EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the December 27, 2004, issue of National Review.
The consensus about Oliver Stone’s Alexander is that the film’s splashy gay motifs could not overcome the stilted dialogue, ludicrous Irish-brogue and Count Dracula accents, and excruciating minutes of dead screen time devoted to model-like poses, secretive eye contact, and soap-opera double entendres. Stone’s apparent hope was that he could garner media hype by overt homosexual scenes of kissing and hugging, and by candor about same-sex relations: The world’s first global conqueror was really more a sensitive and feminine creature of the bedroom and banquet hall than a great captain of blood and iron.
In reality, the movie proved not so much scandalous as boring. The problem with Stone’s lurid sexual narrative is not his historical inaccuracies, but the movie’s obsession with sexual intrigue, which causes much of Alexander’s amazing story to be lost. The controversies that emerge from the extant historians of Alexander–Arrian, Curtius, Diodorus, and Plutarch–do not hinge on sex. Rather, the “good” and “bad” ancient and modern traditions of Alexander involve a number of far more fascinating issues–nearly all of them omitted by Stone.
Alexander helped to kill more Greeks at the victory of Chaeronea, the siege of Thebes, the campaigns in Ionia, and the battles of Granicus and Issus than the Persians killed in a century and a half of East-West conflict. The razing of Thebes–the dramatic setting of much of Athenian tragedy, home to Pythagoreans and Pindar–is ignored. The brutal siege of Tyre was considered a military masterpiece; it and the storming of Gaza go unnoticed. How or why Persepolis was torched is never really investigated, but has framed centuries of debate. There is a good-enough description of the battle of Gaugamela, but Granicus and Issus are unmentioned. Some sort of Vietnam-like elephant fight in the bush apparently substitutes for the set-piece against Porus at the Hydaspes. In any case, it resembles more Stone’s mythodrama of Platoon than anything out of Arrian.
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