“Then we shall fight in the shade.”

I watched the much anticipated 300 at a sold out local IMAX theater. While some critics are, to put it mildly, less than enthused about this latest Frank Miller film that portrays the Battle of Thermopylae, the positive reaction of the audience was unqualified. Of course, this may be an example of self-selection bias or it could also be that Miller has succeeded in tapping a touchstone narrative and executed it well enough that 300 attracts or repels on a visceral level.

300 is frequently described in the media as being presented in a “mythic” rather than a historical narrative. This is accurate. The military virtues of the Greek phalanx are extolled by Leonidas more frequently than they are seen on the screen, which is given over to supernal imagery of sword brawls between sculpted Spartan hoplites and ornately grotesque and lavishly costumed Persian slave-warriors. A good thing too as a realistic depiction of a phalanx in action would resemble a relentless, implacable,meat grinder chewing up tightly packed human bodies. Historical military realism takes a hit for a more elegantly bloodthirsty choreography. Likewise, the Persians represent in their physical forms, classical Greek and Roman anxieties about ” the East” – corrupt, fabulously wealthy, exotic, mysterious, inscrutable, irrationally despotic, seductive. Powerful yet contemptible. A view that still held sway as much in the time of Marc Antony and Pompey’s Eastern warlordships as it did hundreds of years earlier during the apogee of Persian dominance. Miller draws on this latent symbolism from antiquity to create a jarring visual juxtaposition to the austere sacrifice of the Spartans.

Furthermore, the characters in 300 are uncompromising in the same sense that a character in a novel by Dostoyevsky is not just a character, but an archetype. Theron is the Unspartan antipode to Leonidas. Xerxes is all saturnalian hubris. Leonidas is duty and sacrifice. Queen Gorgo is unbroken will personified. Daxos the Arcadian, far from the “coward” that some critics have alleged, is the reasonable, unheroic, everyman, who shrinks from the suicidal stand demanded of him by the Spartan King, Leonidas. This kind of un-nuanced use of characters can be or inspiring or maddening depending upon one’s worldview.

Such profound themes tend to engage viewers to bring their own values forward or even project them and contemporary concerns on to what, after all, is only a movie based on a comic book that paid homage to a passage of ancient history. The Spartans at Thermopylae in real life only very indirectly gave their lives for freedom, as we moderns understand that concept, when they died to a man under the arrows of the Great King’s army. However, had the Persians passed unmolested that day, then that long, slow, evolution toward liberty might not have come to pass. History gives no guarantees; we are the fortunate heirs of a thousand slender chances.

In the scheme of things, I think it is fair to say that Leonidas earned his cinematic tribute.

20 thoughts on ““Then we shall fight in the shade.””

  1. I very much love your characterization of the evolution of freedom, as you’ve applied it to this particular event and the movie — especially, in the last line.

    Haven’t seen the movie yet; I’m stoking the fires of expectation and desire, still. ;)

  2. I know this is OT.. but I figured this was the best place for it.

    Now the Muslims in Minneapolis who work in retail are refusing to deal with pork products a customer might want to buy. This is in addition to the Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis who will not drive you if you have liquor. or if yo’re blind and have a seeing eye dog.

    We have to end all Muslim immingration to this country. What more proof is needed that these are not compatible with our society?


    Minneapolis is the scene of yet another intrusion of extremist shari’a law into US society, as Muslim cashiers at Target stores are refusing to handle pork.

    The other day, I got a call from someone who said that an employee at the Target store downtown refused to run his bacon through a scanning machine. He was mighty upset, arguing that the cashier had “no right to work as a cashier at Target” if she wasn’t prepared to swipe his groceries.

    But he was a little vague on the details, so I decided to check it out myself. At the Target store on E. Lake Street, a cashier wearing a burka looked uncomfortable when I showed up at the cash register with a frozen pepperoni pizza. She immediately called for help, and another employee rang up the pizza and placed it in the basket.

    I asked her if it was because she was Muslim, and she nodded her head. “I can’t even touch it,” she said.

    Of course, any bacon or pepperoni pizzas for sale at Target would be shrink-wrapped in plastic, then boxed in some kind of cardboard package, so no cashier could ever physically touch the dreaded pork.

    But then, this really isn’t about the pork.

  3. Hi James,

    “I asked her if it was because she was Muslim, and she nodded her head. “I can’t even touch it,” she said.”

