Posts Tagged With: Film

Alexander Revisited: Medius’ Party to Ptolemy’s Soliloquy

Hello, and welcome to the last post in this series on Alexander Revisited. I hope you have enjoyed this talk-through. I certainly have. While Oliver Stone’s film is a flawed one writing these posts has allowed me to appreciate it a little more deeply than would otherwise have been possible. If you haven’t read all the previous posts or would like to refresh your memory you can find the index of them here.
.
Scenes Covered

  1. Medius’ Party
  2. The Caves of Pella / Olympias’ Bedchamber
  3. Alexander’s Death
  4. Babylon/Pella
  5. Babylon
  6. Ptolemy’s Soliloquy

Medius’ Party
The scene opens with apparently incongruous shot of a Macedonian (Nearchus?) dressed up as Bacchus. Given that Hephaestion has just died, shouldn’t the scene be more sombre? Actually, no. Oliver Stone has jumped forward eight months to late May/June 323 BC, and the night that Alexander took ill after attending a party given by his friend, Medius.
.
I really liked the debauched air of the party – especially stoned Antigonus with his painted eye and the other Macedonians and their make-up and costumes. I exclude Alexander and his lion headdress from this as Heracles was his ancestor.
.
When Alexander speaks his voice sounds rough. Here is someone who, perhaps, has been drinking rather more than he should have lately. Although, as I said above we are some months after Hephaestion’s death, I see the roughness in his voice not as a consequence of drinking too much that night or recently but as Oliver Stone’s nod to the physical consequences of Alexander’s deep grief for his friend.
.
Previously, I have criticised the film’s cod-freudian interpretation of Alexander’s relationship with his mother but I have to admit, I did the king’s vision of Olympias in the krater – snakes swirling round her face as if she had become Medusa. I don’t know if it is freudian to say so but I think there is a sense in which Alexander was turned to stone (i.e. made weak) by his overbearing mother. Just as Philip warned would happen. At any other point in his life, I suspect Alexander would have become angry or distressed at the sight of his mother. In a sign of how drunk and uncaring of life he had now become, though, he simply smiles and in his second toast, he celebrates ‘the myths’ – that stories that his father warned him about in the caves under Pella.
.
I have jumped ahead of myself, though. Before we see Antigonus et al, a very nervous page hands Alexander a krater of wine. Is the young man is apprehensive because he is in the king’s presence? Maybe. But perhaps he knows that the wine is not pure…
.
Do the party-goers expressions reveal any clues as to why the page is so nervous? Not just yet –

  • Antigonus – stoned
  • Ptolemy – sober; concerned; no sign of injuries
  • Leonnatus – sober; concerned; recent wounds visible on his face
  • Lysimachus (?) – drunk
  • Cassander – sober; calm
  • The unnamed Persian Prince – happy and relaxed

Things change when Alexander looks around the room. Cassander appears to be anxious, and Ptolemy suddenly very distressed. In my first and second posts in this series, I mentioned that I didn’t think Stone gave Cassander a role in Alexander’s death. A commenter (thank you Sheri!) put me right by saying that Oliver Stone

… uses camera angles to implicate Cassander quite implicitly… he also implicates Ptolemy.

