Thursday, July 12, 2018

Frank Miller's "300" is Completely Realistic. ...No, Seriously.

(Spoiler Warning)

As our story begins, an adolescent Leonidas faces a wolf that seems to have been conjured from Little Red Riding-Hood's worst nightmares. The size of a small horse, it has fangs reminiscent of dagger-blades, and eyes that glow like twin drops of molten bronze. The boy, our would-be king, stands nearly nude, barefoot in the snow, facing the monster with a makeshift spear. Observing the massive creature circling him, looking for an opening, he lures it into a narrow rift in the rock face behind him, forcing it to face him head-on.

Xerxes' messenger arrives at Sparta and warns Leonidas of his emperor's power; "an army so massive it shakes the ground with its march, so vast it drinks the rivers dry." The Spartan king answers Xerxes' demand for submission by kicking his emissary and entourage into a pit so deep we never hear them hit bottom.

Later, Leonidas ascends a windswept peak in the night, climbing bare stone hand-over-hand, to petition the support of Sparta's bizarre mystics, old men so pocked with sores and tumors that they barely resemble humans anymore. They consult their oracle, a young girl who delves into mystic wellsprings of fateful knowledge so vivid that she becomes nearly weightless,... floating above the ground as the spirits caress her.

Armored rhinos the size of small elephants. Elephants the size of three elephants.

Immortal warriors in golden masks that hide their monstrous visage. Lute-playing goat-men. A gluttonous executioner with crude bone-axes for arms.

Anyone who's discussed the movie with others is familiar with the objections.

"It's an awesome flick, but there's just no way it really happened anything like that."

Well, I'm here to tell you... Frank Miller was not exaggerating any of this. Speculating some of it? Perhaps. But, not exaggerating. All of this is very realistic. In fact, given the limited run-time audiences expect from feature films, if anything, the story is probably understated. 

How can this possibly be true?

It's actually very obvious. In fact, the explanation that renders the story literal is apparent throughout the film.

Here's a hint...

~Most People Don't Realize What This Story Isn't~

Pictured above is the character Dilios, as portrayed by David Wenham.

This character is not based upon a real historical figure. He did not really exist.*

He is entirely a literary framing device that lends self-awareness to the outlandishness of the narrative. It is a self-awareness that just about everybody misses.

Wenham's voiceover both bookends and accompanies the film, throughout each scene.

Remember that we are not seeing the Battle of Thermopylae nor the Last Stand of the 300. We are, to the contrary, seeing Dilios's account of these events in his effort to whip the Spartan legion into enough of a frenzy that they will demand the Council authorize them to go to war against Xerxes.

Miller makes this apparent through both dialog and, (I believe) a couple instances of symbolism.

~A Talent Unlike Any Other Spartan~

On the eve of the final confrontation with Xerxes, Leonidas pulls Dilios aside and tells him that he is sending him back to Sparta. To this, Dilios protests, saying that he is fit and ready to fight.

"That you are," Leonidas replies, "one of the finest. But, you have another talent, unlike any other Spartan."

Here he is referring to Dilios' eloquence as a speaker and an evocative storyteller.

"You will deliver my final orders to the council, with force and verve. Tell them our story. Make every Greek know what happened here. You have a grand tale to tell."

Leonidas remarks earlier in the film that if he is assassinated, all of Sparta will go to war. This is what he has wanted from the beginning; some way of prodding the stagnant and ineffectual Spartan council into action. He knows that his death would be a galvanizing force, but he suspects that it may still not be enough. He knows that the key lies in inspiring the Spartan Legion itself to demand war, leaving the council no other choice.

~The Eyes Have It~

During the skirmish with Xerxes' Immortals, Leonidas sustains a wound that leaves him with a vertical scar over his left eye.

Sometime later, Dilios loses his left eye to a war-wound of his own.

These wounds are seemingly window-dressing, as they have no effect on anything in the plot. Leonidas' cut is not deep enough to impair him, and Dilios is sent home because of his persuasiveness, not because he is unfit.

What these two seemingly insignificant details do result in, however, is that Dilios and Leonidas spend the entire third act of the film literally winking at the audience.

Their secret meeting, wherein Leonidas orders Dilios home, is shot close-up. The two men are standing face to face, only a foot or so away from one another, and speaking in hushed tones. The frame-up of each shot of their faces, during this meeting, (both in the film and in the original comic) centers on each man's wounded (read: "winking") eye. Gerard Butler's wounded eye is completely shadowed out, in spite of the lighting only dimming the rest of that side of his face.

And look what happens when we overlay the shots, one on top of the other...

Given that these wounds serve no real purpose in the story, I believe they are meant as a symbolic indication that Dilios is knowingly exaggerating the events of the story in the telling, in accordance with Leonidas' wishes and intent.

Frank Miller's "300" is thus not a story about a war.
It is a portrayal of the propaganda campaign that led up to a war.

Yes, the story was exaggerated deliberately. But, the film portrays this exaggeration in an unexaggerated way as part of the narrative. We are not seeing the battle, we're seeing how the battle is played out in the minds of the soldiers listening to Dilios' account.

So, all of it... the giant monsters and the twirly-whirly fighting and each Spartan dropping Persians by the thousands,... is in all likelihood very faithful to how the story was being told in those days, and the telling of the story is what the comic and the movie are really about,.. not the story itself.

