Tough to write a review for this one. I'm still digesting the images and looking forward to an encore vieiwing. However, given that I'm pretty sure there's a few people who are interested in knowing what I thought about it, here are some reflections.
My journey to seeing this movie began in September of last year when I saw the first trailer for it. The combination of digital art (literally moving paintings!) and Trent Reznor's music blew me away. I hadn't been that excited for a film since the Lord of the Rings trilogy was in theaters. This was followed by the second trailer, which merely whetted the appetite.
Then at Christmas, Gunnar bought me Frank Miller's graphic novel; I remember telling my brother-in-law Brian that if the movie even remotely resembled the graphic novel, it was going to rock. While still on holidays, I picked up a paperback version of Steven Pressfields' Gates of Fire and read it over the first weeks of January.
Then came the wait. The long wait between finishing Gates of Fire and the weeks leading up to the release of the film. There were clips released to various sites, showing moments from the movie. I watched them all.
I bought the soundtrack. And then...I saw the movie, which became a culmination of this journey rather than an entity unto itself. It stands in addition to all the steps leading up to it. For me, the trailers are works of art in their own right, part of the whole that is 300, much in the same way I experience the Lord of the Rings films as part of 30 years of loving Tolkien's work.
I would call 300 an example of what Thomas Elsaesser refers to as the "historical imaginary". It's based on a graphic novel that's based on a historical event. It doesn't pretend to be an adaptation of Herodotus' Histories. It is like an expressionist version of the Battle of Thermopylae; it evokes all the visceral feelings that one associates with the event, but doesn't get bogged down in historical minutae.
It is mythic. It is epic. It is more interested in visual poetry than accuracy. This is not a prose work to be sure. The fights are too choreographed, too stylized. Their perfection is a dance, not a stumbling mess. The only beings who fight this way are immortalized in epic poetry such as the Illiad. I couldn't help but think that this is the way Troy should have looked.
It is sensual and sexy in a way films rarely are. The cerulean beauty and purity of the lovemaking between King Leonidas and Queen Gorgo is juxtaposed against the scarlet inferno of Xerxes' temptation of the traitor Ephialtes, where so much naked flesh is exposed the eye can't discern where one person begins and another ends. It's a scene I'd very much love to use for a sermon and know no amount of editing will make it possible. Xerxes' words to Ephialtes are powerful, for anyone who seeks to hold themselves accountable to a higher purpose: "It was cruel that the Spartan King required you to stand...but I am kind. All I ask you to do is kneel."
Made me think of Ephesians 6:13, where the writer encourages the believer to "put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand."
Standing is tough. Kneeling comes easy. I kneel before many things that don't deserve my submission, and stand, chin raised in defiance of many things that deserve my bended knee. I kneel to my desire, and stand against God, when it ought to be the other way around.
The movie is long form of what I've chosen as the bilbical verse I hope I live my life by, 2 Samuel 23:10 "...he stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The LORD brought about a great victory that day. The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead." I get the impression Eleazar died there, taking his stand. I'm not a warmonger, but I believe in standing firm for justice and for a better world. The metaphor might be violent; the action it inspires isn't necessarily. We can take a stand against poverty.
A quick note on the already hot topic of whether or not this film is political. We always find what we're looking for. After all, I found a sermon illustration. Someone looking for a right-wing agenda will find one. Strangely, I'm pretty sure a left-wing thinker could find a leftist agenda as well. Me? I was into Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian before I studied Edward Said's Orientalism.