Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Mar 9, 2007


I have to blog about this movie while it is still fresh in my mind; a true description of any work of art must encompass the whole and not dwell on trifling details that are of small significance to the overall work.

The whole of 300 was: it's very good. The symbolism was profound, the pagentry overwhelming in its grandeur and shocking in its grotesqueries. There was only one flaw that prevented it from ascending to the realms of great art.

I think I should point out this flaw, because it is not so much an error on the part of the director or scripwriter; it is a symptom of a philosophical flaw endemic to this culture. I speak of the chronic inability to recognize, define, or demonstrate what is the good.

The general story of 300 you may already know: it is a retelling of the battle of Thermopylae, where King Leonidas held off the Persians. The movie (based on a graphic novel with the same title), is highly fictionalized. I don't say this as criticism; the purpose of art is not to teach us history. It would be dull art indeed if it did. The more fiction the better, I say.

In the movie's presentation, on the one side we have the Spartans: highly trained and disciplined warriors raised on deprivation and struggle until they are the finest fighting force in the world. Their small numbers mean nothing. On the other side we have the Persians, slaves to their god-king Xerxes, bound to his will, their numbers almost beyond counting.

The director did an excellent job of displaying the corruption of Xerxes and his slave forces, not to mention the nature of those who would choose to bow before the god-king of the East, taking his wealth in exchange for their freedom. What he did not do was demonstrate the value of freedom in any meaningful way. Without definition or demonstration, a battle cry becomes an empty platitude, righteousness becomes the mindless rage of an animal. You may fight to preserve Sparta, Leonidas, but what in Sparta is worth preserving?

Or, to look at it another way, what in America is worth preserving? What in life is worth preserving?

We are left with no answer. In all the works of this country, there is no answer. Almost everyone retains enough rationality to point out the myriad contradictions, hypocricies and evils that confront us every day. All this requires is the ability to say: here is one fact and this contradicts it. It is very difficult to say about anything: this is truth, this is right, this is good. You require a full ethical and philosophical foundation to be able to declare that with confidence about anything.

This is also what is most significantly lacking in this culture. Even if someone grasps some good in a semi-coherent fashion, they may not think it worth putting into their art for fear of the "contraversies" . . . in this culture there is no shortage of vultures ready and willing to knock down any attempt to define the good. It is quite possibly the most significant cause of the depravity, despair, and desolation that lie in the hearts of the people of this country.

If you want to create great art, you must stand up to battle these vultures. I salute the efforts of the creators of 300, salute them and say, you must still do better.