There are times where I’m truly disgusted at humanity, an alleged majority of my country and this time my fellow critics. The collective shit rained down upon Oliver Stone disgusts me. Nay, it infuriates me.
Before watching ALEXANDER I was expecting a miserable time. The reviews were terrible. But is it really any wonder that a film about a man that dreamt of uniting the world and evolving with every new culture he came in contact with, while also recognizing the beauty and worth of both man and woman as thinkers, fighters and lovers would enrage a majority of folks in a country that seems to tear down those it does not wish to understand. That sees itself as the pinnacle of human history and refuses to acknowledge the history of other vain glorious kingdoms that fell by deeming themselves the be all end all of mankind?
ALEXANDER is a stunning film of visions, ideas, performances and spectacle. A couple of months ago I reviewed Richard Burton’s ALEXANDER THE GREAT in one of my DVD columns. You want to see what a HALF-ASSED version of Alexander’s story looks like… watch that one. Then watch this film and realize this is the best telling of the story of ALEXANDER to be told. That Colin Farrell is vastly superior to Richard Burton in the role – oh, but that’s right… We’re a culture that forgets history, so putting this film in cinematic context… that’s just plum wrong. This film has so much more going on than a movie like TROY, which wasn’t terrible, but wasn’t what it could have been.
The battles in ALEXANDER are not painterly like LORD OF THE RINGS or TROY… These are not clean bloodless battles of videogame moves (left arrow left arrow x x pyramid shape up arrow), rather in this film you’ll see the madness of war. The battle of Gaugamela is explained in the tent ahead of time – but then… then in the actualization of the battle there is genius. Genius in the confusion. You see, there is only one man on that field that understands how it all comes together. There is no satellite – no geo-locators on his and their men. In fact – there’s so much dust in the air, you wonder how friend is differentiated from foe. It is all – merely in the timing, Alexander leads the battle, because only Alexander can see the battle. He and the men directly in his wake are the instruments of the deathblow necessary to wipe clean the enemy before him.
Why do we get no sense of his enemies? That question and even greater the questions that seemingly are at the heart of so many reviewers “confusion” over Alexander’s story not being clearly defined, was he gay or not, what was his relationship with his mother…
Well – Alexander never wrote his story, he did not give him the title “THE GREAT,” that was in the hands of others. In this narrative’s case, Stone left it to Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) to tell. Ptolemy did not KNOW the truth about Alexander and Olympias. Ptolemy did not understand the decision to marry Roxane. Ptolemy was a survivor of Alexander’s tale. An old man that realized only too late the true dream that a young leader half his age had envisioned for a world, one that he and his fellow Greeks discarded in their exploitation of the territories they inherited from the age of Alexander. We’re dealing with a man who late in life realizes the failure that he and his fellow Greeks and Macedonians made of Alexander’s triumph.
Ptolemy… the Greeks, the Macedonians… even Alexander did not know the enemy before them. They knew stories and legends. Those hordes of EVIL EASTERNERS were only that to them. It was what Aristotle and Socrates taught them. It is what Phillip had said. So it was all that was so. The folly of those beneath Alexander was their failure to recognize that they were in fact the barbarians, and that they conquered and fought not for gold and jewels, but to unite the understanding of the known and unknown worlds. To dispel the myths told to them as children and to rip apart the borders between races and religions. To see all men as equals and to forge a better world not only for them, but through the knowledge and wisdom learnt from his conquered enemies… an advancement of themselves by discarding the prejudices based on race, customs, religions and sexuality.
All of this silly snickering and giggles about whether or not Alexander was gay, bi or whatever. Folks… GROW UP! At the time of Alexander there was not even a word to differentiate sex between men and men and men and women. But again – we live in a juvenile culture. This is the period where a great deal of the foundation for the great ideals that this country was built upon. The dreams discarded by ages of Kings and fiefdoms, lost till the formation of this country then, arguably, lost again.
As for those that wanted the graphic portrayal of Alexander’s love for Hephaistion (Jared Leto) – There’s two reasons… Ptolemy did not share that bed. BUT they showed the fantastic love scene between Roxane and Alexander despite that. True. Ultimately, I would say this. Alexander had a harem of 300 women and 3 wives. His bisexual activity is less documented, but is highly suspected and known. This film though is not focused upon his life of silk coated beds, but rather the impression he made upon a man that would still talk of him 40 years later. Had the library of Alexandria not been destroyed – our portrait of the man might have been… well, who can truly say. History has cast shadows and questions upon an era that was wonderfully documented, yet what remains is not necessarily what happened and with who.
Stone focused the film from the perspective of a man that followed and outlived Alexander. A man that saw the man and saw the greatness. This isn’t a first person tale, unfortunately that tome does not exist to adapt from. But what Stone focused on was a Teenage King that grew to conquer the world and leave it at 32. A young man that forced the world to confront the prejudices, ignorance and myths that children believed. This was a time of ancient wonders and feats of legend… and Stone realizes that while humanizing it.
Lastly, I want to deal with Colin Farrell. The key to his character is in Olympia’s dialogue to him as a child. To not hesitate, hesitate and you die. Colin plays Alexander not as a madman, not as a saint. He plays Alexander as a man with a thirst to destroy the mythologies of man and to build histories and civilizations. What madness, if there was any, came not from insanity, but from the slowness of the world around him. The inability of those around him to not see past the obstacles that man’s vanity creates for himself. To just see the world, men and women simply as they were in his eyes. One. There’s a shiver to Colin’s eyes at moments that denotes a quiet intelligence. This film isn’t so much about monologue-ing in-front of masses of men – but rather the connection the men felt for what he led them to accomplish. How he simply saw the field as if blessed. They treated him as a legend in his own time, yet could not blindly follow, nor did he want them to. Farrell conveys his wanderlust wonderfully.
This isn’t a white washed story of simpler times, if anything Stone reveals that truly nothing has really changed. For all the passings of millennia, we’re still the bigoted, short-sighted men and women that couldn’t see what Alexander saw. But then, that’s why he was, “THE GREAT,” and none of us are.
I found the film exceptional. I hope some of you, at least, find the film I saw. But with all art, we take away what we bring with us. Try to leave the prejudices at the door, inside is something greater.