March 27, 2007


Spoiler alert: some plot elements from the movie 300 are revealed in this post.]

Let's be very clear: I did not take a group of 16 and 17 year-olds to see the bloody R-rated movie 300. They took me. It was, they said, a real man's movie, the movie every man has to see. At least, that's what they'd heard. The fact that they attend East Nicolaus High School—"home of the Spartans"—only added to their desire to see this movie.

There is a good amount of sex, and an even greater amount of graphic violence, in this movie. When it comes to cinematic entertainment, that's not exactly my cup of tea. It is, however, a big part of the lives of teenagers today, whether I like it or not.

As the opening scene came on the screen, I wondered just what it was that makes this movie so compelling. I thought about the teenage boys I had brought with me. They are trying to figure out what it means to be a man. This is a difficult task for them, due to adversity in their lives, and the lack of good role models. This leaves a big void in their lives, and it seemed to me that they were looking to this movie to somehow help fill that void.

The movie begins with young boys being trained as warriors. They are taught to fight and battle in the name of honor and respect. Eventually, one boy—the movie's protagonist—is sent out into the wilderness, where he must overcome his foe against great odds. In this case, that foe is a giant wolf-like beast with black fur and glowing eyes. The boy defeats the beast, but as the movie's narrator points out, not all beasts that must be fought have fur and four legs.

Eventually, the boy who battled the beast becomes king and leads 300 Spartans against Xerxes, the self-proclaimed king of kings and god of gods, and his army of tens of thousands of soldiers, creatures, and "immortals." Despite the incredible odds stacked against them, the Spartans do not back down ("Never retreat! Never surrender!"), and vow to disprove Xerxes' claim to be a god among men.

The Spartans had a belief, a value, that was so strong, it was worth going into battle for, even if it was likely that they would be killed in that battle. I believe that young people, and especially teenage boys, are looking for that cause worth fighting for, that noble purpose that gives their lives meaning. Unfortunately, they're not finding it.

After the movie, I asked the boys what they thought. One said that it wasn't as good as he thought it was going to be. I asked him why, and he said it was because "the ending sucked."

"But they won," I said.

"Huh? No they didn't—they all died."

"Yes, but what did they do to Xerxes? What about the blood? Because he bled, they proved that he was no mortal, but a human. Wasn't that their goal, their purpose?"

This post isn't necessarily an endorsement of 300; rather, it's an attempt to understand its appeal. As the days move closer to Palm/Passion Sunday and Holy Week, I'm left wondering how to help these young people identify—and overcome—the "beasts" in their lives, how to help them find meaning and purpose, and how to help them and others understand that death doesn't always equal defeat.


Anonymous said...

I would prefer a more historically acurate film about the 300 Spartans, and the Spartan and Athenian cultures as a whole. Would be far more interesting. However, Frank Miller is a noted graphic novel/comic book creator.

For young boys looking to become men, I'd suggest taking a look at a program from PBS of Bill Moyers talking to Robert Bly, called A Gathering of Men:

Or check out:

Danny said...

As I said, my post wasn't necessarily meant as an endorsement. :-) Bill Moyers does excellent stuff, so maybe I'll look into the resource you mentioned. My favorite resources for the development of boys are the books by Michael Gurian.