Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Troy (2004)

Vacuum Energy rating: one star
Background information about "Troy" is available at The Internet Movie Database

"Troy" is an adaptation of The Illiad which shows us both the resiliance of the original when translated into visual form as well as the drawbacks of an apparently rigid three hour running time. The two principles governing the story here are a fairly strict materialism, both physical and political, and a reduction of the original ten-year seige of Troy into a quick dash by the Greeks to storm the city by brute force.

The physical materialism is expressed by writing the Olympian deities and the supernatural out of the storyline. The mother of Achilles, the sea goddess Thetis, is shown as an aging woman, while Achilles' mystical invulnerability is replaced with a unique combat style that lets him win combats with the excellence of his fighting ability (and what will prove to be his infamous "jump attack"). The mystical is not entirely eliminated, since the ancient societies depicted here still have all of the temples, priests and priestesses, and follies associated with a uncritical belief in the divine. The divine intervention is suggested in a more subtle way, as when Achilles strikes the head from the statue of Apollo the Archer, and is later slain by an archer; the conclusion of divine intervention is certainly a natural one to make in this case.

The political realism doesn't play out quite as well, since the concept of any kind of ancient army storming the most heavily defended citadel in Asia-Minor in a single decisive blow must seem completely ridiculous (unless you're a liberal Democrat; I can still imagine an ancient counterpart to Maureen Dowd crying "Quagmire! Quagmire!" the moment the Greek army starts landing on the beaches before Troy). But as the narration suggests, and as we might have expected from the politics of the day, the fact that King Agamemnon of Mycenae and King Priam of Troy were the rising powers of the Adriatic alone would have forced one to attack the other at some point. Agamemnon is seen as power-hungry but relatively sane ruler who at least recognizes the wisdom of winning allies instead of obliterating them. Priam is seen as passive and past his prime but still wily, and the Trojans seem to realize that Helen's flight from Sparta gives them just as many new opportunities for power as it gives the Greeks.

Aside from the "quagmire" that the Greek Army lands in, the death of Agamemnon at the hands of Briseis, as well as the death of Menelaus at the hands of Hector, both presumably for offending the goddesses with the sin of "patriarchy", are the other major flaws in this film. The Encyclopedia Mythica has Agamemnon at least surviving the sack of Troy and has Menelaus and Helen living happily ever after. I would assume that the feminist subtext is possibly a sin qua non of modern filmmaking, while in compensation the PC ethic at least spares us "the old white guy in a robe" cliche from those old mythological monster epics.


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