There's this trailer I just discovered on Apple.com... it's for a movie called 300, based on Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name about the Battle of Thermopylae. It looks REALLY pretty, with a piercing, metallic color scheme, gratuitious use of slow motion, and some fantastic cinematography. It's also obviously a violent movie. The media critic in me wants to reprimand this, but at the same time, the consumer in me is mad excited to watch it all go down.
Don't mistake... the trailer makes this film look ruthless. Looking through Frank Miller's comic, it seems that King Leonidas is a stone-cold warrior king. In the film, he seems to be seething with proud rage, and Gerard Butler's hard-edged delivery makes me really happy. So what makes this violence seem distinctive, different from all that cops-and-robbers shit in Scorcese's new film, different from the uninhibited vigilanteism of Boondock Saints, a thing unto itself?
Well, let's look at the dialouge. The trailer is short, so I can transcribe it all.
King Leonidas: "SPARTANS! TONIGHT... WE DINE IN HELL!"
Persian ambassador: "Be afraid. Sparta will burn to the ground. ... (King Leonidas draws sword) This is blasphemy. This is madness!"
King Leonidas: "Madness... THIS IS SPARTA! (kicks him into a well)"
Persian lord: "The thousand nations of the Persian Empire descend upon you. Our arrows will blot out the sun."
Spartan soldier: "Then we will fight in the shade."
King Leonidas: "THIS IS WHERE WE FIGHT! THIS IS WHERE THEY DIE!"
King Leonidas: "Before this battle is over, the world will know that few stood against many."
That's all of it... beautiful, emotional, hyper-dramatic little snippets of rage and defiance that boil through this little preview video and make me DESPERATE to watch the film. But there's something interesting about this dialouge that you won't see in transcriptions from other action films. Where are the references to honor? Truth? Heroism? Legacy? Even freedom?
This is about rage and violence of a primal civilization that wrote the book on explosive emotionality. There's no moralization... no couching this battle in terms of the greater good, or the sovereignty of free people against tyrants. That's how it's different, at least as I read this trailer, and I hope the film itself doesn't disappoint. This isn't about the "democratic world" against the "axis of evil." It's about a small city-state that had so much rage and such a sense of self that a tiny band of warriors would stand alone to defend it with no hope of coming out alive.
Is that bad? We're suddenly tolerant of pure, unabashed violence that doesn't seem to have a point... kind of like GTA, right? Where's the value in that? But honestly, there is value in facing that primal instinct every so often, watching it divorced from all the bullshit justification and pretensions to "civilized war." This movie is a hyperkinetic fantasy, and I can enjoy this world because it's an idealized hell that I would never want to live in. And in the meantime, the masturbatory propaganda of world governments looks like a crock in comparison. We're fighting a war for humanitarianism? You're promising a better life to the country we're tearing apart?
As twisted as it may be, that rhetoric sounds more unbalanced than a Spartan king screaming for blood in the face of an unbeatable enemy. At least one resonates, if only romantically and emotionally... the bullshit cries of Iraqi freedom, echoing from the pedestals of the wealthy and evangelical?
So my violent side will go watch a movie next year. I keep it so well under wraps, at least I can give it that one gift.