Monday, March 26, 2007

Frank Miller's 300 Is... Religious?

Over at ScienceBlogs, I read a post pointing to a column by Rabbi Marc Gellman in Newsweek, which argues that in the film-adaptation of Frank Miller's 300:

The Spartan Greeks, led by Leonides, could have chosen to live under the rule of Xerxes and the Persian Empire. They could have traded their imperiled freedom for a secure life of slavery. The choice of Leonides and the 300 Spartans to die in a doomed but heroic battle is the clear choice of those who believe that nothing—no faith, no material wealth, nothing—justifies the surrender of freedom to tyranny.


Neither Leonides nor Captain America were religious, but both of them stood for that part of the religious world that believes in a God who fights for freedom. They both stood for the proposition that freedom is the foundation of all meaningful life. Religiously speaking, this is the belief that God gave freedom to all people made in His image, and that those who oppose freedom must be prepared to fight God. Leonides and Cap were echoing Moses' message to Pharaoh.


Leonides and Captain America were heroes not because they entered the field of battle with a shield of Vibranium or were in possession of abs of steel, but because they entered battle with a spiritually authentic idea: that God is free and we are made in God's image to be free as well. We were not placed on planet earth to avoid death. We were placed here so that we could avoid surrendering our God-given freedom to tyrants. [emphasis mine]
Aside from PZ Myers' odd claim that comic books (or graphic novels) have nothing to offer in terms of cultural/social/political commentary -- I point the reader towards the works of Alan Moore, especially V for Vendetta and Watchmen -- Gellman is projecting his faith onto a film which demonstrably rejects religion as the basis for which Leonidas fights for freedom.

I've seen the film twice in theatres since its release, and, if my memory serves correct, every single time a Spartan says they are fighting for freedom, the proclamation is coupled with reason/logic, democracy, and justice. Several times in the film, the Greeks are praised for their reason and logic as the basis of their culture and society -- not for their religion. Additionally, the religious figures in the film are portrayed as abnormal, mutated inbreds. Several times, Leonides calls them swine and he even ponders why these religious figures prevent him from marching to Thermopylae with his entire army to defend freedom. Furthermore, these religious figures can hardly be the poster-children for freedom or morality, considering that they require that the most beautiful Spartan girls serve as sexual slaves to them and that they will only give an audience with a bribe of gold.

It's also interesting to take Gellman's argument one step further -- that freedom is a gift from god. If this is true, why does Gellman's god impose rules (i.e. the Ten Commandments) which cannot be broken if one wants salvation? Doesn't sound a whole lot like freedom to me. In effect, Gellman is not "made in God's image to be free as well."

When I walked out of the theatre, I had a strong sense of anti-religious themes running through the film. But these are the kind of people who get a column over at Newsweek. Being a Rabbi doesn't make one an expert on religion any more than being a politician makes one an expert on government -- it just makes one a tool for the system in which one identifies.


JULIE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JULIE said...

when i walked out i thought, this is the best gay porno i've seen all year.

and while it might be easy to agree on a very simply minded level that because the bad guys were majorly deformed (and god wasn't) the whole "in god's image" argument might work... but then we graduate from 7th grade and move on with our lives and improve our critical thinking abilities.

illegal youth said...

but wasn't xerxes described as a "god-king" throughout the film? so, couldn't it be argued that leonides was symbolically fighting against the will of god? that leonides refused to kneel down before "god" as a servant, and instead chose self-empowerment and freedom?