Daily Archives: April 9, 2010

300: Stylized Violence, the Last Stand and Liebestod (HUM415)

Today we closed out our discussion of 300. Just to recapitulate: three issues were raised in relation to this graphic novel and its film adaptation. The first has to do with the representation of violence. As all of you noted, the film 300 uses some familiar conventions in its depiction of physical violence, in particular slow-motion. This technique is by no means a new one, and can be found in prior film works such as The Wild Bunch (dir. Sam Peckinpah) and Hard-Boiled (dir. John Woo). More recently, The Matrix and Equilibrium have fetishized the act of violence with highly stylized action sequences. For example:

The category of the Last Stand– a scenario in which a handful of scrappy fighters defend their turf, resisting annihilation by superior forces and often, though not always, meeting destruction– characterizes 300 as well. The Alamo, the circled wagon train, Little Big Horn, Rorke’s Drift (where about 140 British soldiers held off several thousand Zulu warriors during the Anglo-Zulu War): all of these events fall into the historical genre of the Last Stand. Generally speaking Last Stands assume a heavy symbolic dimension, spawning tales of heroic sacrifice and creating martyrs who are put into the service of an ongoing struggle. Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn (1876), for instance, became a point of reference for the US military during the Plains Wars and it is said that almost every subsequent battle (and massacre) constituted a kind of revenge. At Wounded Knee, for example, soldiers were reported to shout “Remember Little Big Horn.”

Finally, in a garbled and severely truncated fashion we discussed the notion of liebestod (literally, “love-death”) the reunion of the lover and the beloved in death. Death becomes a kind of consummation of desire, a state where the lovers are finally released to engage in an eternal embrace. That motif is present not only in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, but in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and– I would argue– 300.

From Aria (1987). That’s a young(er) Bridget Fonda. (Caution: nudity and some blood.)