Is 300 the best fascist movie ever? Better than Triumph of the Will? I certainly liked it better. Generally, unlike Susan Sontag, fascism doesn’t fascinate me, it nauseates, and rather than finding Triumph a masterpiece despite itself, I found it tedious and laughable with some few and far between good shots. 300 isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but I still didn’t find it the awful joke, the "triumph of the manly men" that some reviews did. It certainly has more compelling moments than Triumph of the Will, and I didn’t groan and suffer through the whole thing, although I did, as I do at most movies, look at my watch ninety minutes in. I think it was the comic book thing that saved it – I like comic books (at least I used to, I’m no snob, but I’m sorry, I find something inherently juvenile about the genre no matter what anyone says), and comic book movies, I mean, let’s admit it, the Rami’s Spiderman movies and Burton’s Batman ones are good movies by any measure, not to mention the recent Batman Begins. I even liked the dodgier X-men series, or, gasp, the Fantastic Four one. There’s a snap, a verve to the best comic book films, and the 300 has it, because, after all, these guys are, like the Fantastic Four, a bunch of superheroes battling a horde of ugly freaks.
The awesome six packs (not a special effect!), the nonstop action, the acrobatic kills, the hacked off limbs, and even the gratuitous tit shots are all in the comic book, or at least the "graphic" novel tradition, a lot of which, circuitously enough, derive from movies anyway, and I didn’t have a problem with any of that. Structurally, 300‘s attack plan suffers from the same tactical error the Persians did in the movie – they throw in their best stuff, the Immortals, too early and it’s down hill after than, even the Rhino and Elephants barely mussing the Spartan’s hair, making their long drawn out end anti-climactic. But there are worse ways to spend your time and my thirteen year old son loved it and the thirteen year old in me did too. Plus there’s something about those Spartan women that turns me on.
However, comic books are not good history, and the film’s makers should not, as they do, pretend that 300 essentially accurate historically. Much of the film’s bad history – the Spartans shouting about freedom when they themselves enslaved an entire people in order to give themselves the "freedom" to be full time soldiers, or the bashing of the other Greeks and civilian soldiers when it was the Athenians who delivered the fatal blow to the Persian invasion — stems from the even worse problem of bad politics. I’ve heard an interview with Frank Miller, the film’s auteur, spouting, in a suspiciously nerdish squeak, conservative inanities about the war in Iraq (i.e., that Iraq declared war on us – uh, no, Frank they didn’t – either time!) and America’s unwillingness to stand up and fight the, uh, Persian hordes like men, but even if I hadn’t, 300’s ham handed slant on current events is only too apparent.
A comic book, even if you call it a graphic novel, is no place for editorial cartooning. The idea that resistance to the war in Iraq is indicative of a failure of courage that emboldens our enemies is criminally ridiculous. Put a million Al-Qaida soldiers in Canada headed our way and see how many of us liberals would grab a gun and how few would resist the war effort. 9/11 was an attack on America and we rightfully responded in our attack on Afghanistan, only the Bush regime blew that by already beginning to focus on Iraq. That war has nothing to do with the fine phrases about freedom and family that the Spartans shout in 300. In fact, by invading a country that had not attacked us and did not (even if they HAD had WMD’s) directly threaten us, we tarnished hundreds of years of American honor, acting much more like the fictional Xerxes than the fictional Leonidas. If we’re going to do stuff like that we might as well be like the real Spartans and enslave the native population and declare a military dictatorship. If not, then we have to use the very same diplomacy that the Spartans so unceremoniously reject in 300‘s beginning, very much like the way the Bush regime kicked the State Department down the toilet when planning and executing the disastrous Iraq war. Many people still seem to see the hastily devised "Axis of Evil" rhetoric of Bush as a direct corollary to the actual Axis alliance of World War Two, as if Sunnis, Shiites, Al-Qaida, North Koreans and various antagonistic nationalists are all part of a united front against freedom. Taking Bagdad didn’t prove to be like taking Berlin, and plunging various middle eastern countries into chaos won’t help to defeat Al-Qaida.
As evidenced by 300 and the Nazi line about World War One, the fascist mind can’t accept defeat except as a betrayal, "a stab in the back," and that’s the card the Republicans are playing now. I’m tired of being called a cowardly traitor – although it may be more Spartan I find proactive wars, the Patriot act and torture to be a lot less American that honest dissent. Certainly Bush and Cheney both had a chance to fight for their country against the Asian hordes in their youth, and unlike Leonidas, Kerry and Gore, they skulked at home. 300 is a rousing movie, but, it doesn’t have that much to do with history and even less with current events.