Stephen Speicher

300 (2007)

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  2. 2. Sense of Life, or Personal Value

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201 posts in this topic

I just wish you'd stop changing the words I write to suit your own points. Consider this my final response to you.
I did not change the words of your post. I quoted your post quite accurately. I then disagreed with those words, identifying the actual alternatives faced by Leonidas.

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I had a friend who, many years ago, entered the train station to come home after midnight. Someone approached him and demanded the bag he was carrying. His immediate reaction was to back away and say no. Before he knew what happened, he was stabbed so many times that it was a near miracle he survived. So, all I can say about anecdotal evidences is: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But a principle it isn't.

Perhaps, though not necessarily, if your friend had immediately asserted himself, instead of backing away (giving his attacker a feeling of confidence), the result would have been different. On the news out here recently there have been stories of women who have attacked their would-be rapists with success, and the police department is advising women to fight back. Even some children have fought their would-be snatcher and escaped before being dragged into a car.

We have all seen the movie scene where a man puts a gun in someone's back in a crowded downtown street and orders him into a waiting car. To obey is the first and biggest mistake. Once you are in the car your chances of ever being free and unharmed drop by about 99%. Assuming the gunman wants you for information you have, or for ransom, he's not going to pull the trigger and kill all his hopes right there, or have so many witnesses he won't have a chance in court. So, when threatened with force, don't back away or wait for a better opportunity. It may never arrive.

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when threatened with force, don't back away or wait for a better opportunity. It may never arrive.
I would say that such advice may be very good. But it is good contextually, not intrinsically. There can be circumstances where backing away immediately or waiting may produce better results than fighting immediately or standing one's ground at that moment. In other words, I cannot consider it a valid principle - though I can consider it a potentially wise suggestion, depending upon all the conditions of the particular moment.

If there is further interest in pursing this part of the conversation, I suggest we do it in a more appropriate thread. :)

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The op-ed piece below isn't mine; it's by a prominent sf writer, Neal Stephenson (SNOW CRASH, THE DIAMOND AGE).

I haven't seen the movie yet, and I'm not up enough on history to know whether the real Sparta was a land of liberty or (as generally taught when I was in school) a military autocracy, nor how much liberty the movie takes with the real history. But 300 has certainly generated a lot of talk, and not only here. I wonder if it's, in part, like a Rorshach Test.

--John J. Pierce (For this post, ignore the automatic sign-off at the end. I'd have preferred a link, but for this particular piece, the New York Times isn't providing one.

*************************************************************

March 18, 2007

Op-Ed Contributor

 It's All Geek to Me  By NEAL STEPHENSON

Seattle

A WEEK ago Friday, moments before an opening-day showing of the movie "300"

at Seattle's Cinerama, a 20-something moviegoer rushed to the front of the

theater, dropped his shoulders, curled his arms into a mock-Schwarzenegger

pose and bellowed out a timeless remark of King Leonidas of Sparta that has

in the last week become the catchphrase of the year: "Spartans! Tonight we

dine in hell!"

Groans, roars, macho hooting noises and sardonic applause rained down on

him. The audience had been standing in line for an hour. Only a few of them

were dressed as Greek hoplites. They were much better balanced between men

and women than I'd expected and, racially, looked like a fair cross section

of Seattle's populace. Over the next couple of hours, they enjoyed "300"

with roughly the same level of energy and audience participation as one

would expect in an N.C.A.A. Final Four game.

The film contains a lot of over-the-top material, reflecting its origin in a

graphic novel. As often as not, when I found myself rolling my eyes at

something particularly mortifying (the tactical corpse-pile avalanche, the

Persian executioner with serrated fins for arms), the crowd reacted much as

I did, some even hurling catcalls from the balcony or blurting their own

lines of dialogue. It was all pretty festive for a movie about ancient

history in which almost all of the characters end up dead.

This, apparently, was no anomaly. Though it opened on a relatively small

number of screens, "300" made money far beyond the most optimistic

projections of its producers, racking up the third-best opening weekend ever

for an R-rated movie.

The critics, however, were mostly hostile, and frequently venomous. Many

reviews made the same points:

• "300" is not sufficiently ironic. It takes its themes (duty, loyalty,

sacrifice, the preservation of Western civilization against enormous odds)

too seriously to, well, be taken seriously.

• "300" is campy — meaning that many things about it can be read as sexual

double entendres — yet the filmmakers don't show sufficient awareness of

this.

• All of the good guys are white people and many of the bad guys are brown.

