300 is a 2007 American fantasy action film based on the 1998 comic series of the same name by Frank Miller. It is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. The film was directed by Zack Snyder, while Miller served as executive producer and consultant. It was filmed mostly with a super-imposition chroma key technique, to help replicate the imagery of the original comic book.
The plot revolves around King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who leads 300 Spartans into battle against Persian “god-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his army of more than one million soldiers. As the battle rages, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to rally support in Sparta for her husband. The story is framed by a voice-over narrative by the Spartan soldier Dilios (David Wenham). Through this narrative technique, various fantastical creatures are introduced, placing 300 within the genre of historical fantasy.
Dilios, a Spartan soldier, narrates the story of Leonidas, from boyhood to the throne of Sparta. Years later, a Persian messenger arrives at the gates of Sparta, demanding the submission of Sparta to King Xerxes. In response to this demand, Leonidas and his guards kick the messenger into a large well. Knowing this will prompt a Persian attack, Leonidas visits the Ephors, ancient leprosy-ridden priests whose blessing he needs before the Spartan council will authorize going to war. He proposes they repel the numerically superior Persians by using the terrain of Thermopylae (the Hot Gates) and funnel the Persians into a narrow pass between the rocks and the sea. The Ephors consult the Oracle, who decrees that Sparta must not go to war during their religious festival Carnea. As Leonidas departs, two agents of Xerxes appear—one of them, Theron, is a Spartan—who bribe the Ephors with concubines and money.
Leonidas follows his plan anyway, setting out with only 300 soldiers, whom he calls his personal guards to avoid needing the council’s permission. Though he regards the mission as certain suicide, he hopes the sacrifice will spur the council to unite against Persia. On the way to Thermopylae, Arcadians join the Spartans. At Thermopylae, they construct a wall to contain the approaching Persian advance. As construction goes on, Leonidas meets Ephialtes, a hunchbacked Spartan in exile whose parents fled Sparta to spare him certain infanticide. Wanting to redeem his father’s name, Ephialtes asks to join the fight; he warns Leonidas of a secret path the Persians could use to outflank and surround them. Though Leonidas sympathizes with Ephialtes’s will to fight, he turns him down, as Ephialtes cannot properly hold a shield: this would compromise the Spartans phalanx formation.
Before the battle, the Persians demand that the Spartans lay down their weapons. Leonidas refuses and with their tightly knit phalanx formation, the Spartans use the narrow terrain to repeatedly rebuff the advancing Persian army. Xerxes personally parleys with Leonidas, offering him wealth and power in exchange for his loyalty and surrender. Leonidas declines, and Xerxes sends his elite guard, the formidable Immortals, to attack them, but the Spartans successfully dispatch them, suffering a few casualties of their own. Xerxes then sends a number of exotic weapons at the Spartans, including black powder bombs and giant war beasts, but all of these attacks fail. During these attacks, Astinos is killed, which drives his father Captain Artemis in a fit of rage.
Angered by Leonidas’s rejection, Ephialtes defects to the Persians and informs them of the secret path. When they realize Ephialtes’s treachery, the Arcadians retreat, and Leonidas orders Dilios to return to Sparta to tell the Council of their sacrifice. Though Dilios had recently injured his left eye in combat, he is still fit for battle, but Leonidas decides to use Dilios’s gift for storytelling to appeal to the Spartan council. Though reluctant to leave his brothers behind, Dilios leaves with the Arcadians.
In Sparta, Theron rapes and blackmails Queen Gorgo (Leonidas’ wife) supposedly in exchange for his help in persuading the Spartan council to send reinforcements to Leonidas. However, following her address to the Council, Theron publicly betrays the Queen by accusing her of adultery, prompting the councilmen to cry out in outrage and Gorgo to kill him in a fit of anger. The dagger that Gorgo uses to kill Theron pierces his purse, spilling Persian coins from his robe, revealing his role as traitor, and the Council agrees to unite against Persia.
At Thermopylae, the Persians use the goat path to surround the Spartans. Xerxes’s General demands their surrender, again offering Leonidas titles and prestige. Leonidas seemingly bows in submission, allowing Stelios to leap over him and kill the General instead. Furious, Xerxes orders his troops to attack. Leonidas rises and hurls his spear at Xerxes, cutting the King on the cheek, thus fulfilling an earlier promise to “make the God-King bleed”. Visibly disturbed by this reminder of his mortality, Xerxes watches as all the Spartans are slaughtered by a massive barrage of arrows. Moments before his death, Leonidas pledges his undying love to Gorgo.
Concluding his tale before an audience of Spartans on the edge of the battlefield a year after Thermopylae, Dilios relates how the Persian army is depleted by desertions, out of fear and the heavy casualties they suffered at the hands of a mere 300 Spartans. Word of their valiant resistance spread across Greece, inspiring the different city-states to unite against the Persians. Now, the Persians face 10,000 Spartans leading 30,000 free Greeks. Although still outnumbered three to one, Dilios declares that the Greeks shall be victorious and praises the 300’s sacrifice. He then leads the Greeks in a charge against the Persian army, beginning the Battle of Plataea.
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