My less political friends were mostly focused on the gay undertones, but from a foreign policy perspective it’s hard to avoid noticing that this is a movie wherein your heros battle the insidious forces of Iran Persia. At one point, Xerxes even unleashes a rhinoscerous of mass destruction. Clearly, in the film’s mythic retelling of the Thermopylae story, the Spartans are not only the heros but they are, in an important sense, us. We all living in the west are, or so the story goes, the heirs to Greek culture and civilization which was saved that day against in battle against the Asiatic hordes.
On another level, however, the “thousand nations of the Persian Empire” were the superpower of their day, like the United States. The Spartan rhetoric refers to “freedom” but it is not the liberty of the moderns for which they speak. In conventional terms, Xerxes’ subjects were probably freer than those under Leonidas’ rule. Rather, the Spartans fight for the freedom of Sparta the freedom of Greece, for the self-determination and autonomy of their people, and they fight for it to the point of irrationality and suicide. The impulse has more in common with, say, Hugo Chavez’ defiance of the superpower next door or Palestinians detonating a car bomb at a West Bank checkpoint than it does with anything in contemporary American policy.
As it happens, the filmmakers themselves appear to have no particular message in mind as they were working on the movie which is, probably for the best. Qua movie review I’ll just say that 300, while certainly neat, is in every way inferior to Sin City.
UPDATE: A commenter urges me to say something about the film’s racism. I think “Orientalism” may be the term we’re looking for here. Certainly, on a not-very-subtle level the semiotics here are indicating that the Middle East is populated by people who are, at best, partially human. This is taken over directly from the comic book but somehow amped-up during adaptation.