Rated: R .Grade: A+DAA+=A+
Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Heady, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender, Tom Wisdom, Andrew Pleavin, Andrew Tiernan, and the remarkably ordinary-looking-in-real-life Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes.
Summary: Persian tyrant Xerxes is bringing his massive army to Greece with conquest in mind. Little does he realize that Sparta, the land of fierce warriors and free men. Going against the oracle who has been bought off, King Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler, previously seen as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera) takes 300 of his best warriors north to stop the invasion in this movie recreation of the historical battle of Thermopylae based on the Frank Miller Graphic Novel of the same name.
Entertainment Value: A+ What can I say? I looked forward to seeing it until it came out in the theatres. I expected it to be outstanding, and it was better than that. This is simultaneously the best visual experience I can remember in a movie and the best war movie ever made. Period. No seriously. Period. I’d love to hear someone make a case that there’s been a better one. For all those who enjoy reading Greek mythology, this is the movie feast you’ve been waiting for. And the most amazing thing about it is that it’s basically the first major motion picture from director Zach Snyder, whose only previous work of significance was Dawn of the Dead, a gruesome zombie movie highly popular with the 15-25 single male crowd.
Superficial Content: D Drugs/Alcohol A , Sexuality B , Violence F, Language A, Illegality A. I really struggled with how to rate this movie here. It’s surely an R movie. But the real struggle for me was that the movie is so well-done in an artistic sense, that it’s tough to mark it “down” for content. This movie does nothing more (and everything more) than bring to image literature which is R rated but classic. If the Bible were made with this sort of artistic integrity, it would be R rated…just like Passion of the Christ was. So it really makes you question the issue of rating based on superficial content. That said, here’s the stuff you want to know. There are three scenes which show female nudity in what I thought was a non-erotic way, two right in the beginning and one about ¾ through. There is a sexual assault without nudity. There are also many scenes showing bare-chested men looking tough and sexy. There are pagan religious ceremonies. But obviously the main objection here is violence. Death, blood, and gruesome battle sequences are throughout this movie, but again, it’s art rather than gore, at least in my opinion, even when it’s gruesome imagery involving dead bodies. I found the violence in Saving Private Ryan and Flag of Our Fathers, but the way this violence was presented did not bother me. Again, perhaps because it’s so artistic. Oh, yeah. And you should definitely skip the DVD promos, especially the first one.
Significant Content: A The themes here are plenty. Honor over betrayal. Valor over cowardice. Compassionate strength. Being willing to risk your life to defend everything you love, and understanding that a noble death is far better than an ignoble life. Camaraderie between men. The importance of honoring the law and religious tradition, even when reason says otherwise. And knowing that a society cannot violate its own core principles even in its effort to survive, or it might as well die. Strong women who still know their place as wives. And a clash of civilizations between the free and the slaves. The major concern of the movie is that it is purely a glamorization of strength and cunning rather than Christian virtues such as humility, grace, and mercy. Still, if a war movie can be “good,” this is. Others have said that there are racist undertones in the Greek vs Persian conflict, but I frankly didn’t see it.
Artistic/Thought Value: A+ Here’s the thing to understand about this movie. It is an artistic masterpiece. I felt like I was in a museum watching a screen play for me the video version of amazing historical artwork. This is nothing less than the perfect visual rendition of any element of Greek history and mythology. Think of this as the capstone of a long tradition that began with Jason and the Argonauts and Spartacus and ran through Clash of the Titans to Gladiator and Troy. If the Odyssey or Bulfinch’s Mythology were made into a movie, this is the standard they would be trying to duplicate. The last time I enjoyed an action movie this much was Hero. If Dante and Homer had been filmmakers rather than an orator and a writer, this is what they would have made. I would truly love to see this same production team make the whole range of relevant literature into similarly outstanding movies. The thought value is also quite high, as you’ll see with the discussion questions.
~Critics were worried about this movie being a racist piece of propaganda against Persians (modern day Iran). Do you agree with this concern? A much more emphasized concept is the vital necessity to not break your own society’s basic code of ethics even in defending it from evil. How might this be seen as a criticism of some of the Bush administrations tactics in the war on terror? ~Why didn’t critics perceive this theme as easily as they did the other? Do you think the portrayal of the Ephors was meant as a criticism of Catholic pedophile priests? Why didn’t critics seem to perceive this theme either?
~What do you think of Leonidas’s exhortation to the Ephors that they use their reason rather than their silly religious traditions? Why does Leonidas go to them if he does not respect their ways?
~What parallels do you find between the idea of dying bravely in defense of something you love with the willingness of a society to risk its own destruction by honoring the values it claims to be based on? How does this compare with the Biblical idea that it is foolish to gain the whole world and lose your soul? What are some things worth more than your own life?
~The ancient Spartans were a powerful warlike tribe that engaged in adult-teen male homosexuality as a matter of institutional training, but in this movie that is omitted and even passingly ridiculed in one scene. Why do you think this decision was made? Would your enjoyment of the movie have been changed by including it? The accurately atrocious treatment of babies and young men was included. Why this and not the other?
~Both Leonidas and Xerxes have robust, deep voices. Can a man with a high-pitched voice be an effective and revered leader?
~What do you think of Ephialtes being portrayed as a deformed creature? Was this a commentary of the danger of excluding gays from the military? What do you think of Leonidas’s decision regarding Ephialtes? What about the words he says to him near the end of the movie? How should we handle the desire of people who are not truly capable but want to be included in our endeavors? Do monsters always look like monsters? Are ordinary looking or even good-looking people generally honorable?
~How might the kingdom of Xerxes be compared with that of Satan, and how might the kingdom of Leonidas be compared with that of God? Compare and contrast the leadership styles of Leonidas and Xerxes. Consider the ways Xerxes tries to get people to do his bidding, especially Ephialtes. ~Consider the way Leonidas has many self-doubts before he decides what to do, but none afterward. Do you think Xerxes ever had self-doubts? What about the way Xerxes calls himself a god, but Leonidas never has such delusions. Can you think of some modern leaders who seem more like one or the other of these extremes?
~The Spartans fight by the code “no prisoners, no mercy.” Is this admirable or not in battle? How does it compare with the Geneva Convention?
~Are we still obligated to obey the law and the authorities (religious or otherwise) when they have been corrupted? Does Leonidas represent submission to the law or not?
~The Spartan warriors seem to be both born to kill and trained to do so. Is it compatible with your ideas of God that a person’s purpose in this world might be to be a ferocious soldier?
~Do Leonidas and Gorgo have a good marriage? In what ways?
~Does this movie cultivate pride? If so, is this kind of pride bad?
~What do you make of the principle of Spartans allowing all to speak freely but holding every person accountable for their words?
~We not only let children read Greek Mythology and Biblical stories, we often require them to do so. If those stories, such as Perseus holding Medusa’s severed head aloft, are acceptable to read, do you think they’re also acceptable to watch? What about the numerous statues in art museums of this same scene?
~Why does the violence in this movie seem less troubling than violence in other movies?
Overall Grade: A+ My only real complaint about this masterpiece is that it was made about the Battle of Thermopylae rather than about the battle of Gideon with his 300 warriors, which had been my naively optimistic hope for the film when the original ads came out which did not specify the content.