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300: A Film Without Politics?

300 has made a ton of money, but its politics and depiction of an early clash of civilizations has also stirred up controversy. Director Zach Snyder has maintained he did not set out to make any political statements, but in a time where America is at war in the Middle East can we really expect that an American film about Greeks fighting Persians can be really apolitical? My thoughts on the controversy (and the film itself) after the jump.

First and foremost, I believe Snyder's claims that he didn't intentionally make a political film. We're talking about the same guy who took Dawn of the Dead -- a great social satire -- and ripped out everything meaningful it had to say when he remade it. When Snyder says he's just trying to make whizbang rollercoaster rides, it seems reasonable to believe him.

But it brings up a larger question. Can movies (or any art) really be separated from the politics of their time? Snyder may not have been intentionally making a film to rally the western world, but certainly he and everybody involved in the film is affected by the current political climate.

Things are more complicated in this case because the film closely follows Frank Miller's graphic novel, originally published in 1998. At that time, there were definitely tensions between America and the Middle East, but it's not like Miller was inspired by the Sept. 11 terror attacks or the subsequent Second Gulf War.

But in the adaptation, the filmmakers made choices (even if the choice is as simple as staying true to the source material). And I have to think that they were influenced by the world in which they lived.

The film portrays the Persians as monsters, wretched slaves being driven by an insane king who believes he is a god. In a weird bit of historical revisionism, the Spartans are presented as having a sort of free society, one that is safe through superiority on the battlefield. I don't think you have to work too hard to find any number of interpretations that are relevant to the events of the past several years.

I don't think the movie is exactly a message film at all, but I am deeply uncomfortable with the messages it does send. I think some of it can be excused by the fact that it's clearly something of an expressionistic movie, the battle of Thermopylae as seen from the side of Sparta, so in that sense it makes sense to portray the Persians as being inhuman, as that is likely how they would have been viewed by the Greek warriors.

But every time I start analyzing the movie's politics and morals, I come to conclusions that I don't like. It seems to buy into the idea that moral virtue is reflected in outward appearance, as all but one of the villains are in some way outwardly bizarre looking, while every good Spartan looks like they stepped out of the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. What kind of flick would actually endorse the notion of killing off disfigured newborns?

With all that said, I did actually enjoy the movie. I disagree with it on almost every level, but as a visceral experience it is pretty effective. As much as you can read into the flick, for the most part any real political or social statements are relegated to the sidelines -- most of the movie is dudes slicing each other up, and I can get into that if it's done with as much style as it is here.

So, Dear Reader, what do you think of all this? Is 300 just a silly action movie we shouldn't pay too much attention to, or does it have a deeper cultural significance? Did you enjoy it simply on the level of popcorn flick?

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