I won’t be coy. I loved this movie. Yes, I know all the reasons I’m not supposed to like it. It’s violent. It’s callous. It glorifies a warrior culture. It overlooks historical inconveniences. The racial casting has to be controversial.
Doesn’t matter. 300 is myth, and myth is what I love. It’s what I strive to write, albeit a bit removed, from a softer perspective. Myth is imbued with elemental meaning. It’s filled with absolutes. It’s beautiful and hideous at once, with very little in-between. 300 has all of this. It knows its purpose.
So I’ve spent the last day ruminating over why elemental movies like this appeal to me — The Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, The Last Samurai, Braveheart — to name a few. There are probably many reasons, but the one I want to pick out is the one of character – all these stories deal with characters who possess, or learn to possess, a profound discipline, and a personal strength to contend with pain and fear, even unto the fear of death, all in the defense of an ideal.
This is so much more interesting to me than the petty trivialities of the tabloids, and the endless novels that seem written to support them.
Why do mythic stories mean so much – whether they take the form of historical tales, science fiction, or fantasy? What do we gain from them? “Adolescent wish fulfillment” is often the academic explanation – but it’s a silly and insulting answer. Obviously none of us here are ever going to have to stand in a narrow ravine and face an overwhelming enemy, or be asked to strap on a sword and ride forth into the wilderness in defense of home and freedom. Yet that we understand why someone would do such a thing gives depth to our lives, even if the biggest threat we face is the idiot on the highway during the morning commute. If we understand honor in mythic stories, we also understand honor in our own lives – or loyalty, truth, freedom, strength, respect, responsibility – the classic virtues. If our emotional center exists in that other world, surely it will be reflected in this one?
Certainly, we could use a bit more of the classic virtues in our daily lives. In 300 there is a very profound and deliberate contrast between the clean, strong lives of the Spartans, idealized in the relationship between King Leonidas and his wife, and the self-indulgent, drug-addicted, overly-decorated debauchery of the enemy Persians. Guess which society more closely resembles the “ideals” of modern American existence? (Hint: “Spartan” is not a powerful advertising term.)
So let the critics frown upon 300. The rest of us can grasp the difference between myth and reality, and take the best of each.