(How this could have been avoided in a film about Spartans versus Persians

is never explained; the distinctly non-Greek viewers at my showing seemed to

have no trouble placing themselves in the sandals of ancient Spartans.)

But such criticisms aren't really worth arguing with, because they are not

serious in the first place — and that is their whole point. Many critics

dislike "300" so intensely that they refused to do it the honor of

criticizing it as if it were a real movie. Critics at a festival in Berlin

walked out, and accused its director of being on the Bush payroll.

Thermopylae is a wedge issue!

Lefties can't abide lionizing a bunch of militaristic slave-owners (even if

they did happen to be long-haired supporters of women's rights). So you

might think that righties would love the film. But they're nervous that

Emperor Xerxes of Persia, not the freedom-loving Leonidas, might be George

Bush.

Our so-called conservatives, who have cut all ties to their own intellectual

moorings, now espouse policies and personalities that would get them laughed

out of Periclean Athens. The few conservatives still able to hold up one end

of a Socratic dialogue are those in the ostracized libertarian wing —

interestingly enough, a group with a disproportionately high representation

among fans of speculative fiction.

The less politicized majority, who perhaps would like to draw inspiration

from this story without glossing over the crazy and defective aspects of

Spartan society, have turned, in droves, to a film from the alternative

cultural universe of fantasy and science fiction. Styled and informed by

pulp novels, comic books, video games and Asian martial arts flicks, science

fiction eats this kind of material up, and expresses it in ways that look

impossibly weird to people who aren't used to it.

Lack of critical respect means nothing to sci-fi's creators and fans. They

made peace with their own dorkiness long ago. Oh, there was momentary

discomfort around the time of William Shatner's 1987 "Saturday Night Live"

sketch, in which he exhorted Trekkies to "get a life." But this had been

fully resolved by 2000, when sci-fi fans voted to give the Hugo Award for

best movie to "Galaxy Quest," a film that revolves around making fun of

sci-fi fans.

The growing popularity of science fiction, the rise of graphic novels, anime

and video games, and the fact that geeks can make lots of money now, have

given creators and fans of this kind of art a confidence, even a swagger,

that — hard as it is for some of us to believe — is kind of cool now.

Video games have turned everyone under the age of 20 into experts on

military history and tactics; 12-year-olds on school buses argue about the

right way to deploy onagers and cataphracts while outflanking a Roman

triplex acies formation. The near exhaustion of Asian martial arts themes

has led a small but growing number to begin reconstructing, or imagining,

the forgotten martial arts of the West. And science fiction, by its nature,

has had to equip itself with a full toolkit for dealing with alien cultures,

mindsets and landscapes.

Which is exactly how the creators of "300" approach the Spartans and the

Persians. The only people in the film who don't seem as if they came from

another planet are the Arcadians (non-Spartan Greeks), who turn tail once

the battle becomes hopeless.

Classics-based sci-fi is nothing new. To name the most recent of many

examples, the novelist Dan Simmons published "Ilium" and "Olympos,"

science-fictional takes on Homer. When science fiction tackles classical

themes, the results may look a bit odd to some, but the audience — which is

increasingly the mainstream audience — is sufficiently hungry for this kind

of material (and, perhaps, suspicious of anything that's overly polished)

that it is willing to overlook the occasional mistake, or make up for it by

shouting hilarious things from the balcony. These people don't need irony or

campiness self-consciously pointed out to them, any more than they need a

laugh track to enjoy "The Simpsons."

The Spartan phalanx presents itself to foes as a wall of shields, bristling

with spears, its members squatting behind their defenses, anonymous and

unknowable, until they break formation and stand out alone, practically

naked, soft, exposed and recognizable as individuals.

The audience members watching them play the same game: media-weary, hunkered

down behind thick irony, flinging verbal jabs at the screen — until they see

something that moves them. Then they'll come out and feel. But at the first

hint of politics, they'll jump back behind their shield-wall, just like the

Spartans when millions of Persian arrows blot out the sun, and wait until

the noise stops.

Neal Stephenson is the author, most recently, of "The System of the World,"

the last book of "The Baroque Cycle" trilogy.

**********************************************************************

--

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I would say that such advice may be very good. But it is good contextually, not intrinsically. There can be circumstances where backing away immediately or waiting may produce better results than fighting immediately or standing one's ground at that moment. In other words, I cannot consider it a valid principle - though I can consider it a potentially wise suggestion, depending upon all the conditions of the particular moment.

