Just got back from viewing 300 with a half-full theater. 300 is bloody and gory but not horrifying in a Braveheart way. It was cartoonish enough that the deaths portrayed felt symbolic rather than individual and real. I cried no tears when anyone, including (spoiler alert: stop reading if you don't know history) Leonidis bit it. (And I am a girl given to tears during movies--even blood and guts ones.) So is the movie emotionally empty? Well not so much emotionally empty, as philosophically and physically full. Like the Rocky series, 300 strips away doubt and fear which leaves room for contemplation. All good sci-fi/fantasy philosophizes among the fantastical. So the watcher can either leave the theatre reveling in the spectacle or wondering at the meaning, or both.
A rock-n-roll thumping score, over-the-top visuals, and Fred Astaire grace-filled battle-scenes featuring flying heads and spurting limbs serve as the backdrop to the story. The theme is simple and that is why critics scorn (see here, here, here and here) it and audiences love it. On the evil Persian side symbolized by a gold-adorned Xerxes there is hubris, decadence, slavery, treachery, bribery, betrayal, theft, cowardice, rape and weakness. On the good Spartan side symbolized by Leonidis and his wife Queen Gorgo there is faith, restraint (except during fighting—leave no prisoners—another reason for reviewers to hate it), freedom, loyalty, willingness, courage, giving, bravery and strength. The good side wins even in loss.
Spartan's King Leonidis is offered a savior's choice: “Worship the devil in return for all the kingdoms of the world.” Leonidis declines and tosses the messengers into a well, thus declaring war on the vast Persian army. Leonidis was not in a mood to treat with the enemy, also known as diplomacy, also known as appeasement, also known as certain submission, i.e. slavery. Perhaps this is the biggest sticking point with critics (see above): the lack of nuance. For example, here’s a “nuanced” sum up from the NY Post’s Kyle Smith:
But keeping in mind Slate's Mickey Kaus' Hitler Rule - never compare anything to Hitler - it isn't a stretch to imagine Adolf's boys at a "300" screening, heil-fiving each other throughout and then lining up to see it again.Why, if I don’t miss my mark, that’s a rather over-the-top and lack of nuanced review—going all Hitler and heil-fives.
One of the more interesting ideas put forward in the movie deals with gender roles in a free versus a shame and power culture. Dr. Sanity has written about this extensively—making the link between subjugation/deification of women (can’t find the link right now) and the frustrated aggression of the men enslaved by their own bigotry. There is a somewhat graphic love scene between the King and Queen where both enjoy positions of power. This would be in stark contrast to Xerxes’ women as sex slaves who exist purely for the men’s pleasure. Their service to men was portrayed as empty compared with a good old romp of equals. In addition, Queen Gorbo has the nerve to speak out to the Persian messenger and the Spartan Council. How dare she? Well, she serves as the moral compass to King Lionisis; they are a team, and a formidable one. Marriage and family as societal strength surely also riles the critics.
300 lays out simple themes for the taking, the last one the most important. Persia was undone by their decadence and softness as much as anything. If America is to take a lesson, it should be taken from the Persians. The high ideals and simple beauty of democracy deserve a fight. Riches and indulgence and decadence and licentiousness will undo the greatest of cultures. America should worry about rotting within. That’s a danger bigger than any suicide bomber. With a weak will to protect the ideals, the enemy is already victorious.
Winners and losers, right and wrong, good and evil. This movie will make a lot of money. The progressives will despair.
As an aside: This is not a movie for children. I'm not sure it's a movie for kids under 17. A couple dull-witted parents had their four year old daughter (or so) and another family had their eight year old son with them. The movie is romantically violent in a way that would be overwhelming for children. Scar-for-life, nightmares-until-adulthood type of scenes abound. It is downright abusive to bring children to movies like this.