    I cannot claim any great expertise in Islamic scholarship but even to me this sounds like neo-Salafist lunacy that most other Muslims outside of Saudi Arabia or Pushtunistan would probably laugh at. Or it is a ploy to dial up her “sensitivities” until they make her core job responsibilities impossible so as to get Target to fire the Burqa-clerk so that she can sue her deep-pockets employer.

    Yes, we’ve made a terrible mistake in letting KSA trained “clerics” and Saudi cash into this country on visas in large numbers to radicalize American mosques. Most Muslim immigrants aren’t like that but those that are should be prevented entry by counterintelligence screening the way we used to deny entry to Communists, Nazis and other foreign undesirables. Immigration as a whole needs to be reviewed and reformed, not simply Muslims.

  4. Zenpundit,

    Damn, you beat me to the punch on “300” review. I saw it an really liked it but I had also read the graphic novel and knew what to expect. I too agree that the movie represents a “mythic” telling of the battle of the Battle of Thermopylae rather than a historical one and people expecting the later will leave disappointed. The movie is more about the conflict of ideas as represented by Sparta/Greece and Persia than the actual events.

  5. James,

    Yes, create a forum ID for yourself and post away. I would really appreciate if you did this, because while your contributions to our comment threads are often very interesting, you tend to go off topic as you’ve done here, and that’s disruptive of the discussion and unfair to the post author and other commenters.

    I’ve put your last two comments from this thread into the moderation list, which is why they are no longer visible. Send me an email if you want them and I’ll email the contents back to you. I suggest you use them as the basis for a new forum post.

    I’ll see if I can set up a feed to display new forum posts in a window here on the blog.

  6. A relentless assault on the “warrior” ethic in this country has been going on ever since WW2 ended. The mobilization of men and materials, and the unified committment of the nation to victory by unconditional surrender, in that conflict so terrified our enemies that an ongoing campaign of anti-military propaganda was begun, and continues to the present day.

    It is instructive how many of the negative reviews immediately condemn the idea that fighting for something could ever be glorious or meaningful, regardless of the situation.

    I just can’t imagine what it is about that premise that bothers so many people. Why, you could get the idea that a lot of them would like to see the US, and the Anglosphere in general, abandon the concept of self-defense all together.

  7. Veryretired,

    I think we are seeing assertion of the articulate intellectual in the progressive degradation of the idea of the self-sacrificing warrior.

    When we define a problem as one solvable by soldiers we simultaneously define it as one not solvable by the articulate. The articulate have, over the course of the last century or more, fallen more and more into a narcissistic vision of the world in which they, and only they, can really effect positive change in any circumstance. By necessity this means only the virtues behaviors and skills of the articulate intellectuals can be portrayed in a positive light. Any other virtues, such as martial or business ones, must be tossed to the side.

    Since articulate intellectuals dominate all forms of media and education they profoundly shape how the rest of us see the world. All of us are beginning to think of the articulate in a manner very similar to the way that the brutal military caste of the dark ages became the medieval nobility.

  8. Yes, Shannon, that is an important point. And even more, there seems to be a hollowness, an emptiness at the core of this “intellectual” movement that seems to stem from its utter refusal to accept developments in the real world as pertinent to its arguments.

    For example, the extraordinary revelations from the archives of the former Soviet Union clearly show that most, if not all, of the conventional wisdom of the intelligentsia regarding that conflict was not only wrong, but perniciously wrong. And yet, the same “truths” are asserted on a daily basis, as if nothing had ever disproved them, and their modified versions regarding the west vs. radical islam, which basically recapitulate all the same errors, are nows the accepted wisdom of the international chattering classes.

    This is more than narcissism, although that is indeed a factor. It is a suicidal self-loathing of a very dangerous and damaging kind, since it undermines the general need for self defense and cultural solidarity in the face of a determined and violent foe.

  9. Pardon me for the sequential posts, but here is a little thought experiment I’ve been fooling around with the last few days.

    Suppose you read that a new construction company was being formed, and the news release about it declared that this company was going to use a radical new idea for choosing construction materials based on the proposition that materials didn’t have inherent strengths and weaknesses, but that these factors were imposed on the materials by the shape and form of the structure being built.

    The company then proceeded to get a huge contract to construct a massive skyscraper. Repeatedly during the construction, major sections of the building collapsed, killing numerous workers and passersby. Several well respected construction experts and inspectors examined the plans and declared them to be inherently unstable, and likely to go on collapsing. These experts were immediately condemned as outmoded dinosaurs who didn’t understand the new theories, and were trying to obstruct a revolutionary new construction technique just to protect their own outmoded practices.