If there is further interest in pursing this part of the conversation, I suggest we do it in a more appropriate thread. :)

You are right, the context does matter.

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As is, 300 has generated strength-hating reviews -- almost exclusively.

Imagine if/when someone retells this story by having a good % of the Spartans both survive the battle and witness the Persian retreat. The Ahmadinejad du jour would implode.

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That's another scene that's been on my mind. I too consider it a curse: long life is a sentence for a being monstrous in both body and soul. Survival at any cost is no value to a good man.

Long life is a sentence for someone who betrayed his values.

Long life can be, and too often is. Therefore, ultimately, it should not matter to one whether he or she dies tomorrow or fifty years from now. I believe the fear of death many people have is actually the knowledge that one is not doing today what he should be doing with his life. One must live long-range, but with the awareness that continuing life is not guaranteed. This does not give one license to abandon the future, but it does mean that one's present moments are precious. However, if he betrays his values and long-range principles--such as honor, as did the deformed man in that one scene--then the precious value of the present moment is lost. He might feel instantaneous relief or gratification of some kind, but that which one can feel only at the deepest part of his being is lost forever.

So a long life would be a sentence in that case. Who would want to live for many years with the thought: "What I could have been..."?

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Long life can be, and too often is. Therefore, ultimately, it should not matter to one whether he or she dies tomorrow or fifty years from now.

Huh? Do you mean everybody, or just those who don't really care about life? Do you think there's no difference between those who love life and want to keep living it, and the people in Jonestown who drank the koolaid because it didn't matter to them whether they (and their children) lived for one more day?

I am amazed at those who hold that a value-driven, life-affirming person shouldn't care whether they die tomorrow or much later (and this topic has been previously discussed on threads on life extension). There is a giant difference between recognizing the realistic fact of the fragility of life, and being indifferent to it. That life can end is certainly a reason to take care with one's only life, because there's a promising future with unfulfilled values yet to be attained.

To concretize this: that is exactly why I, and many others, continue to fervently wish for (and some move "heaven and earth" to assure) Stephen Speicher's recovery - and more generally, anyone whom one values, and of course one's own life.

"Fearing death" can mean a pathologically paralyzing fear of any risk - or it can mean something totally different: that somebody does not take their unique, irreplaceable life for granted, and wants to continue selfishly enjoying it for as long as the body can support a life worth living.

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Huh? Do you mean everybody, or just those who don't really care about life? Do you think there's no difference between those who love life and want to keep living it, and the people in Jonestown who drank the koolaid because it didn't matter to them whether they (and their children) lived for one more day?

I am amazed at those who hold that a value-driven, life-affirming person shouldn't care whether they die tomorrow or much later (and this topic has been previously discussed on threads on life extension). There is a giant difference between recognizing the realistic fact of the fragility of life, and being indifferent to it. That life can end is certainly a reason to take care with one's only life, because there's a promising future with unfulfilled values yet to be attained.

To concretize this: that is exactly why I, and many others, continue to fervently wish for (and some move "heaven and earth" to assure) Stephen Speicher's recovery - and more generally, anyone whom one values, and of course one's own life.

"Fearing death" can mean a pathologically paralyzing fear of any risk - or it can mean something totally different: that somebody does not take their unique, irreplaceable life for granted, and wants to continue selfishly enjoying it for as long as the body can support a life worth living.

I agree.

Life is an end in itself. It's my highest value. However, to live means to live as man-qua-man, that is to say rationally. I personally want to live at the highest levels I am able and for a long time, because that's really living. This requires risks, and it may even require great risks, but there is a difference between taking a rational risk and being fool hardy. Personally, I like taking risks, with the caveat that they must be rational. I like taking risks because of their potential payoff.

In fact, the only motivation I could have to fight the Persians would be for my life and for lives of others I value. Without that motivation, the fight would be meaningless. It’s because I want to live, that I’d want to fight.

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Was anyone moved enough to write down and/or memorize the speech Dilios gave at the head of the Greek army? If so, I'd appreciate the text.

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Was anyone moved enough to write down and/or memorize the speech Dilios gave at the head of the Greek army? If so, I'd appreciate the text.

