suffragettecity's picture

My parents and I repainted our living room today, and between the time when we finished priming the walls and actually painting them (a lovely pumpkin color), we decided to go and see a movie while the primer dried. Our choice was Oliver Stone's "Alexander." I'd recently read a statement by Gore Vidal about the movie, in which he gave it praise for its honest portrayal of Alexander the Great's bisexuality, so I was interested to see about this.

The movie was good (i.e. cool sets, costumes, and camera-work), but not great. The low points included the accents of the characters - instead of just being themselves, most of the men - including Val Kilmer - spoke with Irish or Scottish accents, while Angelina Jolie, who played Alexander's strangely non-aging mother, spoke
with a very artificial quasi-Russian accent. Not only that, but when it showed any kind of writing, instead of Greek, they used this weird Greco-English writing, with English being written in a mixture of Roman and Greek letters (like "sigma" being used in place of "s").

Another problem, though this may just be my interpretation, is that there was an underlying tone of Orientalism throughout the movie. Though the Ancient Greeks were some of the most ethnocentric people in the history of the world, and Alexander is frequently shown condemning his men for their arrogant attitudes toward the "Eastern races," I think it's kind of bothersone that they release a movie in which a bunch of Europeans slag Middle Easterners when we're right in the middle of a huge expression of Orientalism in the form of the war with Iraq as the Bush Administration seems to be looking for an excuse to go after Iran (well, at least all this stuff in the media about Iran developing nukes has strange echoes of the months leading up to the war on Iraq). Not only that, but Western countries (mainly the US) are frequently shown in the media to have an inherent cultural superiority over Asian nations, as though the latter represent lower stages of development than us because their ways of doing things - particularly in the area of political administration - are different from ours and thus somehow "inferior." I don't mean to be an apologist for the often authoritarian systems of government in Asia, but I get such an impression of "white man's burden" when I see that kind of stuff in the news, and I fear that this movie might kind of help to reinforce ideas of Western superiority in a lot of viewers' minds, even if that wasn't Oliver Stone's original intent. Or, maybe it's just this town getting to me and I'm paranoid.

Back to the happy stuff. I think that Gore Vidal was right - they did do a good job portraying Alexander's sexuality. Though homosexual behavior was pretty common among most pre-Christian peoples in Europe and Asia, Oliver Stone didn't do what so many filmmakers do with gay, lesbian or bi characters and create some scene during which all the audience members are supposed to go "Oh my god! He's kissing that guy!" Rather, it was shown in a very natural sort of way, as if to suggest, as Alexander tells his shocked wife when she discovers him with his male lover Hephaistion, "There are many forms of love."

I thought that was a real improvement from movies in the past, where a scene with two guys (usually bad guys) is thrown in for shock value, or two girls are shown making out for straight guys in the audience. However, I think that a number of people in the audience at the theater disagreed, as I heard these two guys a few rows behind me muttering some homophobic remarks whenever Alexander was shown kissing or embracing Hephaistion or one of the Babylonian guys who came along on his journey of conquest. That all having been said, in case anyone's wondering, there weren't any "explicit" scenes with Alexander and either of his boyfriends.