Having now reached the critical moment, I can finally appreciate what she was saying. Could there be any other reason for their expressions – especially Ptolemy’s? Well, their expressions clearly show that they know something is about to happen. Of course, awareness doesn’t imply responsibility but this film is not a murder mystery. I would not expect Oliver Stone to point the finger at one person unless he wanted us to believe that that person did the deed.
.
A small detail here – when Alexander holds the krater up, we can see that it is decorated with the image of a soldier striking down his enemy. I’m sure that is not in full view of the camera by coincidence.
.
After Alexander has drunk from the krater, the camera returns to Ptolemy. He has recovered his composure. Given how tense he was a moment ago it is quite a turnaround. IS this bad direction? Charitably, we could say that he has relaxed because what needed to be done has been. The matter is over bar the shouting, or rather, dying. I still think he is much too relaxed, though.
.
Meanwhile, Alexander collapses. The scene does not end with him, but Bacchus who is still dancing. I can’t quite work out why. Is Nearchus, or whoever it is, not aware that Alexander has collapsed? Or is Oliver Stone implying that he doesn’t care – because he too is part of the conspiracy?
.
The Caves of Pella / Olympias’ Bed Chamber
This scene begins with the camera panning through the caves of Pella. After a brief shot of Alexander on his death bed, we meet him again as a young boy in his mother’s bed chamber. Obviously, this is a flashback; at his end, Alexander is remembering the time when he was most happy. Why does Oliver Stone refer to the caves here? I think it is because the caves (or rather, the truths that Philip taught his son in them) represent what went wrong with Alexander’s life. The panning shot, therefore, is a visual representation of Alexander going back in time to when he was happy; before the corruption started.
.
If I had written this scene I would have replaced Olympias with Hephaestion. That Oliver Stone uses her, however, is in keeping with his more freudian approach to Alexander’s story. Having said that, the bed chamber scene – a reprisal of a scene we saw much earlier in the film – remains a very touching one. I really liked the close-up of Olympias placing her snake decorated bracelet on the stand. Although it happened in real life (i.e. in the original scene), the taking-off of the bracelet stood for me as representative of Olympias putting the person that she is, apart from that of mother, aside in order to look after her son. It is a very tender moment. It as a high point of the film.
.
Alexander’s Death
We return to Babylon. Alexander is in bed, surrounded by his men. His face is worn and his eyes are red – just how how Hephaestion looked when he lay on his deathbed. Although Alexander licked the wine from Hephaestion’s cup suspiciously no more was ever made of this suggestion that he, too, was poisoned.
.
Alexander lives long enough to receive ambassadors and gifts from as far away as Greece. In regards the former, someone looking rather like Aristotle appears at 1:01:56 though surely it is not him. On the conspiracy theory, I noted the unnamed man who tells Alexander that he loves him, and – after looking pointedly at the Macedonian generals  – his seed. This is why I have enjoyed writing these posts on Alexander Revisited as, despite watching the film several times before, I have never picked up on that man’s very significant words.
.
Once the well wishers have gone, Alexander gives a discourse on happiness to Bagoas. What is happiness? He asks him. It is the the doing, he says, not the thinking. This is not the most authentic thing for him to say. Alexander was, after all, very interested in acquiring new knowledge even if winning glory through war was his first objective. Even in terms of the film his words are unconvincing – this is the Alexander, after all, who told Ptolemy that all his cities must have libraries.
.
The scene ends with Alexander telling Bagoas ‘It is done’. He means his life but one cannot help but think of Jesus’ last words on the Cross. As much as I love Alexander of Macedon, comparing him to Jesus is not something I would consider terribly wise or relevant.
.
The film does not specify how long Alexander is ill for but the presence of the Greek ambassadors suggests a long period. Any doubt that Oliver Stone is playing about with time (again) is removed, however, with when we hear Roxane refer to the upcoming birth of his son – in three months. Alexander, therefore, has been bedridden then for six months. Is there any poison in antiquity that would lay a man low for half a year before killing him? I doubt it. Roxane is ushered out of the bedchamber, accusing the generals standing around the king’s bed of being ‘vultures’. Ptolemy glances at Cassander who in his turn glances glaringly at Roxane.
.
At this point we return to the beginning of the film with Nearchus warning Alexander that ‘the army will divide’ if he does not name an heir. Alexander has a series of flashbacks to key moments in his life before saying – no one knows quite what. To the best? To Craterus? This reflects what he is supposed to have said before his death (though not necessarily in the moments before as it is also said that he lost the power of speech) and I’m glad Stone kept it. For what it is worth, I think Alexander had no interest at all in the running of his empire. He was Achilles and lived only to win glory. Therefore, I would consider ‘to the best’ to be the mod likely interpretation if indeed the words were ever spoken.
.
Finally, Alexander holds up the ring – to Zeus-Ammon, and dies. The ring falls to the floor and – as his empire will do – shatters. The scene closes with a close-up of Ptolemy, contemplating what he has done and what will now happen.
.
Babylon/Pella
The elder Ptolemy now steps in with his assessment of Alexander’s character, and whether Olympias was responsible for Philip II’s murder. The Pella scene ends with a snake biting the eagle that has caught it causing both to fall to the ground. We saw the eagle in Alexander’s last moments. There, it was Zeus. Now, to  Olympias who witnesses its fall, it is Alexander. There is, of course, a point of connection between the two as previously Olympias told her son that Zeus was his real father.
.
Babylon
We return to the bed chamber, where Alexander’s body now rests to witness the beginning of the collapse of the empire. The generals stride in. Some want Alexander’s body kept where it is, others say it must be returned to Macedon. As the elder Ptolemy says, ‘The wars of the world had begun. [For] Forty years, off and on, they endured.’ As for Alexander’s body, it would be laid to rest neither in Babylon or Macedon but Memphis, and then Alexandria.
.
As the generals fight in the bed chamber – and literally over Alexander’s body – the elder Ptolemy outlines what happened in the wars of the diadochoi. A funny spelling error comes onto the screen during the subtitles – Seleucus is called Solucas. The scene closes with a hellish scene of what appears to be a great battle under a sea of orange and red smoke. It seems an appropriate image given the great conflicts that followed. In 2014, 100 years exactly after World War One began, the image still has a very real and uncomfortable resonance.
.
Ptolemy’s Soliloquy
The caption says ‘Alexandria, Egypt 285 B.C. – 40 Years Later’ which repeats the error made at the start of the film. If it was correct, Alexander would have died in 325 but a caption that appears on the screen after his death clearly states that it happened in 323.
.
In this scene, the elder Ptolemy rounds off the story for us by explaining to his amanuensis what happened to the various central figures in Alexander’s life. Most of his accounts seem to be correct. A couple of things jumped out at me:-