This is from Wikiquote but after reading it I think it is accurate or very close to accurate:

"So my king died, and my brothers died, barely a year ago. Long I pondered my king's cryptic talk of victory. But time has proven him wise, for from free Greek to free Greek the word was spread that bold Leonidas and his 300, so far from home, laid down their lives, not just for Sparta, but for all Greece and the promise this country holds. Now, here on this ragged patch of earth called Plataea, Persian hordes face obliteration! Just there the barbarians gather, sheer terror gripping tight their hearts with icy fingers, knowing full well the horrors they suffered at the swords and spears of 300. Yet they stare now across the plain at 10,000 Spartans commanding 30,000 free Greeks! Ho! The enemy outnumber us a paltry three to one! Good odds for any Greek. This day we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny, and usher in a future bright than anything we could imagine. Give thanks, men, to Leonidas and the brave 300! To victory!"

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If you can see the IMAX version, do so. Spectacular.

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I'd missed that one. Thanks for posting the link. It's great! :)

Now excuse me please, I have to finish cleaning up my laptop.

This is precisely the kind of response I am expecting that 300 will evocate. The film is pre-eminently useful, not only in historical issues but in matters pertaining to our current day. To see Helen Thomas as a rotten Ephor is not only a fitting coincidence that coincides with one of the movie's characters, but the movie itself wants to show her so, and everyone else like her. As a result, seeing people come down so heavily on 300 is jarring, to say the least. No "accurate" movie could be as immediately relevant as 300 is right now, with all sorts of misshapen monsters on the other side, quite a few on our side as well, and a few sturdy men standing between us and them.

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I finally saw 300 two nights ago, as a birthday treat. I rarely go to movies in the theater because these days they are mediocre at best.

But 300 is one of the best I have seen in years. It is not one I would call one of the very best ever (meaning I would buy the DVD and watch it dozens of times, like Gladiator), but I left the theater fealing strengthened and inspired. That is entirely too rare an experience these days.

In my opinion:

It's main strength was its unabashed and unsubtle championship of the good: reason, individualism, honesty, integrity, pride, courage, and strength. And in both its heroes and its heroines.

It's main weakness was its misunderstanding of the nature of evil. In 300 the evil was depicted as a crescendo of freaks and monsters, each more towering, grotesque, and massive than the next. And somewhere in between there was the nine-foot tall effeminate Xerxes.

Yes, the scene about him being "kind" by letting the little hunchback kneel rather than than stand was good. But, IMHO, it does not hold a candle to the lines where in Gladiator, the newly minted emperor Commodus refers to himself as the "father" of the people of Rome, who will hold "in his busom" with "love". But more importantly, it lacks the insight that the writers of Gladiator had: that evil men are, at the end of the day, pewling cowards who are afraid of their own shadows.

If comparing these two movies is like comparing a past girlfriend to a present one, I plead guilty.

All that said, I still like 300. A lot.

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I was finally able to see "300" this last weekend myself. This is another movie that I love because it inspires one to find out more about the history the story is based on!

It was artfully done. The graphics were pretty amazing really. The acting was very good! I especially applauded Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo. And of course, I loved the message. :)

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All that said, I still like 300. A lot.

I'm really glad you and Elizabeth liked the movie :) I was surprised you rated the message of Commodus' vainglory as more profound than the message about kneeling in 300, because for me it was quite the opposite. Gladiator is a fantastic movie on many levels, but one principle that isn't too pronounced is the theme of liberty. The promised of the republic from Marcus Aurelius shines brightly, but momentarily (and almost incidentally); it's not at all clear what he means by it; the politicians soon after end up smearing the emperor's noble ideal as "aristocracy". 300 carries its theme of liberty highest above all, and the whole point of the movie centers around this principle, and what it takes to achieve it. Gladiator is kind of a complex character study, or perhaps something else, it's hard to put a finger on what the movie is about, despite its rich dialogue and fascinating characters. 300 is simply about a select number of things only -- the manly virtues in Leonidas, the womanly virtues in his queen, and the idea of liberty (and also, maybe, the absence of redeeming qualities in Asia and anywhere else). It's a simpler movie, that attacks the delivery of its theme far more concretely. I think 300 and Gladiator will be compared for all time, as two of the best classical epics in modern times.

