Stone’s leftist agenda robs Alexander of authenticity.
by Bruce S. Thornton
A movie as bad as Oliver Stone’s Alexander usually would not be worth notice, but Stone has indulged several cinematic and political pathologies that are illuminating. Some of the film’s flaws are curiously old-fashioned, redolent of studio schlock of the 1950s–the bombastic musical score, Angeline Jolie’s pointless Elvira “Mistress of the Night” accent; the heavy-handed, stale Oedipal psychology, complete with snakes; and the corny dialogue whose purple patches sound positively late Victorian. And Colin Farrel’s waxed legs and dye job are as embarrassing as Richard Burton’s were in his turn as the Macedonian conqueror.
More interesting is what you wouldn’t have found in the 1950s-the depiction of Alexander’s bisexuality. Stone must have thought that this “daring” acknowledgement of the great man’s sexual proclivities—his romance with Hephaestion and the Persian catamite Bagoas—would get him a leg up with the critics, as such positive treatments of homosexuality play to their cultural prejudices; as Ben Shapiro points out on Townhall, since 1994 seventeen actors and actresses have been nominated for Academy Awards for playing gay characters. Indeed, the film did get some bounce on that score: “Gay Hero,” a New York Times headline bragged, without a clue that calling Alexander “gay” is as anachronistic as calling him the CEO of Macedon. Other critics patted Stone’s head for the film’s homosexuality, but ultimately the movie’s numerous flaws cancelled out its playing of the politically correct “gay” card.
Not everyone is happy about Stone’s take on Alexander’s bedtime habits. The Greek government is upset with the scenes showing Alexander mooning over Hephaestion and kissing the Persian boy, but I’m not sure why. Alexander and Hephaestion carry on like junior-high teeny-boppers, complete with eyeliner, a class ring, back-rubs and long soulful interludes in the moonlight. Stone, like all the critics, has imposed modern ideas on the ancients, particularly our curious notion of romantic love and idealized sexuality, the heart of modern “gay” identity. But such notions are alien to the world of the ancients, who would have found such ideas, especially applied to homosexuals, bizarre if not freakish.
What, then, were the physical dimensions of the historical Alexander and Hephaestion’s relationship? We can’t be sure, for many factors complicate our understanding. We post-Freudians tend to misinterpret the rhetoric of passionate friendship, assuming that it has to be really about sex. Aristocratic notions of shame and honor—completely alien to us egalitarian democrats—would have made certain physical acts, especially those that put a male in the role of a female, abhorrent to status-jealous nobles. This means that while some males would have had no compunctions about treating, say, a slave boy like a woman, they would have died before allowing themselves to be sexually used like that. And much of the evidence about Alexander is either very late or filtered through the ethnic prejudices of the Greeks, who looked down on Macedonians as semi-barbarians excessively fond of buggery. Contrary to the popular myth that ancient Greek men were happily blasé about sex with other men, in actual fact the Greeks despised exclusive homosexuals who were used sexually like women, and had a whole rich vocabulary of abuse to express their disgust.
What I find more puzzling is the pass Stone has been given over his treatment of Roxanne, the central Asian princess Alexander married probably for strategic and political advantage. The movie depicts her as a Third World hellcat spitting and snarling and crawling around on all fours before being sexually subdued by the more civilized Westerner. Usually indulging such ethnocentric and misogynist stereotypes earns one a trip to the woodshed for a whipping by the “diversity” and feminist nannies. Critics may be overlooking Stone’s retrograde ethnic slurs because he puts in Alexander’s mouth several speeches about the glories of “multiculturalism” that would warm the cockles of any diversity commissar’s heart. Such talk is another example of modern superstition imposed on the ancients. Whatever the propaganda about spreading the light of Hellenism to the barbarians and integrating them into Greek culture in some universal “brotherhood of man” utopia, the fact is Alexander slaughtered these dark-skinned “others” wholesale, and he killed them for selfish glory and cold hard cash.
This brings us to the movie’s most fascinating pathology. Stone is a famous “leftist” director whose earlier movies document the destructive effects of the evil Capitalist octopus and its malign influence over the hearts and minds of the average person not smart enough to see the truth behind the propaganda about freedom and opportunity. Whether it’s Vietnam, the murder of JFK, or professional football, Stone’s vision is predictably banal in its leftist assumptions: evil white conservative men who lust for money and power manipulate everybody else to pursue their nefarious plots to dominate the world in compensation for their repressed desires.
Given that rancid vision, one would think Stone would show us an Alexander as proto-imperialist and proto-colonialist, a bloodthirsty, neurotic Western butcher of peaceful, dark-skinned Third World “others.” He would’ve shown us Alexander’s sadistic cruelty in the sack of Tyre, where he introduced crucifixion to the West, or the crushing of Greek political freedom at Thebes and Chaeronea, or the wanton burning of the Persian capital Persepolis after a drunken orgy. The psychotic paranoia that led to the murder of the man who saved his life or to the butchery of numerous Macedonians would’ve been given the full Nixon treatment, rather than being presented as the understandable excesses of a visionary thwarted by reactionary prejudice. And Stone would’ve found a way to make it clear that Alexander killed more Greeks than the Persians ever did, including Greek mercenaries who fought on the Persian side against the tyrant who had destroyed their city-states’ freedom.
That interpretation, by the way, would’ve been closer to the historical truth. Alexander conquered Persia not to spread the light of Hellenism or to create a multicultural paradise, but for money—-tons of gold and silver were sitting in Persepolis–and for glory. The destroyer of Greek freedom wanted to be a god-king on the Oriental model, an ambition anathema to everything ancient Greek culture stood for.
Instead, Stone gives us the visionary Alexander, the great idealist who pursues his vision until he burns out, and whose excesses are the lamentable byproducts of such noble ambition. And here’s the most illuminating point about this forgettable movie: once more we see the left’s romantic admiration of any mass-murderer who cloaks his slaughter in idealism. Wasn’t it Lenin who said you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs? The “omelet” of Communist idealism took, as we now know, 100 million dead human beings, and ended up inedible anyway. But that hasn’t stopped the left from continuing to excuse murder on the grounds of “idealism,” provided it comes from the left (after all, Nazis were idealists too). Thus Stalin, Ho Chi Min, Mao and Castro continue to be more popular on college campuses than Ronald Reagan, and ex-terrorists like Bill Ayres and Bernadette Dohrn are professors at taxpayer-funded universities.
Once more we see the bankruptcy of the left, the hollowness of its populist rhetoric and democratic idealism. Behind all that lofty rhetoric is the old lust for power and domination, contempt for the average person, and a burning confidence in the superiority of its ideas no matter how bloody their application or how often they are discarded in the trashcan of history. Stone’s Alexander may not tell us much about the Macedonian killer, but it reveals a lot about the pathology of the left.
©2004 Bruce Thornton