A despairing thought that pops into my mind every so often has to do with the plague of violence that has been overrunning my country for over a decade now. My nation, which shall remain unnamed, harbors similar social and financial conditions as to those displayed in City of God. As the camera cut from one subject to the next, unrelenting in its energy, I had that thought again.
It goes like this. I do not think that the violence and crime epidemic of my country will ever go away because it is much easier to point a gun at someone and steal a pair of shoes in a matter of minutes, than it is to work five times a day for a meager salary in order to afford one.
More than any other movie that I can remember, and probably because it was made in Latin America, where the devils they fight are much more different than the demons of the United States, City of God perfectly illustrates the culture of death and corruption that is so ingrained in our poor, destitute nations.
The tragedy of Steven Spielberg’s masterful Munich resides in the hearts of men. A Jew and a Palestinian are arguing about the necessity of armed conflict between its people in order for goodness to come out of it, when the Palestinian declares something along the lines of “In the end, it will all work out. It took Jews thousands of years to get a home, it will be the same for Palestine.” Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana) shoots down his reasoning.
Later in the movie, before Avner and his crew embark on a train ride to Holland, Avner turns to one of his men, who is displaying increasing signs of reluctance at all the killings they are doing, and says “Eventually, it will all end. What we are doing will be worth it.” But it is not only that Avner has turned into a version of the Palestinians he’s fighting against, or that the Palestinians have turned into the Jews they try to emancipate from; that would be too shallow a read, and Spielberg is too much a genius to leave it at that. The scene displays the incapacity for empathy that characters in the movie possess.
During the opening sequence, there is a perfect cut which delineates this idea. When the news broadcasts that all the Israeli hostages are alive, the action moves to the wives and families of the athletes, cheering with relief; the action then moves to a living room where the wives and families of the terrorists are gathered, which mourn the death of their loved ones once the news broadcast the death of all of them.
“This is what’s missing in the world”, Steven Spielberg tells us in that brief scene. “There is no peace at the end of this because the human heart doesn’t cut back and forth between both sides and realize that all of us weep”
The final episode of the most incredible television series of all times is titled “Victory.” In it, Spartacus and companions are slaughtered by the hordes of Rome, after putting up the bravest of resistances. It is a heartbreaking finale all around, with all but one of the main characters in the show’s 4 season run still alive. Why then, title the episode with such an upbeat word?
Something similar occurs in 300, when King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) speaks of victory shortly before facing down death in the form of a rain of steel arrows. Can victory really be found in defeat, or are they just noble excuses to make the audience feel better that the characters they’ve come to known and love did not survive?
In the case of Spartacus, and having watched the entire series multiple times, I feel victory was never achieved. From start to end the story is a tragedy, peppered with rousing moments of celebration, but ultimately ending the way it was always meant to, which was death and crushing defeat. The fact that the series follows a man who eventually leads thousands of people to their death is just another testament to how unlike anything else ever seen this television series really was.
In the case of the endlessly quotable 300, I feel Leonidas was right. Their betrayal at the hand of one of their own only further amplified their epic deeds, and only aid in cementing the support Sparta would receive from the rest of the Greek city states. This, of course, ended up in ultimate victory.