Incidentally, a brief note about the act of kneeling -- the Greeks took it with utter seriousness, and extreme severity, if anyone be made to kneel or show signs of submission. Certainly many Greek cities had experienced tyrants, but not even the worst of the tyrants imagined imposing acts of submission on their subjects. Even if they imposed their will on a city, it was a city composed of men, not of sheep. Never, under the most severe tyranny, were men expected to prostrate themselves or offer utter submission. You lived and died like a man. The soldiers of Alexander, though accustomed to live under a king, lived under a Hellenic king, and were appalled when he started considering having them bow to him according to Eastern customs. They would endure his transgressions, but once he demanded obeisance, he started receiving death threats. Greeks took these physical acts, which we probably look at as insignificant, with grave severity. Contrasted to kneeling was the handshake, another simple gesture that carried for them enormous significance, the taking of another man's hand in trust and gesture of highest expressible respect. Xenophon describes how Greeks made a peace pact with another Persian king; once they shook hands on it, nothing else need be said. They looked on their deal as completely sealed and didn't give it another thought. When the Persian promptly broke his promise with effortless ease, they were shocked -- "But, but... we exchanged hands, didn't we? He took my hand, and I his, in the act of highest respect possible between two men, didn't we?"

Such were the differences between two cultures. Compare Western custom of handshake, assertive exchange of hands with another man, to Japan's customary bowing when greeting someone, which encompasses all of the above Eastern vices in one gesture. Leonidas wouldn't bow to someone in greeting, he would walk right over to him, look him straight in the eye, and grip his hand vigorously. So there's little details like that that make 300 worth watching.

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For what it's worth, Free Capitalist, I am glad to see you so strong in promoting 300, because I completely agree with you as to how profoundly good this movie is. I'm 48 and maybe I've just seen too many jaded modern pieces of tripe in my time, but 300 just stands SO FAR above the surrounding wasteland that I too find it hard to believe that some otherwise right-thinking people don't see it in the same light.

I tend to think that it would be very useful to try to consider why some focus on being critical of minor details in the movie, even though they accept the good parts, while others find the minor details irrelevant to the overall accomplishment.

Someone else made the comment that they could see ANTHEM being made in a similar style, and again I completely agree.

PS -- As to Gladiator, which I admit to not having seen, I think the historical context would be more clear if they made a movie about Cicero, Brutus, and Cato's efforts to save the republic (sort of like Addison's CATO play that George Washington staged at Valley Forge). I need to get over to that other thread and add a line that Objectivism will be winning when ..... "Brutus is acknowledged to be the hero and Caesar the heel"

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

Hi FC,

I admit that my original post may be honestly interpreted as me being harsher on 300 than I really am. I'll say it again. I loved this movie! It's just that -- at least as of now -- I love Gladiator more. It certainly wouldn't take much arm twisting to get me to see 300 a few umpteen times more. :)

Of Gladiator you said that its theme of liberty was not as pronounced. I take that to mean that it was not explicitly stated as the theme of liberty was in 300. The heroes of Gladiator were more complex to be sure. And I will be the first to admit that Gladiator's theme is more vague. And deliberately so. Unfortunatley, Ridley Scott relishes ambiguity in theme and characterization. And Frank Miller does not.

That said, what about evil? I described as a "flaw" in 300 its "lack of understanding" of evil. Please allow me to clarify. All too often, I see evil portrayed as the giant slavering monster from which the good barely escape with their lives. Occasionaly, as in 300, I see evil as a giant slavering monster demanding explicitly evil ideas (and thank you, FC, for explaining just how evil the act of kneeling is), which good men sucessfully defeat, at great personal price. As an aside, Band of Brothers also comes to mind in this context. But only rarely do I get a glimpse into the tent of, let alone the alleged heart of, the slavering monster.

That is where the pewling Commodus comes in handy. Gladiator gets its audience up close and personal with what Objectivists have always known about the nature of evil. That it is, by definition, ineffectual. Xerxes, always has his "game face" on in 300, and he is never really stripped of it, except for one nick at the very end. Commodus, on the other hand, is the real deal. He is the god emporer who needs to be tucked in by his sister.

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I finally got to see 300 yesterday and on the IMAX. Wow, what an incredibly great and powerful movie. I purposely didn't read this thread until I had seen the movie, then went through it last night. I'm glad so many people share my thoughts and enjoyed the very things I did. I won't reiterate all the positives others have indicated; I'll simply agree with them.

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I saw this over the weekend. Took me a little longer to go through the thread than Scott though. Likewise i'll say that I loved it. While agreeing with 'Go 4 TLI' that the representation of evil really bugged me. I thought facing a million mystic slaves is enough that they don't have to include trolls and weird lookin' samurai immortals into the mix. That said, I can understand their place in the movie because of how it was done and the artistic style of the movie; and by what it was based on, being a graphic novel. Even though the Comic was based on actual events it took a certain license because of the nature of the medium. So conversely it might not have had the same feel (cinematography, not philosophic content) if those "creatures" were missing.

On a side note, I'm glad Quasimodo got another role. While still typecast he put in another good performance.

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