimates the strength of the small Spartan army despite the wise and timely advice from a former Spartan king, Demaratos, which inevitably leads to the downfall and defeat of the mighty Persians.
Herodotus’ account of the Battle of Thermopylae is one of honor and courage. The small group of Spartans, with their freedom in mind, set out to fight the colossal Persian army. Because the battle was an epic one, the movie “300” was created to re-tell the events. Not only was the movie inaccurate and ridiculous, it was “dangerously ill-timed” (Leupp). As it came out fairly recently, during the time of the Iraq and Afghanistan war, many prejudices were made against the Persians. The army is depicted as monsters rather than men and the movie makes the Persian government seem evil. International critics as well as official personnel have made statements about the movie like, “Iran’s UN mission has stated that the film is ‘so overtly racist, so overflowing with vicious stereotyping of Persians as a dangerous, bestial force fatally threatening the civilized ‘free’ world,’ that it encourages ‘ contemporary discourses of hatred … [and] a ‘clash of civilizations’” (Leupp). Rather than making a movie about our brave American soldiers, Hollywood decided to make an absurd one about a battle that happened hundreds of years ago.
Although the Battle of Thermopylae is the more famous battle during the Persian invasion, there is no information given about the equally exciting Battle of Artemisium. This is the naval battle that took place between Sparta and other Greek city states, against Xerxes and is massive fleet. Again the Greeks were largely outnumbered, at about 6 to 1. When looking at the actual importance of this battle, it seems insignificant because no one suffered major losses. However,just like with the 300 Spartans, this battle proved to the Greeks that they could stand up to the power and numbers of Xerxes’ forces. The Battle of Artermisium was a moral victory and confidence booster to the Greeks rather than being full of “reckless impudence” as stated by Xerxes (7.210.1).
Hollywood’s focus on the battle at Thermopylae and the brave 300 who fought against the large Persian army provides a different aspect of war, compared to the war in Iraq, in which we still are engaged. After the attacks on September 11, documentarties and movies were produced that attracted much attention and controversy, so “neglecting the heroism of the American soldiers” by Hollywood shouldn’t be seen as neglect,but a focus on an example of bravery and courage. The movie depicts the Spartan soliers as “the best of men” (7.209.4) who are willing to endure against the Xerxes’ army and his whip. As the Spartans fight for their law, “which they fear more than than your men[, Xerxes,] fear you,” the American soldiers oversees are fighting against something bigger than one man; they’re fighting against terrorism. By recreating the battle at Thermopylae into a modern motion picture, Hollywood didn’t necissarily neglect the American soldiers, but create a film that provides an alternate view of war which gives credit to those who fight for values larger than themselves.
The Spartans are among the most famous of all ancient warriors. Their fear of the law fueled their will to fight no matter what the circumstances were. The Battle of Thermopylae showed their will power to overcome the odds and defeat Xerxes’ army. Unlike the Spartan’s, Xerxes relied on sheer numbers and did not take the advice of Damaratos, a previous spartan leader. He assured Xerxes that the “Spartans [were] the best warriors on earth.”7.104) In Xerxes’ mind it was the number you have behind you but he did not take into account what those men behind him were fighting for. When the movie 300 was made it was in the midst of the War in Iraq. While the intentions were to create a Hollywood remake of the historic Battle of Thermopylae, they fell victim to Hollywood glamour. There was not a realistic view of the Persian warriors who were viewed as monsters. The facts were slightly off, but the overall story was close. Instead of focusing on a historic event that took place hundreds of years ago, I think that our country should be focusing on what is going on in our country. If one is trying to recreate history, one should make it historically correct; otherwise, one should focus on what is happening in the world today.
While 300 proved a timely portrayal of East vs. West, the strength of Democracy, and the power, honor, and glory of being a member of one’s armed services, the movie seems to gloss over some factual evidence in order to make these portrayals more compelling. For instance, the 300 Spartans (and Arcadians, as I believe they do throw them in the mix) in the movie were not the only Greek soldiers to take part in this defense of Democracy. Herodotus even claims that the success of the Greeks hinged upon the Athenians, without whom the sea, and subsequently the land, would have been left for the Persian’s to take (7.139). Along similar lines, the movie allows viewers to assume that the Greeks all banded together in defense of the ideas of Democracy. Herodotus, however, notes that many Hellenes surrendered to Xerxes’ forces, and actually blessed, fed, and cheered for him. This leads one to examine the Persians in the film, then. In Histories, Xerxes’ is less a figure of god-like proportions and moreso a character with god-sized pomposity. And the Persian army was not (as far as we are told in Herodotus’ account) driven under such grueling conditions as portrayed in Snyder’s film. In fact, Xerxes, in a genuinely moving moment, cries over his army, “suddenly overcome by pity as [he] considered the brevity of [the] human life” before him (7.46). All in all, Snyder’s film turns the story of 300 into a stark, black and white contrast of the democratic and the tyrannical when in fact, the tale has far more shades of gray. So, while some of 300’s facts are gently nudged to the side, we are given, in exchange, a nonetheless moving, dramatic retelling of epic triumph and glory.
It can be said that the Battle of Thermopylae has journeyed its way throughout current times because of its powerful tale of courageous men willing to fight for what they believe in. This theme can be seen as inspiration at a time when Americans needed to fight for our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. Demaratos effectively voices his view on the Spartans fighting to Xerxes by stating, “When they unite and fight together, they are the best warriors of all” (7.104). This sense of uniting and bringing together a group of men to fight for a common purpose is a very powerful act that has the ability to overlook the number of men in battle. Demaratos also recognizes the duty of the Spartans to the law by stating, “They do whatever it commands, which is always the same: it forbids them to flee from battle, and no matter how many men are fighting, it orders them to remain in their rank and either prevail or perish” (7.104). This honor and duty to the law truly expresses a respect for one’s society. It is clear to see why the story of the Battle of Thermopylae has lived on; because it possesses qualities such as honor, courage, and respect that give people hope throughout all of time.