Troy: A sword and sandal anti-war allegory

November 17, 1993


Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
With Brad Pitt and Eric Bana
Screenplay by David Bewioff

For an uncomfortably long time into this movie I thought I had done my dough. I don't like investing risk money into my entertainments and the dollars spent on hyped-up Troy were a risk.

The movie seemed turgidly caught up in itself. Where were the great special effects, the FX stuff I could get wholesale from every other sword and sandal epic, like Gladiator? Where on Earth was this movie going?

The actual historical siege of the city of Troy not only fostered Homer's The Iliad, but was the substance that Euripides employed to create the world's first great anti-war play — The Trojan Women (415 BC), which has been revived around the world as part of coordinated international protests against the Iraq war.

With that in mind, as I sat there yearning for more for my buck, the penny dropped — the siege of Troy was again an excuse to oppose war, this time against Iraq. The invasion of Iraq occurred just as shooting for this film got underway in Malta.

I doubt that the screenplay was consciously bent to relate to events three millennia later than when the film's story was set, but as its director, Wolfgang Petersen, has said: "Just as King Agamemnon waged what was essentially a war of conquest on the ruse of trying to rescue the beautiful Helen from the hands of the Trojans, President George W. Bush concealed his true motives for the invasion of Iraq."

Some may lament how much history repeats itself, but when you settle into the contemporary relevance of this movie it becomes an incredible exploration that runs deeper than mere analogy.

Troy pivots around the character of Achilles (Brad Pitt). In this retelling, ancient Greece's most fearsome warrior is not a relentless fighting machine dedicated to any amount of right stuff idealism, but a prototype of modern soldiery.

Achilles may be the best and the bravest but he's pretty much sick of the slaughter he is party to. For him it's a job and glory is merely a bonus. He'd rather do his killing on his own terms than someone else's. Shackled by loyalty to his comrades he really doesn't give a fig for the big picture.

Indeed, Achilles' problem is the sudden realisation that the enemy isn't so much on the battlements of Troy, but at home. As Petersen has said: "I wouldn't make a movie like Air Force One now." And I doubt anyone else would either.

From Green Left Weekly, June 9, 2004.
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