Monthly Archives: March 2007

second season blues

There’s a real disregard for not just the tactics, but the feel of real warfare in this film. The filmmakers seem to treat the mundane details of a warrior’s life with some contempt, feeling, perhaps, that audiences will more readily identify with an oily superman than a real soldier. The film is thoroughly imagistic, all golden wheat fields and scorched cloudscapes, but its images tend to be recycled and less thrilling than the filmmakers think; and meanwhile they have abandoned any verisimilitude which might have lent richness to the bronzy picture-making. The “300” gather outside the city wearing only capes and loincloths and carrying only spears and shields. In what ought to be a catastrophic failure of military planning, not one of them has so much as a knapsack or a skin of water; neither is there any hint of a supply chain. Nonetheless, when the filmmakers want to show Leonidas as jaunty and confident, he strides among the piled-up corpses eating a fresh apple, although the landscape at Thermopylae is completely barren.

This is not nit-picking. I like an iconic clash of great warriors as well as the next person, and a movie about war doesn’t have to be The Things They Carried to have merit. Despite the assertion attributed to Samuel Fuller that the only way to make a war movie “realistic” (and therefore not romanticize war) would be to fire a machine gun into the audience, war is not automatically off-limits as the subject of grand entertainment. War can be funny, or thrilling, or glorious, just like every other aspect of human experience. It baffles civilians and those of us who have yet to go there, but many soldiers re-enlist while in the combat zone; many report that they enjoy doing the work they were trained to do more than simply sitting around in garrison.

But war is a serious subject, and no one who makes films about it or writes about it can avoid the enormous stakes of it. There’s nothing wrong with making warriors larger-than-life — Homer, the great-grandfather of all Western war poets, certainly didn’t write them small. Gary Payton-style trash-talking alone probably makes up a third of the bulk of the Iliad. But he also had respect for man’s natural unwillingness to die for political causes, and he further had respect for the ordinary considerations of war planning — ships, soldiers, carpenters, cattle — precisely because it is those elements which generally determine the outcome of a war.

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