  • The way Ptolemy looks at his ring when he refers to Alexander’s son (Alexander IV) as the ‘true heir to the empire’. I don’t suppose that the real Ptolemy ever thought of himself as anything other than the rightful king of Egypt but I liked this touch of doubt
  • Ptolemy saying that he trusts that his sons will be ‘just in their affairs’. Philadelphus, yes; Keraunos, hmmm
  • Ptolemy’s admission that ‘the truth is, we did kill him. By silence we consented. Because we couldn’t go on’ not so much because they were tired, though, but because they feared sharing Black Cleitus’ fate, of being replaced by Asians. What makes this admission stand out is not so much the ‘truth’ of it but the fact that it comes after Ptolemy has spent the last few minutes eulogising his old friend
  • The contradictory nature of the soliloquy. One moment Ptolemy berates Alexander for being a dreamer then celebrates his failure – ‘which towered over other men’s successes’

Ptolemy’s last statement is upbeat.

… the glory and the memory of man will always belong to the ones who follow their great visions. And the greatest of these is the one they now call Megas Alexandros.

There is something quite sad about the elder Ptolemy’s dictation. He all but blames Alexander for forcing his generals to kill him but clearly still idolises him. On the conspiracy theory, there is no proof that the real Ptolemy assassinated Alexander – alone or with the help of others – but here, right at the end of the film, I think Oliver Stone meets the real man. Ptolemy’s nickname is Soter – Saviour* – but should also be the Realist. He rarely fought in the Wars of the Successors but stayed at home in Egypt to build his kingdom. Ptolemy knew his limits. Stone’s Ptolemy does, too. It lead him to (help) kill Alexander but also be fair in his assessment of the king and understand and appreciate his greatness. How did Ptolemy sleep at night with such contradictory thoughts in his head? Like I said, he was a realist. What he did needed to be done. In one fell swoop, the film becomes about the death of heroism and the birth of the sceptical, and utilitarian age from which in 2300 years we have so far failed to emerge.

* Given by the Rhodians for helping them against Antigonus in 304

Categories: Alexander in Film | Tags: , | 12 Comments

Alexander Revisited: Re-entry into Babylon to Alexander’s Rage

Read the other posts in this series here
.
With this post we enter the last half hour of Alexander Revisited. Taking the end credits into account, however, just twenty minutes are left to cover this last, most tragic, period of Alexander’s all too short life.
.
Scenes Covered

