Thursday, December 02, 2004

Must be the week to view over-reachers and world conquerors. Last Friday it was Cheng Ho, today, Alexander. Where Troy was Hollywood fluff, Alexander is a textbook, and doesn't pretend to be anything else. This movie is from the perspective of one of Alexander's old surviving Generals as he dictates his memoirs of Alexander's great exploits to an eager, wide-eyed scribe.

Pretty much everything we know about ATG, director, Stone, faithfully retells in this 2+ hour long epic. How ATG gets his horse, how ATG takes his comparatively small army to take on and defeat the nasty Persians, how his ambitions take him to India and would have taken him to conquer western Europe, had he not died at an early age. There is suspicion of poisoning as a cause of his death, but Stone, as in history, does not point an accusing finger at any one particular entity.

There is political intrigue and more than a hint of ATG's bisexual tendencies, though this is not surprising considering the time he lived in. Battle scenes are thoroughly messy. Blocks and blocks of formations clashing in a dust-obscured orgy of violence from the bird's eye view, and numerous quick cuts of personal and intimate violence from the combatant's perspective.

Always gets me wondering whenever I see scenes of close-quarters melee combat: why do men drive themselves into the midst of such utter madness, where life and limb are almost guaranteed lost? It's part of our nature, I guess, since we haven't learned anything from past battles fought long ago. It's still happening today in many parts of the world, and it's still a part of our growing -up ritual as well -- our boys being conscripted into the army for 2 years' National Service.

The timing of this movie could be Stone's warning to the US regarding it's expedition in Iraq. ATG marched into Babylon to a great welcome after having defeated Darius in battle. The US likewise expected a great welcome in Baghdad after defeating Hussein, but it wasn't to be. The narrator, Ptolemy, caustically remarks that entering Babylon was a far easier exercise than exiting it. The US finds itself in the same position today. Since Babylon=Iraq geographically, the parallel can be no coincidence. (Late edit: Stone himself says it was a coincidence).

To those of us who already know the history of ATG, the movie puts a grand picture to the text we know by heart. But those who haven't a clue as to who or what ATG is, the movie can be pretty dry and tedious to sit through. Perhaps the presence of "pretty" boys (to quote from ill-fated Clitus' spiteful observation) who litter the cast might add some interest to this movie, since the babe factor seems to be missing save for maybe Angelina Jolie who plays ATG's mom. How ineligible.

One interesting side note. According to a Discovery Channel programme I watched a week or so ago, a former Scotland Yard head and a team of forensic scientists have recently discredited both theories that ATG may have died of disease and that he may have been poisoned by shady elements within his royal court. They looked at his symptoms before his death and matched them with those caused by a toxin found in a root of a plant common in Macedonia. This root was used as a remedy for depression at the time, and it is well known that ATG was majorly bummed at the death of his best friend (some say lover), Hephaistion. The truth of ATG's death may simply be that he overdosed on this root, basically killing himself because of bad medical practice. Not very romantic nor heroic.

Odd to see this quotation so soon after I mentioned in my entry from a few days ago: "Fortune favours the bold," Virgil (70 BC - 19 BC).

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