What Does a Strong Man Look Like?
Imagine with me a strong man, a virile man, a manly man. What would he look like? How would you recognize a real, powerful man walking down the street? If you imagined a man standing on the street shouting “I! Am! Strong!” then 300 is the movie for you.
If you had actually met a man shouting “I! Am! Strong!” in real life, would you think he is strong? If you see him on the street, you would probably think him a madman. Let us change the scenery then, to the gym, where it is legitimate to be strong. Does anyone at the gym stand and shout “I! Am! Strong!” as proof of his strength? Doubtful. Does anyone in a grown-up brawl or in a high-school fight shout “I! Am! Strong!” as proof of strength? Would a godfather, when we imagine mob bosses, shout “I! Am! Strong!” to keep his soldiers in check?
And yet, the muscular heroes in 300 shout “This! Is! Sparta!” or “We! Are! With you!” in exactly the same way the man on the street would unrealistically shout “I! Am! Strong!” The entire movie revolves around that kind of behavior and those kind of men.
When people have power, they don’t need to claim that they do. The more someone has power, the less he has to show it. The more someone blusters about his power, the weaker he believes himself to be.
Does Sigourney Weaver in Aliens need to shout and bluster? No. And yet, she’s a remarkably strong woman (in all her movies). Cate Blanchett in The Good German and in Elizabeth plays some of the strongest women we’ve ever seen in cinema. Does she ever need to resort to claiming it? Harrison Ford, playing Indiana Jones magnifies his weaknesses rather than his strengths. In Air Force One he did what was necessary, and no more. Bruce Willis in Die Hard shouts only after he wins or when he loses. Does The Terminator ever need to assert his strength? Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, the list of strong men and women is long. For that matter, does Trump shout: “You! Are! Fired!” No, he does not. Even he doesn’t need to.
The men of 300 are all muscular girly-men. They are wusses, pussies, weaklings, and crybabies. They are two-year-olds. And now we get to the disturbing part: What does it say about an audience who believes their behavior is heroic? Or even remotely believable?
300 was imagined, created, written, directed, and made popular by men (young and old) who had probably never met or seen a real man in their lives. Women wouldn’t create this fantasy, because women would fantasize about, well, real men. How spoiled and out-of-touch is a society , when its men’s fantasies of being real men look like this?
What 300 Could Have Been About
The movie could so easily have been good. Here are a few options:
The movie could have been about what a hero is. We would have seen how real men become real heroes, by showing us how much they overcome hardships and sacrifice. And then, as the plot progressed, and as the heroes overcame unbelievable obstacles, they would actually achieve superhuman feats. There really have been superhuman feats in history – even in the last few decades – in which real people did the impossible. But if you don’t show real people doing something real to achieve something heroic, then you’re not showing heroes. Had the movie been done this way, it would have been a true epic yarn about heroism.
The movie could just as easily have been about the bad side of being heroic. There are times in human history in which it became necessary for a group of good men to become inhuman monsters, efficiently programmed with the fight and nothing more. Although people actually do this to survive, once it is done, it cannot be easily reversed. In addition, if you release the testosterone monster in men and make it all-important, there would be an immediate price to pay (more in-house violence, rape, and so on). Had the movie been done this way, it would have punched its audience in the gut.
The movie could have been an examination of what it is to be a man lost to war. It would have taken a normal man, and seen how each human part of him must be put aside so that the fighting machine can exist. Had the movie been done this way, it would have been tragic.
The movie could have been about real men who had left real lives behind, and then were killed on the battlefield. Had the movie been done this way, it would have been heroic (sacrificing yourself so that your dear ones can go on living) and tragic (showing men who had full lives back home die).
The movie could have been about how men choose how to die. Knowing they would lose if they fought and lose if they didn't fight, real decisions would have to be made. Had the movie been done this way, it would... well, it would have been a great movie.
The movie could have been about the power of women over men. If the queen had sent the king to a war he didn’t want to go to using her womanly wiles, that would have made a good movie, too. In 300, he wanted to go before he was convinced by his wife.
There are, of course, dozens and dozens of more options. The common denominator would necessarily have to be that they all deal with real people who are in a position that is, today, not real. Another common denominator would also have to be that each of these options reveals something to us about our own nature and our own emotions. Another common denominator would also have to be that all these options evoke emotions in the audience. The only emotion this movie evokes is nostalgia, and it evokes it only in people who have not been exposed to the real world and therefore imagine it to be so different from what it is.
I believe the question bears repeating: How spoiled and out-of-touch is a society, when its men’s fantasies of being real men look like this?