  1. Re-entry into Babylon
  2. In the Royal Palace
  3. The Death of Hephaestion
  4. Alexander’s Rage

Re-entry into Babylon
This is a short scene that gives the elder Ptolemy time to tell us that upon his return to the city Alexander took two more wives. He goes onto refer to the unstable political situation at the time, which extended to Alexander’s generals who, he says, questioned ‘his every decision’. Not that we have seen any of them actually doing so during the film. By-and-large they have all been portrayed as being – at the very least – outwardly loyal. It seems to me that Oliver Stone decided to take this opportunity to account for the collapse of Alexander’s empire after his death. I wish he had integrated the instability of it more fully into the film’s narrative, though, rather than simply through his voice-over, which comes across as being cack-handed.
.
In the Royal Palace
We now move on to the Royal Palace where we find Alexander discussing plans with Nearchus and Cassander to expand his harbour and fleet. I’m trying to remember if there were any scenes earlier in the film where we saw Alexander engaged in administrative work and I can’t actually think of any. Perhaps it would have been nice to see more of this side of his kingship, but as he wasn’t really an administrative king (to put it politely) I don’t suppose we can fault Oliver Stone for not foregrounding it!
.
After telling Cassander – in the nicest possible way – to get on with his work, Alexander asks Ptolemy how work on the library is getting along. “We must not forget our libraries. All the Alexandrias we have. I want libraries.” He refers to all the Alexandrias, but if I lived in America I would bet my bottom dollar that this exchange is meant to remind us that Alexander was responsible for the building of the library of Alexandria-outside-Egypt. The fact that the film has not highlighted the intellectual Alexander (beyond a few references to his inquisitiveness) makes it, however, a very forced reminder and, if I’m honest, a rather cheesily delivered one.
.
Despite that, it does make me think – I know Alexander laid out the plan for Alexandria-outside-Egypt. I don’t know, however, how detailed it was. I presume he meant for a museum (of which the library was part) to be there. Did he intend for the library to become the institution that it did – confiscating originals MSS and becoming the greatest storehouse of knowledge in antiquity – or should we thank Ptolemy I and/or his son, Ptolemy II Philadephus, for that? Who would have thought cheese could be so thought-provoking, but there it is.
.
The Death of Hephaestion
Alexander enters Hephaestion’s bed chamber to find his friend close to death. The doctor tells the king not to worry – Hephaestion mixed his wine with water, that’s all. On the surface, the doctor’s words sound facetious but actually are very well chosen. The water around Babylon was known for being impure and diseased. The doctor then tells Alexander that Hephaestion just needs rest and ‘… no wine or cold chicken.’ Again, this sounds a bit silly. What difference could no wine or chicken make? But his words are wisely chosen for (according to Plutarch), the real Hephaestion died after eating a boiled wild fowl and drinking wine.
.
Hephaestion’s death is handled very touchingly – the evocation of memories past and dreams of the future give it depth. Having said that, I felt that Hephaestion’s recollection that Alexander used to dress him up as a sheik (or ‘sheek’ as Jared Leto pronounces it) was a slight misstep. It feels like a comment that was inserted to give greater weight to Alexander’s planned expedition to Arabia rather than because it was actually true, either in real life (which I very much doubt) or the film.
.
As I write, I am in two minds about Alexander’s soliloquy by the window. It’s not that I don’t like it, but wouldn’t it make more sense for Alexander to stay by his friend’s side? I suppose the answer depends on whether or not he realised that Hephaestion was close to death. If he didn’t, then leaving him makes sense. If he did, I find it unlikely that Alexander would chose to deprive himself of Hephaestion’s gaze, voice and touch before they were taken away from him. However it goes, Oliver Stone’s interpretation of Hephaestion’s untimely demise is very reminiscent of Ruth’s death in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café and the way Idgie leaves her side to tell the story of the flying lake.
.
From uncertainty to certainty – Hephaestion dies as one of the most important and yet underused characters I have ever seen in a film. I have no problem with Oliver Stone treating him as Alexander’s best friend rather than lover – the sources allow for this interpretation – but why oh why did he get such little screen time; hardly more than Bagoas. Because of this, Alexander’s kind words about how important Hephaestion is to him (he tells Hephaestion that he is only person who was ever honest with him; that he saved him from himself; that he is nothing without Hephaestion) come across as being rather empty.
.
In the midst of imperfection, however, a perfect moment – Hephaestion takes Alexander’s hand. He holds two fingers leaving Alexander’s ring finger free. The ring that he does not hold is Alexander’s ring of office. It’s as if Oliver Stone is showing us the personal nature of the two men’s friendship and is a lovely touch.
.
I hope one day a film director will realise that the story of Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s friendship is a story that was not adequately told in this film and consider it worth telling in his own. How he does so, in terms of whether they are friends and/or lovers I don’t mind, just as long as he does. Hephaestion deserves better than to be ignored – as he apparently is in the Richard Burton Alexander (1956) – or downplayed as he is in this film.
.
Alexander’s Rage
After ordering the execution of Hephaestion’s doctor, Alexander goes in a rage to Roxane and blames her for the murder. It is possible that Hephaestion was assassinated, though I don’t know how likely, but I have never heard that Roxane might have been to blame. Regrettably, rather than use this opportunity to explore Alexander’s grief in a more meditative fashion, Stone leans on his cod-freudian titan imagery from earlier in the film (and which he made use of in the Alexander’s Confrontation with Olympias scene which I looked at in the last post). Essentially, Stone portrays Alexander as having turned into his father. By use of flashback to the caves of Pella he also implies that – just as Philip warned would happen – Alexander has been betrayed by the gods. Roxane, of course, fulfils Philip’s warning to his son to beware of women.
.
And here, I shall end the post because with the next scene we come to Alexander’s own death and the end of the film. I can’t wait to watch it to see how Oliver Stone handles it. My memory of previous viewings is that Stone portrayed Alexander’s death as being the result of over-drinking leading to a fever. However, if I recall comments to a previous post in this series correctly, he actually implies that Ptolemy, Cassander, and possibly others, murdered him. We shall see!

