I have had a vague desire to see 300 since I saw trailers for it a couple of years ago; the photoshopped, crazed hyper-realism of it, a fetishism of gloriously bloody violence, all impossible slow motion decapitations and exquisite showers of carefully rendered drops of blood, seemed like it would be ridiculously entertaining. And indeed it was ridiculously entertaining: the sudden pull back to a carefully framed landscape view of the Spartan king, having just gravely intoned that this is not madness, but Sparta, planting his foot on the Persian emissary's chest and flicking him backwards into a perfectly circular large black hole, which lurks in the middle of a courtyard for no obvious reason, is quite beyond the idiotic in a really rather wonderful way.
Of course its politics are barely disguised fascism: anything that enjoyed violence quite that much could only avoid being hateful by placing itself in a world in which only relentless brutality could avoid abject subjection. The problem with Sin City, after all, was that it tried to locate itself in a world not totally distant from ours: where violence's victims are not just effectively nameless soldiers or evil beyond imagining, there is a way of getting along that means perfecting the art of killing is not the only way to live. If there was any other way of living a life, then a life which took all its meaning from the total destruction, the utter crushing, of other lives, would seem, as it is in reality, at best quite hopelessly gratuitous. When we cannot live together, then someone has to die, and their death may as well be glorious, whether that triumph is found in the killing or in the act of dying.
This is a vision of politics as a kind of impossibility, a negative-sum game where compromise means humiliation and if not enslavement, then a kind of betrayal. If political action is always and everywhere either submission or triumph, then that is what we are left with; a politics of rousing speeches and good deaths, of killings stylised out of reality and of honour become vengeance stretched into infinity. Its aesthetics may be wonderful - the glowing embers of the Spartans' cloaks, the sodium lamp sunrises, the snarling monochrome of the Immortals' masks, the sudden stop-motion of bodies flying away from and into sword and shield blows: it's all quite beautiful - but tragedy has always been heartarchingly beautiful from a distance and grindingly awful up close.