The hugely successful 300 fuses comic book homoeroticism with unashamedly reactionary politics. How can supposedly liberal Hollywood have produced such a movie?by Mark Cousins / May 26, 2007 / Leave a comment
Hollywood releases on average three films a week in Britain, more than 150 a year. Since the product in question is a film, which is labour-intensive and unpredictable in its income generation, it comes as no surprise that Hollywood tries to standardise as much of the production process as it can. Thus genre, stardom, story structure, themes and marketing methods are all made formulaic—frustratingly so for those of us who like surprises.
But occasionally a film comes off the conveyer belt that seems to have escaped the cookie-cutter. One such movie is 300, which is well on its way to taking $0.5bn at the box office. Since its release, it has been written about extensively. I intended not to add to the coverage—but then I saw it, and my jaw dropped.
Unless you gave up media for Lent, you’ll know that 300 depicts the famous battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, in which Spartan King Leonidas and 300 of his elite guard routed Persian King Xerxes’s force of 10,000, 100,000 or 170,000 (Herodotus didn’t have a police helicopter, so had to guess). Not since Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ has Hollywood produced anything so rabidly, ferally frenzied. 300 feels as if Adolf Hitler has come back from the dead, got hooked on gay fisting websites, done the best digital film course in the world, then stalked into liberal-Jewish Hollywood and convinced them to give him $60m to make a movie.
Some of 300’s bizarreness can be explained by the real events on which it is based. The military tactics of Thermopylae have, down the centuries, quickened the pulse of red-meat illiberals. The fact that the Spartans seem to have fought naked, and had sex with each other, makes the battle the site of western ur-homoeroticism. The fact that white Hellens faced down Asian Persians means that it can be seen as the gathering storm of the clash of civilisations.
Add to this the visual route by which 300 got to the screen, and its gay Rumsfeldian surrealism starts to make more sense. The film is an adaptation of a series of graphic novels by Frank Miller. To take a comic book as your starting point is to decouple film from its original source of magic—its ability to capture the appearance of the real world. The human eye…