Categories: Alexander in Film | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Alexander Revisited: Alexander’s Confrontation with Olympias to the Gedrosian Desert

Read the other posts in this series here
.
As Alexander recovers from the wounds he received in the Battle of the Hydaspes River (as discussed in the last post here), we return to ‘Macedonia – 9 Years Earlier’ – 336 BC and the immediate aftermath of Philip II’s assassination.

Scenes Covered

  1. Alexander’s confrontation with Olympias
  2. The Macedonian Camp
  3. The Giant Altars
  4. The Gedrosian Desert

Alexander’s Confrontation with Olympias
This scene can be broken down thus,

  • Alexander blames Olympias for murdering Philip.
  • Olympias gives her son a lesson in how to manipulate the weak.
  • Alexander hates her and pays her with a kiss.
  • fin

It builds upon Philip II’s warning to Alexander in the caves of Pella (which I wrote about here). There, he warns his son to beware of women. Greatness, Philip says, is achieved through suffering, but his mother would keep that from him; this makes him weak. Philip is right to be wary of Olympias but has (fatally?) misjudged her. When Alexander visits her chamber he is in a highly agitated state. But she is not concerned to relieve his suffering (born of the belief that people are blaming him for Philip’s murder), only to justify Philip’s death and tell Alexander in no uncertain terms to buck up as he is actually the son of Zeus. She then tells him who he should kill next (i.e. in order to consolidate his grip on the Macedonian throne).
.
Towards the end of the scene, Alexander aggressively kisses his mother on the lips. Insofar as she did not ask to be kissed we might say he has sexually assaulted her. It is an unreal moment. Firstly, not only is the forced nature of the kiss quite at variance with the respect that the real Alexander gave women, but the Alexander of this scene is unrecognisable with the Alexander of the film as a whole. From start of this scene to its finish he is no more than an emasculated shell of a man. He is wholly incapable of imposing his will upon his mother, and is reduced to insulting her and calling her a ‘sorceress’. No wonder he kisses her so violently. His body is the only thing he has that is stronger than her.
.
Midway through the scene, Alexander has a flashback to the painting of Medea in the Pella caves. When Philip showed it to him, Alexander connected it to Olympias and assured his father that she would never hurt him. Now he knows better. In a way, despite Olympias’ prominence, it is a shame that the film wasn’t focused even more strongly on her relationship with Alexander. Connecting his actions as king more solidly to his relationship with her could  have made a very powerful, if dark, picture. As it is, the preponderance of themes and ideas running through the picture dilute Olympias’ impact.
.
The Macedonian Camp
We leave Macedon and return to ‘India – 9 Years Later’. Alexander hobbles out of his tent to greet his men. The camp cheers and roars its approval. A bit odd considering the revolt that preceded the battle against Porus? Not necessarily. So, not everyone loved Alexander any longer (as the elder Ptolemy told us earlier) but that doesn’t mean everyone hated him, and they certainly still needed him.
.
The understand why we need to turn to the real life event that inspired this scene. After Alexander was badly wounded during the siege of a Mallian fort in 325 B.C. his men feared that he had died. They panicked – who would lead them home? They were in hostile country surrounded by enemies. This is the fear of the Macedonian army after the Battle of the Hydaspes River, and why they still needed him.
.
In 325, Alexander’s first public appearance following the siege led to applause that re-echoed round the countryside. When he came among his men,

