François-René Rideau (fare) wrote,
François-René Rideau

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Elle a eu lieu

In my series of ideological analyses of popular shows, here is one about Troy, the latest movie, which I saw a few weeks ago, right before breaking up (Brad Pitt is a difficult rival to beat). Just like an earlier Troy movie, it takes sides with the Troyans, and strips the godly quarrel from the story, to make it kind of a realist and romantic war film. My friend David already did a nice review of the movie (in French; beware: spoilers), so I'll only add my opinion and a few more spoilers.

Just like any movie, Troy adapts the original story to fit the constraints of story-telling in movie format. Homer did as much adaptation, so this is no blasphemy. What is interesting is the things that were kept, left out, or added, and how much of that was due to technical constraints or ideological constraints -- or often, both at the same time.

A first, obvious quantitative change is in the length of the story; it had to fit 3 hours of show, which means compressing the story. That's an unavoidable part of the deal; even if issued in a series of ten movies, the story would still have to be compressed. Movies just don't tell as much as books (or epic poems). Moreover, due to the discrepancy of cultural background between the ancient greeks and us, the movie has more work to do at setting up the story. For clarity, the authors generally chose to cut non-essential aspects instead of tangling a web of references to other myths unknown to most of the public. So as to make the movie breathtaking, they also arranged for events to unfold smoothly under the camera, which implied a certain pace to the story.

A prominent adaptation to this time constraint was to compress the story, squeezing the war from ten years to two weeks. Mind you, Homer had done something similar by staging his tale into just a few weeks near the end of the legendarily long war. Now, at the end of a real Hannibal-like decade-long expedition, there must not be much of an army left for much heroic deeds, only a squad of rampaging and pillaging villains moving around a foreign wasteland, unless they become regular landed nobility like the crusaders -- bandits who occupy some land and have serves cultivate it; the serves will just have changed owners while remaining just as oppressed. There would not have been much space for romantic heroism in a realist movie along such lines, so the Hollywood scripts didn't keep this interpretation. This means the movie will not display the weariness and despair, the hunger and homesickness from a long siege; but I don't know how much of it there is in the Iliad; maybe there isn't much, and the ten year length was a cheap story-teller trick in its time to make the war grandiose; or maybe the war was really long, and it was rather the heroic feats that were a cheap story-teller trick. Still, we live in hurried times when the public can't stand a length that was previously a sign of grandeur. On the other hand, though we like some kind of realism, we still like heroes as much as ever.

Also squeezed out in the name of realism, the godly quarrel, the alliances and oppositions of divine forces. Instead, the movie chose to denounce superstition. And indeed, how could it not, when it has to explain how that so-famous-they-couldn't-cut-it Trojan Horse enters the city? (Actually, it could have failed to explain and be a real bad movie; thank god it wasn't.) On the other hand, it's always easy to kick helpless gods that have had no followers for over a millenium, and it's another thing to dare reject superstition in general. And the movie remains quite compatible with modern superstitions, and never tells anything that could explicitly incriminate current gods. The heroes even explicitly display an abstract respect for gods general and a concrete respect for rites, all the while preaching the greatness of fighting for one's country. Modern gods, I tell you. So the director only had exactly as much courage as required to fit the necessary purpose of the film, not an ounce more. That's quite ok, actually, since that's his job.

Achilles is marvelously individualistic, though ruthlessly criminal, but this is contrasted with the submissiveness of about everyone else except the rather lame (though likeable) Paris. There is not even a mention of Odysseus's attempts to avoid duty, and in the end he is displayed as a much fiercer warrior than his legendary prudence would lead him to be. All in all, the story is made to fit the agenda of today, with the usual movie themes: love redeems, my country right or wrong, the good get away in the end, the bad brute gets killed, adversaries show mutual respect, no named person gets an ill-fate unless it's a honorable death by another named person (whereas anonymous people are subhuman fodder not to be cared about), etc. Black magic feeling is respected: evil people have bad intents and no excuse; good people have good intents and good excuses; neutral people are fit into good or bad; there is no such thing as structural mistakes and inconsistencies in intents. Yet beside the manichean emoting, the movie shows some complexity of the facts: there are heroes both sides, and they fight each other; even heroes have their own failings, their own personal motivations; etc.

An ideological analysis of the movie is as interested in what is doesn't show as in what it does show. The harshnesses and slow starvation of a long siege are cut out. The gathering of supplies through plunder is not even mentionned either: who cares about supplies when the war is so short!? The horrors of war, the absurdity of anonymous death, the ill fate of slaves and prisoners, the massacre of men, the humiliating enslavement of women and children, are all discussed, but never really felt. They remain abstract things with which to officially sympathize, but to keep way off screen, never really to be witnessed, much less empathized with. There is a brief ambiguous scene of the beginning of a rape, but the victim is miraculously saved, and topic of systematic rape of is not deepened. Also, the "normal" peace-time slaves, and the implications of the mentionned conquests of young Priam and wars of Hector, are not developed, either. The working to death of prisoners, cruel treatments, etc., are not even alluded to. The movie thus has a double speech, one, emotional, makes us emote with the fantasy of the heroes, while the other, more rational, leaves open the question of the horrors of war.

Troy is a war movie that develops the themes of heroism, patriotism, and love; despite the ancient setting, the movie is modern in the myths it conveys, as well as in those it denounces, and as in those it omits. Its discourse is contemporary rather than avant-garde, which is probably all the better since most of the purported avant-garde is actually quite backwards; it is of course also all the better for public, who feels closer to the film, and hence to the movie-makers, who can sell their movie better. In the end, there are a lot of big special effects, good actors, good script-writing, etc., plus passable music and no obvious mistake. The movie is a good movie. But it isn't a great movie. A lot of things are adapted, sacrificed or cut, to fit the formal needs of a movie, and the customs of the day. But after all this cutting is done, we find that there is not that much new, no original inspiration, no deeper message, no extraordinary feature, no challenge to the ideas of the day, that would make this movie a noticeable work of art rather than just a great piece of craftsmanship.

Tags: art, black magic, en, libertarian, love, movies, occidental, storytelling, war
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