Wednesday, March 21, 2007

film links, 300 review, and some anti-war spittle

i don't know that anyone ever follows my movie links (see the left panel), but if you do, you may occasionally wonder at my link selection. generally speaking, i choose my film links by googling the film title and a series of impressions or quirky thoughts that i had about the film. for example, if i were choosing a link for 300 i might type "300 stylized speedos infanticide." of course, i also thought that 300 was bloody and violent, but a search using these terms would return nearly every review of the film--i'm looking for something a little more interesting. i also like to see what jeffrey overstreet and his friends at christianitytoday say because they tend to present a thoughtfully christian perspective on films. then, as a last resort, i may link to imbd or wikipedia.

rating: 10 out of 17

in this case, i'm linking to overstreet's blog, but not because of anything he has to say--he didn't even see the movie. no, this is an instance where i'm more interested in the comments and heated debate that surround a film than the film itself. is 300 merely a violent blood bath that glorifies killing or is there some greater merit to snyder's epic battle film?

well, to the filmmaker's credit, the movie was beautifully shot. i'm not familiar with the cinematic terms for its style, but there was a certain artistry to the entire picture. and while bloody, the violence seemed more reminiscent of kill bill than the shocking realism of films like departed. there may also be some value in resurrecting ancient stories of honor and courage. indeed, as we were walking out of the majestic bay theater, our conversation jumped from 480 bc to 1942. it's odd, but that march 9th was a better personal commemoration of our soldiers' sacrifice than most memorial and veteran's days; i spent at least a minute considering the heroics of those WWII freedom-fighters.

however, i doubt that most movie-goers experienced this same sense of history.

moreover, as i reflect on 300 i wonder two things: (1) am i supposed to view this film as good versus evil? is it black and white or did snyder craft some ambiguity into the film? and (2) if there is room for grey, how evident is that to the average popcorn-munching onlooker? it may seem like the spartans are the good guys, but during the course of the film we see the "good guys" commit infanticide, raise their children in a spirit of blood-lust, and shuttle their good-looking girls into the sexual service of nasty old men. the main protagonist, otherwise portrayed as a noble and honorable king, barely hesitates before murdering an unarmed ambassador. in the context of the film, i'm not sure how (or if!) we're to interpret these moral slips; snyder plays the scenes straight, offering no prescriptive symbols to direct our interpretation. i suspect that the majority of viewers ignored the moral indiscretions of the spartans, but i also suspect that the rolling tape subconsciously aligned viewers with one of the following two camps: either (1) the spartans are clearly the good guys, and thus their way of life (including infanticide, murder, sexual enslavement) is somehow excused, or (2) the film is an indictment of sparta. in any case, i think i'd rather live in seattle.

300 is probably nothing more than stylized violence and slow-motion death blows, but perhap a more nuanced viewing can give us pause to consider the real-life grit of war. ( clue in those of you who haven't seen the film, i've just rambled my way off the deep end; i'm now passing from that dangerous ground that literature snobs call reader-response criticism into something a bit more like personal essay.) it's not all guts and glory: war is ugly. the enemy straps bombs to children, and soldiers in iraq are forced to shoot little kids or risk being killed themselves.

like augustine, i believe in just war, but even just wars have a way of tarnishing men. take WWII for example. during a recent posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) lecture, i learned that
when allied forces liberated dachau, the soldiers took justice into their own hands and lined up and executed all of the german soldiers. and on their way to dachau, as soldiers advanced into nazi-occupied france they often heard scuttling noises in road-side buildings, and because they couldn't take the chance that the sounds might be germans, the GIs tossed grenades into the homes, often killing innocent french families.

my officemate, a PTSD researcher, tells me that in a government-sponsored survey of US vietnam combat veterans, 28% of respondents admitted to killing civilians. i'd prefer that number to be zero. and so i suppose that if we sense that there's something awry with those spartans, perhaps there's some goodness to 300. but if not, well, perhaps that's okay too.