Thursday, November 15, 2007

Leonidas: Champion of Vice and Existentialism

11:46pm Monday, Mar 12
Can a movie be too awesome? If moderation is required in all things, then “300” is a grave sacrilege against the commandments of moviemaking. But the blasphemy of Frank Miller goes far beyond his contempt for the limits of “badass-ness”. With this 21st century rendition of the epic Battle of Thermopylae, Miller has cast Jerard Butler in the image of a postmodern messiah. But where Jesus was a prophet of Christianity, Leonidas is a martyr for existentialism and America’s vice.

First off, there was a gratuitous amount of sex and violence in this movie. I probably only saw about a third of it cause I was covering my eyes during all the killing and nakedness. There were people without clothes! That alone makes this movie questionable. But it gets worse because those same people do very naughty things (I’ll leave it to your imagination if you haven’t already seen it). Did I mention the violence? If there is such thing as a pornographic orgy of death, this is it. There are actually scenes where Leonidas can be seen hacking into a nameless Persian’s abdomen as all his limbs miraculously separate from his body. I guess I should’ve known what to expect from a movie with a blood soaked movie poster.

If sex and violence weren’t enough, this movie ironically betrays the principles that it seeks to instill in the audience. It talks about virtue, honor, and reason, but what reason is there in this senseless orgy of violence and sex? How dishonorable is this over sexual and hyper-violent portrayal of women and warfare? How debasing and ignoble is it to illicit our lust and our passion with these scenes of rapine and violence? The thin veneer of civic virtue in this movie serves only to obscure the blatant promotion of vice for purpose of shameless corporate profits.

Was I the only one who saw the blatant parallels between the martyrdom of Leonidas and the crucifixion of Christ? If you didn’t here’s a recap: Xerxes plays the part of Satan/False God tempting the Christ figure of Leonidas. Ephialtes plays the part of Judas and betrays Leonidas. Leonidas even forgives Ephialtes (“I hope you live a long life”) just like Jesus. Leonidas sacrifices his life in a final pose eerily reminiscent of a crucifixion. Finally, the story of Leonidas/Jesus is retold eternally leading to the eventual defeat of the Persians/Romans and the triumph of the Greece/Christianity over barbarism/paganism.

I would normally find such biblical parallels refreshing, if it weren’t for the manner in which Miller’s movie actively touts the impending triumph of “reason” over “mysticism”. I’m not sure I can applaud a movie loaded with biblical allusions that seems to renounce mysticism/religion (notice the pedophile Ephors). Didn’t we already see this show once with Voltaire and Robespierre during the revolution? I thought we had gotten over this idea. I’m not sure whether this is an allusion to Aristotelianism, the Enlightenment, or Existentialism but it all speaks of a grave misunderstanding of Philosophy, Religion, and History. Does Miller forget that the 21st century has rejected the Platonic and Christian ideas of reason and virtue? Even the Greeks weren’t entirely rational empiricists. Platonic ideas of metaphysical dualism predated Christian dualism and people have always liked Plato more than Aristotle.So what are we to make of Miller’s Leonidas, this messiah of the modern world? To me, he seems a martyr for existentialism, the idea that a person’s individual existence defines a world devoid of objective truth or morality (hence the prolific amount of sex and violence). Leonidas is a romantic hero who fights against the oppression of hierarchical societies (Persia) and mysticism/religion. He’s a champion of individualism who will not suffer conformity or submission to authority. He is an American messiah in a uniquely 21st century movie.

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