This is Sparta? (or: The Danger of films with number-titles)

‘Our arrows will blot out the sun,’ says a Persian messenger to a Spartan captain. The Spartan responds with one of the coolest lines in all of cinema: ‘Then we will fight in the shade.’ At this point every man watching 300, the recently released stylized gore-fest that retells the story of the 300 Spartans who died at the battle of Thermopylae, wants to stand up, cheer and beat his chest (and possibly the guy next to him).

Despite what some say, the problem with 300 is not historical inaccuracy. I’m sure if we take a step back and do our research we’ll discover that Persia was in fact ruled by a mad transvestite giant with rings through his cheeks. And soldiers who looked alarmingly like ninjas. Really.

The film’s message, however, is truly disturbing. 300 is, essentially, a very slick and enjoyable piece of fascist propaganda for the Al Qaeda age. Might is right. Negotiators are pansies. Violence is better than diplomacy. People from the middle-east are very naughty indeed. And, of course, ugly people can’t be trusted. These are the valuable lessons of the film. In defence of ‘freedom’, any means are acceptable, even desirable. And audiences of US Marines and teenagers have lapped it up.

If you’re currently scratching your head and thinking: ‘that’s all very well, but if I wanted a movie review I’d have bought hideously over-priced popcorn and enough sickly sweet soft-drink to actually bathe in (and read the paper next to one couple in need of a room and a 12-year-old in need of a gag)’—don’t worry. This is still a news column. (And anyway, what kind of freak simulates the cinema experience to read reviews? Poorly thought-out, Langley.) 300 actually made news last week because some journalists strongly dislike films that beat the war drum. And because Iran dislikes what it’s doing to their image (abducting British sailors, apparently, makes them look like John Travolta). But showbiz politics have been elsewhere in the news of late, in the form of tv show 24 and whether it condones torture. Costa Gavras, whose film about atrocities in the French-Algerian war opened the Human Rights film festival last week, thinks it does. Does that mean we should not watch 24, 300 or indeed any film with just numbers in the title? I don’t think so. But protecting your mind is not just about porn, violence and cussing.

Films like 300 often promote an insidious and appealing philosophy: ‘if you want to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs. And torture some people.’ Politically and practically this probably makes sense, like killing your enemies. But as Christians, the philosophy that the end justifies the means, which is currently so popular in fighting our bogeymen, is one we must not just reject, but recognise everywhere it is hidden.

Last week, for instance, we learned that the US administration deliberately let the conflict between Israel and Lebanon, in which many hundreds of Lebanese civilians were killed, continue without speedy calls for ceasefire. The reason? It was hoped that the result would be a defeated Hezbollah. ‘What was wrong with that?’ quipped former US Ambassador John Bolton. But if it’s okay to break some Lebanese eggs for the sake of the omelette of Israeli security, what of the omelettes of animal rights, Palestinian freedom, Ulster self-determination or even Lebanese safety? Do some ends really always justify any means? Torture, suicide bombs, civilian collateral damage and nuclear strikes might fit into a Spartan ethic and on occasion might even appeal to me, but I find it hard to picture Jesus advocating them any more than the Spartan code of 300: ‘only the brave, only the strong.’

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2 Responses

  1. I certainly cannot speak for Jesus, but with that said, I have a question. Were we put on earth to be massacred and not to fight back for survival? If so, then whats the point of being here at all? If not, then how can you fight back without collateral damage or the enormous use of force?

    The answer has to be one or the other, there is no middle ground. It is right or wrong, black or white, good or evil. There are no maybes or in-betweens.

  2. “It is right or wrong, black or white, good or evil.” I agree, either it is ethical to kill innocent people or its not. That would a Christian doctrine, strictly speaking, or from a secular point of view, there is no such thing as black and white issues, and everything has to be carefully considered and calculated. Finally, the assumption that our lives here on earth center around slaughter or be slaughtered leaves out the myriad facets of human life. Love, knowledge and beauty, none of which have anything to do with middle ground of any kind and exists in flux.

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