In Zack Snyder's film adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel 300, a group of Spartans, led by Leonidas (Gerard Butler) engage on a bloody and patriotic campaign of destruction in order to defend Sparta from the oppressive, mercurial and mythic Persians, led by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). In this film, the value of community responsibility is placed above all else, as the 300 Spartans are tasked with the ultimate defense of their homeland without fail. Many instances of mythological symbolism occur in the film; Leonidas kicking the messenger down what seems to be a bottomless well, after declaring "THIS IS SPARTA!" is symbolic for the complete and utter destruction that he wants to instill upon the Persians - and what hell might await him by the end of the film as well. The film's aesthetic is filled with symbols that are pertinent even today, such as the growing mountains of dead bodies (which represent the growing desolation and loss brought about by war) and Xerxes being clad only in gold (showing his love of materialism and the hedonistic allure of his rule).
One important connection between myth and history in the film is represented by the character of Dilios (David Wenham), the narrator of the story. The fact that the film itself is knowingly being narrated, combined with the hyper-realistic, comic-book look of the film, brings to the audience an understanding that the accomplishments and drama of the events in the film may be exaggerated somewhat for effect. Snyder's use of chroma-kay lighting and oversaturated green-screen effects creates a look of unrealism, making the audience recognize how over-the-top and dramatic the events of the story are. Dilios himself tells his story around a campfire, a mythological symbol for the venue by which ancient man told his stories, linking that storytelling method to this one.
There is a distinctly us-versus-them outlook to the film, as the Persians are depicted as outright evil and godlike, with immense powers and resources on hand (huge elephants, legions of men with bows and weapons). Furthermore, Xerxes himself is shown to be a dark, exotic figure with a strange, inhuman voice, piercings and gauged ears; this is a dramatic contrast to the rippled Anglo-Saxon ideals of the Spartan 300. Furthermore, Xerxes tempts Leonidas (and the crippled Ephialtes) with a world of sensual, hedonistic pleasure, in which the individual is valued above all. In fact, Ephialtes betrays Leonidas because he is incapable of acting as part of the homogenous whole (being unable to lift his shield in the formation that keeps them acting like a unit). This simple metaphor shows the film's (and the story's) emphasis on conformity as opposed to individualism; the heroic figures are all similarly-clad and muscled, and those unlike them are either traitors or enemies to be vanquished.
In 300, a very strong message of conformity and community is emphasized, though this message emphasizes homogeneity as opposed to many individuals contributing to a greater whole. In the original myth of the Battle of Thermopylae, the 300 had allies in the form of hundreds of Hebans and Thelots; they were not by themselves. However, the film truncates that to just the 300, for narrative simplicity and to hammer home the message that a society has to unite as a whole and fight their enemy. The survival and victory of the Spartans depends on them effectively being and acting as one, with any evidence of individuality in the film (being not a part of great Sparta) shown to be weakness or evil. While 300 discusses the still-present human conflict of acting in one's own interests versus that of the whole, the film does not ask enough questions about how much individuality should be given up for the sake of the whole.
Cartledge, P. (2002). The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece. New
York, Vintage Books.
Snyder, Z. (dir). (2007). 300. Perf. Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham. Warner Bros.