300 suggests that in 480 BC, Spartan soldiers fought pitched battles in BVDs and spandex. They bellowed and beat their chests.
300, one could argue, is a right-wing allegory about American involvement in the Middle East, about the culture wars between the West and the East, about the values of freedom and virtue vs. (as the film would have it) enslavement and paganism. The Spartan force consists of burly European men. The Persian army of Xerxes consists of Africans, Asians, and Arabs. Their self-proclaimed god-king Xerxes, an African, is adorned with jewelry and makeup and is decidedly effeminate. It's not difficult to identify the bad guys in this film.
“Freedom is not free,” intones King Leonidas’s wife, echoing George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. As her husband leaves for war, she tells him, “Come back with your shield, or on it.” There is much talk of how the men of Sparta are fighting for freedom, even though Leonidas handpicked them to fight and they seem to have little choice in the matter. Freedom is a key word in this film, a hollow word.
Fighting for freedom in 300 means brutal and vicious battle. It is not enough to defeat your enemies — you must impale them on swords and spears, shoot them with arrows, throw them off cliffs, and hurl them down dark holes. You use their bodies to build impenetrable walls of dead flesh.
300 tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae — the “Hot Gates” — in 480 BC, famous for the heroic resistance of 300 Spartan soldiers against a large Persian army. The film version of the story is decidedly Spartan-centric. In the real Battle of Thermopylae, several thousand soldiers from various armies joined with the Spartans to march against the Persians and to fight in the battle. When the Greek armies were betrayed and doom was certain, Leonidas dismissed and sent home all soldiers but the Spartan 300 and some 700 volunteers from Thebes, which like Sparta had refused to bow to Xerxes. In the film, Athens sends soldiers to fight alongside the Spartan 300, but the Spartans ridicule the Athenians as “boy lovers” and artists ill-suited for war — Leonidas scornfully tells them they are not real soldiers. The burly men of Sparta are full of contempt for the girly men from Athens. The 700 Thebans are omitted entirely. When the last battle is imminent in the film, the Athenian soldiers leave because they do not want to die — that is, they leave as cowards rather than being sent home by Leonidas, which is what happened in the actual battle. The film seems to find it important to portray the Spartans as the only real heroes.