I Haven't Seen 300 Yet...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

... and now I'm getting very worried.

Sure, I'm pimping it in the Agon thread below. But that's because I thought it was going to be a ridiculous, awesome, rock-and-roll slaughterfest at best, and a pretty experiment in digital filmmaking at worst.

Then I read the phrase rape scene in a review of the film. Frak.

I know Frank Miller. I have almost everything he's made. It's generally very pretty in its pictures and very ugly in its statements and I'm actually okay with that. Frank is a giant asshole, and when he writes, he shows it. I don't think he's an honest-to-god racist, or homophobe, or misogynist -- but I totally understand how his work comes off that way and I would never tell someone how to feel about art. So yeah, he's got issues, and they're on the page, and man, sometimes they suck.

But rape scene? Holy shit. I really, really, don't want to see that. I'd be fine with it if movies didn't ever do that. But, I'm also okay with a movie punching me in the balls and saying, "Too bad, sucker. Things are ugly." Sometimes art needs to do that.

So, come on people. Who's seen it? What did you think?


Blogger John Harper says:  

Now I'm hearing that the rape scene is more like a "sex as weapon" scene in which the Queen uses her sex for the good of Sparta.

Which is still an ugly thing (much like killing for political ideals, to my mind). But it's a very different thing from "rape scene" in my book.

I guess I will have to see and judge for myself. I'd love to hear what you folks think, though.

Blogger John Harper says:  

People are also having this conversation on RPGnet, so I'm archiving the link here:


Anonymous Anonymous says:  

I saw it. My reaction is somewhere between the "meh!" and the "awesome!", but largely comes out positive.

Here's the skinny.

The "issues" stuff didn't bug me very much at all (but it didn't fail to affect me either). By "issues" I mean:

1. The rape scene as some are calling it is a case of a Queen using sex to barter for political leverage to send aid to help her husband, King Leonidas. The senator she procures political favor from flips her around, roughly pressing her up against the wall, and assures her that it's going to take a while and she won't enjoy it. It's ugly, yes, but I felt that the ugliness played an appropriately second fiddle to the message of "the sacrifices I will make for the one I love". So yeah, it's brutal and ugly -- though the actual sexual/rape act occurs almost wholly off-camera -- and it'll make some people uncomfortable (though I've seen several women on my blog readings that loved the film).

2. The brown Persian man gets killed an awful lot, and the Spartans are a bunch of white men with black hair and killer abs. Yeah, there's a bit of racism in that. Then again, if I was going to see a movie about America winning World War II, I'd see a lot of Germans and Japanese get killed -- if I was seeing a movie about America "taming" the Wild West, I'd see a lot of Native Americans getting shat on. The Persians come out of the Middle East and Africa and Asia; they have lots of slaves and darker skin. They get their butts kicked for most of the picture. If you aren't ready for this, it can feel pretty uncomfortable. But if you are -- and I was -- you recognize it as stipulated in the premise of the film. I don't know if that meant I was desensitized to it, or braced for it, or what, but that definitely happens. I just didn't feel like I was getting punched in the mouth by the notion that it's because the White Man is better than the Brown Man. Instead, I felt it was because the Spartans were some seriously psychotic death-orgy military freaks. So as a racism issue -- especially given my recent sensitization to such things -- it was a low buzz, but not a buzzkill.

(more in a subsequent comment)

Anonymous Anonymous says:  

So setting the issue stuff aside as survivable if you go to the movie as an informed consumer (which I did), how was the picture outside of that?

Pretty good. It was full of blood, dismemberments, very erect female nipples, and an intensely overloading amount of bare athletic male flesh. The film-maker *nailed* the look of the source material -- astonishingly so -- and managed to sort of address and set aside the bloody simplicity of the plot by rendering it in a very artistic, almost otherworldly visual style. There are some sequences when the Spartans absolutely go to town in a fight, and it's choreographed as one of the best death-ballets I've seen on film. If you're looking for this, it delivers by way of scooping out your eyeballs and pouring in bloody cinematic battlefights turned up to eleven.

