Monday, May 17, 2004

Spoilers R Us

I feel somewhat unqualified to review Troy since I’ve actually read Homer. Checking out other reviewers, it was pretty clear that they hadn’t, which probably explains why the movie version of the story didn’t strike them as peculiar. I mean I expected a movie to play with the legend upon which it is built if only because there is too much narrative content for a single movie in the matter of Troy. The Greeks themselves played dozens of variations on the tale, including one version in which the real Helen never went to Troy at all because as Zeus’ daughter she was a little too grand or holy to hook up with a feckless pretty boy like Paris. Myth, as Levi-Strauss correctly understood, lives in ceaseless transformation so there’s no reason to complain if a new rendition is faithful to the original—the Iliad wasn’t the original either. There are, however, versions and versions. To meld a structuralist with a Texas way of putting things, the movie is only a semi-coherent transformation of the epic. Hector has no business stabbing Menelaus to death on the second day of the war. An Agamemnon shaped like Homer Simpson isn’t very Homeric. And allowing Helen and Paris run off to Mount Ida reminds me of the joke about the test audience that liked Titanic but didn’t want the ship to sink at the end.

Sarcasm aside, I was more surprised at what worked than what didn’t. Brad Pitt wasn’t a bad Achilles at all. I wasn’t even put off by his kung fu moves. The war itself was appropriately grim and gory. Allowing for the exigencies of film, the sequence in which King Priam begs Achilles for the body of his slain son actually has some of the pathos of the Homeric account, though its brevity points up how much is lost because of the driving tempo of popular movies. Some of the nonsense in the movie was also memorable in its own way, though the utterly inadequate Helen struck me as an insult to young audiences who are apparently supposed to find an insipidly pretty blond a credible cause of tragedy. On the other hand, I can only salute sublime absurdity of the scene in which Achilles ravishes the virgin priestess of Apollo even though she has a dagger at his throat. Somebody should have let him know that sex is not necessarily safe just because you’re using a Trojan.

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