April 28th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: East Timor election: what's cooking?

EDITORIAL: Implications of East Timor's election

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd's character under scrutiny

OVERSEAS TRADE: Wheat-growers back single-desk selling

MANUFACTURING: Japan still shows the way

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Easter and the media / Literacy, and all that / Anzac Day / Jews and Muslims / Pre-Budget ruminations

DAVID HICKS AFFAIR: Media's blind eye to Hicks treason

THE COLD WAR: How Moscow framed Pope Pius XII as pro-Nazi

GREAT BRITAIN: Why Britain is no longer great

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION: Lottery players fleeced for $100 million

ETHICS: New safeguard for vulnerable patients

HEALTH: Married gays die 24 years younger

OBITUARY: Dr John Billings (1918-2007) and the Culture of Life

AS THE WORLD TURNS: The unmarriage revolution / Unexpected outbreak of morality / Mediocrity on the march / Children recruited to spy for Big Brother

Antidotes to narcissism (letter)

Problems with surrogacy (letter)

Politicised public service (letter)

Bell tolls for national icon (letter)

CINEMA: Spartan sacrifice that saved Greece


BOOKS: BACKS TO THE WALL: A larrikin on the Western Front, by G.D. Mitchell with Robert Macklin

Books promotion page

Spartan sacrifice that saved Greece

by Damian Wyld

News Weekly, April 28, 2007
Iran is enraged at a new Hollywood film, 300, about the heroic Greek stand against invading Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. Film reviewed by Damian Wyld.
A clash of civilisations.

The new film 300 may not go down as one of the great epic films, but it is nevertheless a reminder of some timeless events and values - and it has created some waves of it own.

Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name, the film tells the true story of 300 heroic Spartan soldiers and their handful of allies, who held the pass of Thermopylae for three days, in 480 BC, against an invading Persian army of several hundred thousand.

In this most famous of last stands, King Leonidas of Sparta and his men, outnumbered perhaps a thousand to one, inflicted phenomenal casualties on the army of Xerxes, allowing other Greek nations, such as Athens, time to prepare (and ultimately to triumph) in the wider war. For every few Spartans, tens of thousands of ever more demoralised Persians fell in the narrow battlefield.

The film, with its amazing computer-generated imagery (even many close-up actors are computer animations), is able to portray the utter carnage of the Battle of Thermopylae.

Over the top

In fact, it tends to go a bit over the top, which is hardly surprising given the film is based on a glorified comic book. This comic-book style is also evident in the unnecessary displays of sex and nudity which, unfortunately, seem almost obligatory in Hollywood filmmaking these days.

The harsh life of a Spartan is shown in detail. Infanticide of the deformed or sickly is a rule, boys are taught to fight and fend for themselves from an early age, and women play a part in fostering a martial culture.

But the viewer is also shown why and for what a Spartan fights. There is a culture of honour, self-sacrifice and patriotism second to none. Love of one's own country is a natural thing, but the nationalism of Sparta is evident in an ancient world of feudal politics and swinging allegiances.

Gerard Butler does an excellent job as Leonidas, ignoring politicians and mystic counsel to undertake what is a doomed mission from the outset. His fearless, and at times jovial, demeanour makes it easy to believe the willingness with which 300 men chose to fight to the death.

And this is not poetic licence, but historical fact. When Xerxes ordered Leonidas to surrender his arms, the reply was, “Come and get them.”

When one of his colleagues, Dienekes, was told that the Persian arrows were so many as to “blot out the sun”, Dienekes laughed and replied, “So much the better, we shall fight in the shade.”

The film has also generated some interesting political interpretations.

The 1962 film 300 Spartans was infused with Cold War themes, references being made to “the only stronghold of freedom remaining” against the enslaved empire of the Persians. Nothing has changed with its successor, 300, being attacked by today's Iranian Government as “psychological warfare”.

Javad Shamaqdari, cultural advisor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, claimed the film was the result of a long-running study by Hollywood and US cultural authorities into means of undermining Iranian culture in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iranian daily newspaper Ayandeh-No subsequently ran the headline “Hollywood declares war on Iranians” and stated that the film “seeks to tell people that Iran, which is in the Axis of Evil now, has for long been the source of evil, and modern Iranians' ancestors are the ugly murderous dumb savages you see in 300”.

It's understandable to make the historical link between ancient Persia and its modern successor, Iran. What is a little more tenuous, however, is the conclusion that the Spartans of 300 represent the United States.

Three hundred lonely Spartans and a handful of assorted friends would hardly remind viewers of a military superpower, but it must be conceded that the film's dialogue does contain some subtle themes.

At one point in the film, Leonidas's wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), is seeking support for her husband and is berated by a politician, who claims that Leonidas is a warmonger who picked a fight with the Persians. Another politician replies that the claim is nonsense, the Persians having desired to conquer Greece for many years and are unlikely to stop trying anytime soon.

Aside from the regrettable inclusions mentioned earlier, the film may nevertheless do some good. Considering the record-breaking box office takings, a vast number of young people will learn about a pivotal event in the development of Western civilisation.

They might even gain some inspiration, a sense that doing what is easy is frequently different from doing what is right. Xerxes offered Leonidas the kingship of all Greece if he would only submit, but Leonidas chose to give his life that his people might live free.

- film reviewed by Damian Wyld.

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