But here's where the mitigating factor was for me: I got taken out of the picture several times because the movie was almost too dedicated to being a "graphic novel as a movie". The amount of slow motion used -- mainly to frame particular visual moments much like they were in the source material -- was honestly overdone, at least for my taste. I think Russell Collins said over on his LJ that it ended up robbing the *drama* of slow motion, the ability of slow motion to highlight a particularly important or painful moment, because it was done so much that it was instead, simply and straightly a technique for visual presentation.

Now, I loved Sin City, a lot, and that was pretty much a shot for shot remake of its source material. But that same technique here served to ... I dunno, muck it up a little for me. Strangely, I wanted the filmmaker to take *more* liberties with the material, so that I got something crafted as a cinematic experience first and an homage to a graphic novel as a (close!) second, rather than the other way around.

Still, for you, if you think you can get past the (honestly, entirely survivable) issues I talked about in my first comment, I would enthusiastically recommend that you see the film. Speaking to you as the author of Agon, this is a movie I think you WANT in your head.

Just be an informed consumer. Know that it's a Frank Miller story. It goes the places that a Frank Miller story will go. If you weren't ready for a Frank Miller story, you'll get fucked up by him being Frank Miller. If you go knowing you're getting a Frank Miller story, everything that COULD sour the experience -- for me at least -- won't. Which should leave you able to experience the movie on its own merits.

3.5 stars out of 5. It'd be 4 or even 4.5 if I hadn't been taken out of the cinematic experience, but y'know what -- 3.5 is still worth full price at the box office.

Blogger John Harper says:  

Thanks for that detailed breakdown, Fred. That helps a lot.

Blogger Ed H says:  

FYI: I'm sure Frank Miller did enough research to know this, but...

Persians were (and are) white.

That is, they were (and mostly still are) Caucasian, Indo-European-speaking dudes, much like the Greeks. They live in approximately the same latitudes as the Greeks and were probably about equally dark-skinned and dark-haired.

They don't really come out looking that way in the comic or the film do they?

What would you think of a film about world war 2 which made all the Nazis Black?

You'd think, what the fuck. This guy has some serious issues with race.

You might be right.

I imagine I would enjoy the flick if I could turn my brain off for the duration though.

And ignore the fact that our nation is currently ramping up to attack the Persians, whom we now call "Iranians."

Blogger Josh Roby says:  

Fred's already said most of what needs to be said. Also note that Xerxes, the Persian, was white. The masked Immortals were of indeterminate skin color. The hordes of slaves and vassals were all over the rainbow.

Anonymous Anonymous says:  

Yeah; the main thing I left out of my comments was that the Persian army was seriously, seriously polyglot, by way of slavery, full of deformed freaks and all of that -- or so our (Spartan) narrator tells us.

It's actually (as my buddy Lenny pointed out elsewhere) an interesting film because its framing device explicitly sets things up as coming from a very biased narrator.

Blogger Brand Robins says:  

Does the narrators bias actually play a part in the theme of the movie, or is it just a clever framing device? Because in the book it really wasn't part of the message, it was just a device.

Also, Xerxes in the movie is a lot whiter than in the book. So, that's something. Not sure what it is, considering the pierced neo-tribal look is still there, but hey, there ya go.

As for the rest of it, I haven't seen the movie. I was pretty deeply annoyed with the book though, and that's as a huge fan of the Greco-Persian wars. Actually, I think it may have been because I'm a big fan of the Greco-Persian wars and the book was certainly made for a more mainstream (ahem) audience.

Blogger Ed H says:  

Apparently modern Iran agrees that it's pretty evil. :)


Blogger s7610ra says:  

Isn't it odd to welcome a bloodthirsty slaughterfest but be squeamish about the reality of rape and war?

Blogger John Harper says:  

Reality has little or nothing to do with this film. I think it would be odd to create a total fantasy version of Thermopylae (including giants and goat-men) and then include a rape to be "realistic."

Also, for me as a viewer, there is a lot of difference in the glorification of violence (even just for violence's sake) and the humiliation and sexual abuse of someone on camera. Like, a huge difference.

I saw the movie. I wouldn't call it a rape scene, personally, but I understand why someone would.

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