In spite of all of this,... among the many things that Dilios exaggerated, changed, or fabricated... I remain at a complete loss as to why he gave Leonidas a Scottish accent. ;)


*-(It's possible that the character of Dilios was based, at least, in small part, upon two Spartan soldiers named Aristodemus and Eurytus. These two men were stricken with a disease of the eye, and were sent home to Sparta by Leonidas before the battle began. Eurytus, however... turned back in defiance of his king's orders, to die with his Spartan brothers at the last stand. Aristodemus, on the other hand, for continuing home was contrasted with Eurytus and marked as a coward by the Spartan legion until later redeeming himself at the battle of Plataea.)

Friday, March 30, 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

Op-Ed: Voluntaryists Have More in Common with Conservatives than with Liberals... a LOT More.

I believe that the philosophical position of libertarianism necessitates the political position of conservatism. In other words, when one is philosophically libertarian, being politically conservative is most in line with those principles.

Whether or not a Voluntaryist ought to be politically engaged is a personal choice and not the issue I'm addressing in this piece. That needs to be established right up front, here.

Remaining apolitical is, of course, perfectly consistent with the philosophy of libertarianism.

I am only saying that, as a libertarian (and in particular as a Voluntaryist) IF you are going to become politically engaged, the position of Conservatism in regards to the State is the only one that both makes sense for you, and carries sufficient relevance to validate your engagement.

To explain,... the terms "liberal" and "conservative," do not mean what they used to, in American politics.

To be "politically liberal" used to mean believing that the government should change, that it should evolve in every aspect of its operations and duties. It meant that government should constantly be looking for new ways to handle things, exploring new ideas and new methods.

To be "politically conservative" used to mean believing that the government should be slow to change. That we should be careful about altering or dissolving things that took effort and sacrifice to establish in the first place. It meant that protecting that which had already been discovered or gained or established was at least as important as seeking new gains.

Imagine a tribe of people gathering together in the wild. Over time, they build their civilization up from the dirt and establish themselves. The "political liberals" would be analogous in this example to the explorers of the tribe, the ones who wanted to leave the village and find what else was out there that could be obtained and benefitted from. They would argue that to just stay in the village and never look for new territory would lead to stagnation and resource depletion. The "political conservatives" would be the villagers who wanted to protect and refine the village. They would argue that the prospect of what might be found elsewhere was not worth abandoning what had already been built and obtained.

As Ben Shapiro has observed. Imagine two people, a liberal and a conservative walking across a vast countryside, when suddenly, they encounter a fence, blocking their path.

The liberal says; "I don't understand why this fence is here. It doesn't seem to be serving any purpose at the moment. Let's tear it down so that we can proceed."

The conservative says; "I don't understand why this fence is here. I should do more searching to find out why it's here before I decide whether it should be torn down."

It's important to note that I'm saying "political" conservatives and liberals. Because it's important to keep in mind that we're not talking broadly about human endeavor. In our village example, both the liberals and the conservatives are an essential part of their community. The current territory needs to be held and maintained or the community will collapse, and also new territory must be explored or the community will stagnate.

But, the "political" distinction changes things. "Political" does not refer to community. We are specifically talking about government. The State.

The State operates in total under the authority established by the fact of its legal monopoly on aggression. "Aggression" is defined as the initiation of violent force. (That's initiation. Meaning, acting violently or threatening imminent violence before anyone else in a given situation has. Violence employed in defense of oneself or others either in person or property is non-initiatory and hence, non-aggressive.) The terms "liberal" and "conservative" only make sense in reference to politics if used as descriptors for one's ideas on the appropriate application of said aggression-based authority to the address of problems, issues or challenges facing the society that a given State-apparatus is assumed to govern.

The American Left is only truly "liberal" in terms of their belief in the application of government. They believe that when a problem or challenge is encountered, the society should liberally apply aggression-derived authority (government) to address it. The American Right is "conservative" in the same terms, believing in a conservative application of government to address issues.

If you believe in the Non-Aggression Principle,... at all... (whether with exceptions or without) ...then to simultaneously believe in a liberal application of government/force to the address of issues is philosophically inconsistent and/or intellectually dishonest. Additionally, if you believe in individual freedom, then belief in a liberal application of aggression-derived authority is inconsistent.

Philosophically, I am a Voluntaryist and Anarcho-Capitalist.

For a very long time, I was against all forms of political action. I have changed on this, within the last several years. History has no examples of people successfully *ignoring* government away. Nor is there precedent for the successful institution of a voluntary society via the sudden overthrow of an overgrown state-apparatus. Collapsed states have never lead to successful anarchy. They only lead to new and more violent states.

Therefore, I do believe in the reduction of government by any and all means possible, short of open violence, and I do support political actions that seek to shrink government,... *while understanding* how often such actions are mere pretexts for surreptitious government expansion.

I don't believe that any political party long survives with its principles intact, so I will never register as- nor join the Republican Party. But, I do see eye to eye with political conservatives, because, as I've said... 99 out of a hundred people with *politically* conservative views are basing them on *philosophically* libertarian principles.

As a Voluntaryist, I rarely agree with the Republican Party.

But, I never agree with the Democrats.

"Never" is significantly different from "rarely." Occasionally, a Republican proposal is a sincere effort to reduce state intrusion into private life. I have neither seen nor heard of a Democratic proposal about which the same can be said. Even those proposals with the most liberty-oriented rhetoric, are always and only couched in the expansion of aggression-based authority when they come from the Left. Sometimes, albeit rarely,... proposals that come from the Right, seek to accomplish the expansion of liberty via the reduction of government.


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