Trojan warriors and crying infants.

Trojan warriors and crying infants. January 5, 2009

Nearly everything I have watched for the past month, I have done so for work-related reasons of one sort or another, so tonight I relished the opportunity to just stay at home and watch a movie that may have no particular artistic or cultural merit but nevertheless holds a certain appeal for me. The movie in question was Troy (2004), the director’s cut of which I had never seen before, but one of the local stores was selling it for just a few bucks during the Boxing Day sales, and I’m a big-enough fan of Greek myth — even when it’s done badly — that I figured I might as well check it out.

I had not seen this film, in any version, since the original, shorter version came out nearly five years ago, and I was struck this time by how deeply the Hector storyline resonated with me — not least when the film turns its attention to his infant son. Five years ago, I was neither married nor a father, but now I am both of those things, and I find it even harder to imagine what it would be like to leave my family behind to face certain death — knowing that my son, himself, will likely be killed soon after. It was similar to the feeling that I had after watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, knowing I would never live to see my infant son Nicholas when he is 80 — except that here, Hector knows that he cannot look that far ahead. He knows that neither he nor, probably, his son will ever get to make it past the next few hours or days or weeks.

And as chance should have it, no sooner did Hector’s son cry as his father bade farewell, in the scene depicted above, than I heard my son Nicholas cry from his crib in the other room. Indeed, he cried again while I was in the middle of writing this post a few hours later, and so, as I write this sentence, I have just finished feeding and soothing him and putting him back to sleep.

Between these babies’ cries and the rampant carnage of the Trojan War, I am reminded once again of what I wrote here over two years ago, when the twins were even younger than Nicholas is now: knowing firsthand how much love, care and work went into raising each and every one of those soldiers just in the first few years of their lives, I am more acutely aware than ever before of what a complete and utter waste death is.

Say what you will about the film as a whole, but one of the things that I do like about Troy is the fact that it doesn’t shy away from this bleak, brutal reality. Hector, as played by Eric Bana, is easily the most sympathetic character in the entire movie — but his death, when it comes, is as merciless as Achilles’ wrath. We feel the grand noble tragedy of it, sure, but we also feel the shame of it, the dishonour of it. And this, I think, is as it should be.

The movie itself, of course, is a maddening experience to anyone familiar with the ancient myths on which it is based. The weirdest part is that the film, which is based mainly on the Iliad, drops all sorts of little references to other myths and poems (e.g., the cameo with Aeneas and his father) that only someone familiar with this literature would “get”, yet it revises the source material in such drastic ways (e.g., the deaths of Menelaus and Agamemnon) that it’s bound to drive anyone familiar with these stories up the wall.

That being said, there is still a fair bit to like here. I especially get a kick out of the fact that this film came out only a few months after The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) came to an end, and it brings back at least two of that film’s actors (Orlando Bloom as Paris and Sean Bean as Odysseus) while providing a bloodier, gorier and more morally ambivalent version of the same sorts of battle scenes. The film may be derivative, on some level, but it reflects a time when those sorts of movies were on the rise — unlike now, perhaps.

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