    Finally, a much smaller structure was declared finished and ready for occupancy, even though internal walls continued to fall in, and exterior walls continued to fall onto people walking by.

    Several self-described “radical” architects and artists visit the building and declare it a masterpiece, although none of them actually go inside, or lease space there.

    After much lobbying by members of the “new wave” of architects and designers, several more building contracts are awarded to the company, and the scenario of the original building plays itself out again and again, to even more loss of life, extraordinary cost overruns, and delays.

    After observing this series of events for several years, you decide to build a new house. Do you give this company a chance to bid on the construction? Do you seriously consider them as suitable for building the place you and your family will live?

    Until you realize that there are those who would answer “yes” to both those questions, and see no reason why they shouldn’t, (esp. if it was your house and not theirs), you do not grasp the depth and width of the problem our society faces.

    Anyone who can examine the carnage of war, pogrom, famine, and destruction brought about by the philosophies of state power and collectivist ideology during the 20th century, and then make the assertion that the greatest danger to humanity is individualism and democratic capitalism is living in a parallel universe disconnected from the reality of life on this earth.

    And that, of course, is a perfect description of the UN and its accompanying tranzi hangers on.

  10. Veryretired,

    And even more, there seems to be a hollowness, an emptiness at the core of this “intellectual” movement that seems to stem from its utter refusal to accept developments in the real world as pertinent to its arguments.

    I think this strong tendency comes from the reality of the day-to-day life of an articulate intellectual in which individual success and failure become matters of sheer popularity. They receive rewards for changing other peoples opinions and beliefs so, as a subculture, they begin to believe that human beliefs define reality. They lose any intuitive grasp such things as the natural world, the parameters of technology or the physical power of violence.

    For the articulate, reality becomes virtual. It’s like some science fiction story in which everyone lives in a Matrix like virtual reality but that we all get to vote on the rules of that reality. They don’t see the past mistakes of people like themselves as relevant because they believe that they have such a power to reshape the world via persuasive communication that only what they do now counts. They can fail and fail repeatedly but eventually they will succeed to such a degree that all those failures will seem trivial. (That’s assuming they acknowledge failures) Eventually, they will get enough people to agree on shared reality and a utopia will be born.

    A story like that of mythic Thermopylae threatens all that. They can’t let it stand unchallenged.

  11. Back to the movie. Saw it. Loved it. Don’t really need to t-h-i-n-k about the premise or the ideology–it is a movie based on a comic book.

    Graphic Novels aka Comic Books, unless we are talking about the old “Classics Illustrated” (which gave me passing grades for some of the unendurable works like “The Scarlet Pimpernel”), are not really supposed to be d-e-e-p–they are supposed to be entertainment. The Graphic Novel and the movie were very entertaining–nuff said.

    An exception to the rule is the Graphic Novel “Mouse”; I don’t know how to catagorize that one.


    PS: And all of the females were hot.
    PSS: And the Newfoundland, Scottish, and other accents from the actors added to the fun in an Ah-nold kind of way. Ya know what I mean? This is not an erudite kind of movie for i-n-t-e-l-l-e-c-t-u-a-l-s. Woody Allen is not in it. Nor is [add what ever perceived-to-be-really-intellectual name here].

  12. Back to the movie. Saw it. Loved it. Don’t really need to t-h-i-n-k about the premise or the ideology–it is a movie based on a comic book.

    The movie had its visual production be inspired by a comic book, however, the meat of the story is very much inspired by real life. So i dont think based on your statement’s reasons alone that you should dismiss the premise or the ideology of the movie. You may have other valid reasons for dismissing it, and that’s fine, but that the movie’s asethics were from a comic book , I dont think is a valid reason.

    My favorite aspect of the movie was the political message. We need to firm up our culture and extoll its virtues if we’re going to survive the threats against it.

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  14. Just returned from the theatre; the movie-house is in the neighborhood populated by Arabs, among “chukka cafes” and halal meat shops.
    Let me tell you – the audience really got the message. Nobody thought it’s just a comic book screen translation; the political idea was very clear.

    It was beautiful.

  15. This is in response to Eqwatz:

    What Newfoundland accents did you pick up on? I’m very curious since I am from Newfoundland and can honestly say I didn’t pick up on any in this movie. I’d really like to know which characters talked like us Newfies because I’m a big fan of 300. I think that this is an interesting fact about this movie and I would like to know more.

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