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On the Accuracy of “300”

March 23, 2007

Sitting in the theater last week, waiting for the lights to go down and the movie to begin, I made sure to take a deep breath and set my inner historian aside.  After all, I was about to see "300", a film which, despite its historical setting, makes absolutely no claims to historical accuracy.  I figured that, if I was prepared for that going in, I would have no problem sitting back and enjoying two hours of stylized, at times poetic, battle scenes.

Now, "300" is by no means historically accurate.  But neither did it claim to be.  It is rather like watching the myth that grew up around the Spartan stand at Thermopylae.  As such, it succeeds brilliantly.  The dialogue, the cinematography, and the succession of bizarre and terrible opponents reinforce the film’s existence in the realm of myth and legend, not of reality.

Even so, what surprised me most about the film was how accurate it actually was.  From the overall arc of the story, to the smaller details of the Spartan agoge and even the battle itself, the story is remarkably true to the actual events, so far as we can decipher them.  Xerxes did ask the Greek city-states for offerings of earth and water.  Ambassadors were thrown down wells.  When the Spartans were ordered to surrender their weapons at Thermopylae, they did reply to the Persians with the line "come and take them" – or "molon labe" in the original Greek.  Spartan women did tell their men to come home with their shields or on them.

What is more, the movie gave a fairly realistic depiction of a phalanx in action, using shields and brute force to drive the enemy off balance before striking with spears.  It even gave the proper number of the forces assembled at Plataea.

Taken as a whole, and despite the more fantastic elements (an eight-foot tall Xerxes, Immortals fighting ninja style…), "300" is remarkably true to the actual events.  Far more so than just about any other historical epic that’s popped up over the last ten or so years (Braveheart, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, etc).

I’ve always been critical of Hollywood’s habit of making up stories for their historical epics.  Oftentimes, the actual events are far more fascinating.  "300", at last, proves that.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 23, 2007 3:00 pm

    A very entertaining movie. I agree with you, look at it from the persepctive of told and elaborated upon through generations. That viewpoint actually makes even more sense cinematography, music and everything else.

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