… they crowded round him, touching his hands, his knees, his clothes; some content with a sight of him standing near, turned away with a blessing on their lips. Wreaths were flung upon him and such flowers as were then in bloom.
(Arrian The Campaigns of Alexander)

As in real life, so in Oliver Stone’s film.
.
Upon emerging from his tent, Alexander tells his men that that they are going home. The impression is that this is because he is too badly injured to continue his expedition. Unhistorical and, once again, un-Alexanderlike. Taken on its own terms, it is a dramatic scene, a good cinematic moment, but it is such a shame that it comes at the cost of Alexander’s credibility.
.
I’ll record here Alexander’s vision of his father and Philip’s nod of approval at his son. It is a redundant moment, really, but still a nice touch. The reason I say it is redundant is that – as I think about Alexander and Philip in the film – I don’t have the impression that Alexander went on his expedition to please his father. Having said that, it has just occurred to me that perhaps the key to understanding the vision lies back in the caves of Pella, again. There, Philip tells his son that a king is not born but made by steel and suffering, and that he must know how to hurt those he loves. All these things Alexander has now held, been through and done. Maybe Philip’s nod is him saying ‘Well done, boy, now you know*; now you are a king.’

* Just as Philip’s father said to him after he killed his first man
.
The Giant Altars
Against the backdrop of the elder Ptolemy’s narration we see the giant altars that Alexander set up at the easternmost limit of his empire – including one containing a statue, very touchingly, of Bucephalas. The purpose of the altars, Alexander says, is to let all those who see them know ‘that Titans were once here’. This reminds me of something I read once about how the Anglo-Saxons mistook the (albeit ordinary sized) derelict Roman villas in England for the homes of giants.
.
I don’t know if I am imagining this but I am sure that – after Alexander has made his dedication – as the camera cuts to Nearchus, Hephaestion and Ptolemy it uses a different (slower?) frame rate or type of film on Hephaestion. What do you think? Something similar seems to happen when, in the caves at Pella, the young Alexander tells his father that he will remember the myths that Philip has just told him, and one day he will be painted on the walls like the heroes they have just seen. There is something about the movement of Philip on the left hand side of the screen that makes me feel the film has been altered somehow so as to invite us to ponder for a second or two more what Alexander has just said: the prophetic nature of his words, perhaps. Perhaps an invitation to consider what Hephaestion is thinking is being made in this scene as well? His expression is certainly more intense than Nearchus’ and Ptolemy’s.
.
The Gedrosian Desert
Oliver Stone’s elder Ptolemy’s narration absolves Alexander of any blame for the losses suffered by the Macedonian army as it crosses the harsh Gredrosian Desert. According to the elder Ptolemy, his motivation for taking his men across this unforgiving route was so that they could return to Babylon by the shortest route. I have read at least one historian say he wanted to punish his men for betraying him. Personally, I don’t believe that. Not unless the story about him refusing the helmetful of water, on the grounds that if his men could not drink then neither would he, is false.
.
Either way, it is a quick scene and serves best as a reminder how in war illness and adverse conditions can often kill more men than actual fighting.

Categories: Alexander in Film | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Alexander Revisited: Aristotle’s Letter and the Battle at the Hydaspes River

Read the other posts in this series here

In our last post we saw Alexander’s army rebel against their king for the first time. Despite none other than Craterus speaking out against him, the king won the day – just. The leaders of the ‘revolt’ were executed and the army moved on. But, as the elder Ptolemy tells us in the voice over, the king ‘was no longer loved by all’.

