The 2004 Oliver Stone film Alexander tells the tale of the titular young conqueror, played by Colin Farrell, as he grows up, invades the Persian Empire, proves himself to be one of the greatest military commanders in history, and dies. In the film, we see young Alexander growing up in Greece; here, we see the difficulty he has relating to his parents, particularly Philip II of Macedon, his father. After Alexander is suddenly made King of Macedonia following the assassination of his father, Alexander soon takes his armies and starts his campaign against the Persians. For eight years, he conducts a military campaign across Asia that is unrivaled in military history; meanwhile, he has relationships with his male friend Hephaestion and his wife Roxana. Alexander and Hephaestion carry on a passionate sexual relationship, in which Alexander vows to follow Hephaestion into the afterlife if harm were to ever come to him. However, he ends up marrying Roxana instead, making Hephaestion jealous and despondent.
In the final battle, the Battle of Hydaspes, Alexander takes an arrow but survives anyway; however, Hephaestion soon falls ill from a mysterious disease and soon dies. Broken up after the death of his lover, Alexander pushes away his pregnant wife emotionally, believing that she actually poisoned Hephaestion to keep him away from him. Eventually, however, Alexander himself dies in the same way, allowing him to keep his promise to the man he loved.
In this version of the Alexander story, the tale of the man is apparently very greatly exaggerated, and there are not many historical details that are accurate. Due to the nature of it being a film, many of Alexander's life events and the details of his campaign are shortened and compressed, a lot of actions are given to specific individuals in the cast rather than who really did them, and so on. In the case of the Persian campaign, the whole conquest of Egypt and Syria are completely skipped over, and the final battle decides the outcome of the entire campaign in this movie, instead of the several battles it took in real life. Numerous liberties are taken against the enemy armies to make Alexander's men seem mightier and more righteous; apparently, the Persian army seems totally disorganized, to an unrealistic degree, unlike the discipline of the Greek warriors (Esfandiari, 2005).
Other liberties are taken for the look of the film, to make it suitably 'ancient' and 'romantic,' when things like this would not be true. The city of Babylon, for example, looks much like a normal city - at night, many lights are on in the windows and there is a distinct skyline, when in fact Babylon and other cities of the time did not look like that at all. In the final battle, Alexander was not really injured by an arrow; this apparently happened later that year in a battle in Punjab (Efandiari, 2005). Given these kinds of creative adjustments to history, the movie cannot really be called a realistic historical depiction of Alexander's life, but instead a romanticization and dramatization of it.
That being said, Alexander fails on a film level as well. I did not like the film very much when I watched it; though I like many of the actors in this work, they are much more suited (for the most part) to the kinds of naturalistic, modern roles they are used to (Val Kilmer and Colin Farrell in particular). The film is far too emotionally distant to keep the viewer engaged, and a lot of the intrigue is lost in very flat direction and scenes that take too long to progress. This is a very long movie, and you feel every minute of it; you never really feel close to the story. Because Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) is narrating at you every step of the way, you feel like you are watching a documentary moreso than a film. It felt at times as if Oliver Stone did not trust the material to stand on its own, which led to him relying far too much on these bits of narration. Many of the fight scenes are not even that interesting; they are not filmed extremely well, and the editing is choppy to the point where it can often be hard to tell what is going on. Even then, however, they are preferable to the endless scenes of talking and sensitive hand-wringing Alexander and the other characters have to go through. At the very least, I think it is nicely progressive that a homosexual love story is given such focus in a major Hollywood studio release. Despite everything else, I think that is a huge step forward to shaking up normal depictions of movie and historical romances; I just wish it was included in a better, faster-paced and more involving film.
Esfandiari, Golnaz. "World: Oliver Stone's 'Alexander' Stirs Up Controversy." Radio Free
Europe - Radio Liberty. January 8, 2005. Web.
Stone, Oliver (dir.) Alexander. Perf. Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Jared Leto. Warner Bros.
Pictures, 2004. Film.