Monday, May 31, 2004

So if you've ever wondered what the Iliad is about, and thought maybe you'd just see the movie instead--get the Cliffs notes.

On Sunday night, after a pleasant barbecue with a group of friends, we decided to go to a late showing of "Troy" for a good laugh. While we knew it would be a poor adaptation, I at least was not prepared for the depths to which film creators can go. We were somewhat cheered, at the end, to see in the credits that it was only "inspired by Homer's Iliad", but that was a small comfort. I suppose the other moviegoers were unamused by our hilarity during the movie, but it was impossible to keep from laughing at Brad Pitt's "smell the fart" acting.

All the acting, in fact, was remarkably terrible, although it may be unfair to criticize the actors when the script and direction are so wretched. We did agree that Priam was excellently portrayed, even before I discovered that the actor is Peter O'Toole; but the rest of the cast got bogged down in soulful looks, heroic profiles, and cliched lines about honor, credibility (?), and posterity (yes, fine, Achilles, your name will be remembered forever, now shut up!!). There were a number of memorable lines, however, though perhaps not for the right reasons. I liked how they illustrated my favorite Odysseus epithet, "devious-devising", at the beginning when Boromir--I mean Odysseus--says to Achilles, "You have your sword; I have my tricks." I bet Patroclus knows about that sword--oh, wait, sorry, that whole relationship was neatly avoided by making the two cousins. Probably just as well.

Later Achilles rouses his men to battle by saying, "Do you know what lies on that beach? Immortality! Take it! It's yours!" Quite.

And then Hector rallies his troops with the code by which he has always lived his life: "Honor the gods; love your woman; defend your country!" Which I must say I actually liked, outside of an Homerian context--they're not standards espoused much nowadays, particularly the last one. It reminded me that patriotism used to be more than pasting bumper stickers on one's car and occasionally writing a letter to the editor.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie was that somehow the gods were not important enough characters to be included. Indeed, their existence was denied and disbelieved by a number of the characters--nearly all except for the fanatically wild-eyed priests and priestesses, and they kept getting proved wrong. So much for Paris being saved by Aphrodite in the nick of time; so much for the reason for Achilles' invulnerability; so much for the squabbles between Zeus and Hera that affect numerous outcomes of the war; so much for the guidance of Athene, etc, etc. None of that's important. What's important is watching Brad Pitt skip around the battlefield. Obviously.

And apparently there aren't any other important Greek playwrights, either, since their characters are so casually killed off. Too bad, Aeschylus, no Oresteia for you--it fits our plot better to let Briseis (yes, she's a character, just like Arwen!) stab Agamemnon. Oh, and Sophocles? It's a lot more interesting to let Hector take out Ajax than to let him commit suicide. Sorry.

So anyway, like I was saying, get the Cliffs notes. Or better yet, read the real thing. Then you can play the game!

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