Scenes Covered

  • Aristotle’s Letter
  • The Battle of the Hydaspes River

Aristotle’s Letter
In real life, the Macedonian army’s rebellion took place on the Hyphasis River. Oliver Stone places it much further west. We know this because they haven’t reached Porus on the Hydaspes River yet. Despite that, the elder Ptolemy tells us that the army were marching south to the ocean.
.
After an evocative scene of the Macedonians, sarissas upturned, marching against a pale sky, we join them in an Indian forest during the Monsoon season. Rain, rain, and yet more bloody rain.
.
The scene proper begins with Aristotle dictating a letter to Alexander in which he warns him about taking on ‘eastern ways’. I liked the juxtaposition of Aristotle in his cloak set against a cold, austere sky and Alexander, topless and looking a little debauched in his tent.
.
Aristotle expresses his hope that Alexander will remain the (inquisitive) boy that the philosopher once taught. By the king’s expression, though, that boy died a long time ago. It’s a very sad moment. Appropriately enough, perhaps, the screen turns black.
.
The Battle of the Hydaspes River
The darkness does not last for long. A small circle appears in the centre of the screen and draws towards us. We are still in the forest but days? Weeks? later as the Macedonians await the arrival of Porus’ army. Wood creaks and breaks. The captains bid the men to remain calm. There is shouting in the distance. The camera shakes as something big approaches. No wonder the men look nervous! I’m sure this is elementary film making but I like the way Stone builds the suspense here. It enables us to be as awed as the Macedonians are when their nemeses – Porus’ army of elephants – is finally revealed.
.
Alexander fought the Battle of the banks of the Hydaspes River using his phalanx. The film keeps the phalanx but has the battle take place in the forest. I am no tactician but surely the phalanx model would have been useless there? This is a scene that definitely only works in the heat of the moment. When you watch it with a cooler eye, the sight of the Macedonians forming up amidst the trees looks a bit silly.
.
From the phalanx we move on to Alexander as he prepares to charge at the oncoming Indians. His cavalrymen are close by but this doesn’t stop the king from yelling at them to hurry. “Why do you hang back?!”. As they have not met the enemy and their elephants yet I assume that the cavalry’s reticence has been caused by the snipers in the trees. Ironically, speeding up would make them more difficult targets to hit. I have to say, I appreciated the presence of this line as, for me, it also references the way Alexander got so impatient during the siege of the Mallian fort (325 BC), he grabbed a ladder, climbed the walls of the fort and jumped inside to take on the Mallian army by himself.
.
Of the battle itself, the stand-out moments for me are these –

  • The way the elephants tear the phalanx up
  • Alexander’s determination to help Craterus (despite their earlier confrontation)
  • Hephaestion’s arrival. Admittedly, I am writing these words in a cold room but I did get goosebumps when the camera cut to Alexander leading Hephaestion’s cavalrymen towards the battle. With the heroic music in the background it felt a big ‘heroes riding to the rescue’ moment

On Hephaestion, I would like to take this opportunity to say that I don’t think for a minute that he was an inferior soldier. I read someone say he was the other day; the insinuation seemed to be that if he had been a good one, Alexander would have given command of the entire Companion Cavalry to him rather than just half. My impression, though, is that after the Philotas Affair Alexander feared anyone – even, perhaps, Hephaestion – having too much power. This is a matter I need to look into more but I thought I would mention it here.

  • Alexander’s and Bucephalas’ solo attack on the Indian army. The eagle of Zeus is absent and everyone – even Hephaestion – holds back. It is a breathless moment. I envy anyone watching it who doesn’t know Alexander’s story. They would surely think that this was his last stand.
  • Bucephalas and Porus’ elephant rearing up. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to watch this properly as my damaged disc skipped the scene but I remember it well. It is a mighty – if wholly unrealistic – moment
  • Alexander lying on the ground having been shot with an arrow. The screen turns to red. He is dying but does not look at all upset by this. Why would he, though? This is the man who has just said, “Isn’t it a lovely thing to live with great courage and to die leaving an everlasting fame? Come, Macedonians. Why do you retreat? Do you want to live forever?”
  • Bucephalas ‘defending’ Alexander. Again, unrealistic and real emotional manipulation but great cinema

On the whole, the battle at the Hydaspes is well filmed and very enjoyable to watch. Enjoyable, that is, in the sense of being very exciting, sad and nerve wracking. It suffers from one profound problem, though. When Alexander rode forward by himself, the Macedonians were in retreat. When he fell, Hephaestion led the men forward. The battle, as the elder Ptolemy says, was Alexander’s bloodiest, ‘pure butchery’, are we to expect that the Macedonians could really have pulled it round so comprehensively on the strength of Alexander’s fall? I’m not so sure.

