In recent movies, conflict takes on noble tone
When Francis Ford Coppola made Apocalypse Now, he once told a room full of reporters, “My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.”
Actually, his film was shot in the Philippines, but it remains one of the best examples of the skeptical war movies made by the post-Vietnam generation that included Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick and the like.
A new war calls for new movies. Many films of the Iraq era have held to the seemingly sensible post-Vietnam line that war is hell and not much good to anyone. But a viewing of 300 and The Wind That Shakes The Barley, two recent releases at seemingly opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, reveals that a different, more nationalistic kind of film may be emerging.
Film critic Marshall Fine drew a connection between the box office powerhouse and the Palme D’Or winner back in March on the Huffington Post, noting that both films’ heroes take a violent stand against unwanted, seemingly all-powerful invaders. In 300, the interlopers are the Persian king Xerxes and his garish army of ninjas, monsters and racist caricatures who worship a different god than the inhabitants of the Greek city-state Sparta, which they have in their crosshairs. In Barley, the enemy is the British military and, later, the Irish free-staters who, in director Ken Loach’s eyes, took the Brits’ place as persecutors and squelched the opportunity for a free, socialist Irish republic.
Barley has been widely praised by critics, with the only recurring complaint about it being that its politics are too didactic. Meanwhile, comments about the message in 300 have mostly come between jokes about cartoonish violence and homoeroticism.
St. Petersburg Times film critic Steve Persall was one of the few in his field to praise 300. “It had that sort of John Wayne fantasy type of mentality to it,” Persall says. “It tapped into those kinds of rah-rah feelings, those hoo-rah feelings, you might say, that old war movies would incite.”