Categories: Alexander in Film | Tags: , | 7 Comments

Alexander Revisited: Alexander vs Craterus at the Hyphasis River

Read the other posts in this series here

In the last post we saw the bloody circumstances in which Alexander became king of Macedon. Now, in ‘India – 9 Years Later’ (i.e. 327 BC), we come to the moment when his authority as king was challenged for the first time – by none other than Craterus, the philobasileus, on behalf of a tired and worn out army.
.
Scenes Covered

  1. The Hyphasis Confrontation

The Hyphasis Confrontation
Here is Alexander’s speech to his men.

You break my heart, you men. Afraid. Of course you have fears. We all have fears because no one has ever gone this far before. And now we are weeks from the encircling ocean, our route home. We’ll build a fleet of ships and sail all the way back down the Nile to Egypt. And from Alexandria we shall be home within weeks. There to be reunited with our loves ones. To share our great treasures and tales of Asia. And to enjoy our imperishable glory to the ends of time.

The key themes of the speech are betrayal, fear, reassurance, promise, and comfort/joy. If I were writing a similar speech, I would probably write it in that order as well – get the difficult business out of the way first then end on a high so as to give the soldiers something (and someone) to cheer about. It doesn’t work quite so well for Alexander, of course, as only an uncomfortable silence follows his speech. Admittedly, it is punctured by cries of support, but they are isolated voices amidst the crowd.
.
It takes Colin Farrell thirty-five seconds to deliver the above speech. By contrast, Rory McCann’s (Craterus) response takes one minute five seconds; twice as long – could this be an indication of whose side Oliver Stone is taking in the matter? I couldn’t help but notice that Craterus also has the soundtrack on his side as well. It takes a moment to start but when it does it is very sympathetic to his sadness. Alexander, by contrast, simply has silence; Apollo has deserted him.
.
Tête a Tête
Alexander and Craterus’ dialogue begins positively with Alexander admitting that he should have sent the veterans home earlier. He promises to do so. Playing to the gallery, he says that they will go home with full pensions. Warming to his theme, he then tells the veterans that they’ll be treated like heroes back home. But while the soldiers cheer, note Cassander’s chiselled frown, Hephaestion’s look of concern, and Ptolemy’s wariness. They know what the soldiers do not – there is a sting to come. And what a sting it is. Alexander says,

… you, as well as I, know that as the years decline and the memories stale and all your great victories fade it will always be remembered you left your king in Asia! (my emphasis)

On the one hand, there is something utterly pathetic about Alexander’s charge. It is not the voice of a king (let alone the king of the world) that is speaking but a sulky teenager. We would do well to let that image go, however, because this is a deadly serious moment. When Alexander was shot in the chest during the siege of the Mallian city (modern day Multan), a rumour went round the Macedonian (base) camp that he had been killed. Arrian records the army as being in the ‘deepest distress’ and ‘plunged into helpless despair’. Who would lead them? How would they get home? They were surrounded by enemies and ‘impassable rivers’. This is surely the kind of intense emotion that they would be feeling now as Alexander threatened to stay in Asia.
.
And it gets worse, for not only does Alexander say they will leave him behind but that he will go on – with his Asian soldiers. Fear becomes mixed with shame; no surprise, then, that the scene ends with anger.
.
Retribution
Disgruntled soldiers fling accusations at Alexander – he wants them dead to hide his crimes, Alexander desecrates Philip II’s memory; then, someone flings what appears to be an animal carcass at the king’s feet. I have to admit I don’t know the meaning of it but it can only be an insult of some sort, and a grievous one at that because it leads to Alexander wading into the crowd to arrest anyone he thinks might be the guilty party. As always, Hephaestion is at his side, but I liked how the Persian soldiers also protect him (although, admittedly, it is in their best interest to see that no harm comes to Alexander).
.
As he takes hold of each ‘guilty’ person, Alexander levels his own accusation at them – they insulted his  honour, his paternity, this man was a loudmouth, that one treasonous, he called me a murderer, Philip’s assassin. But then, just as he accuses the men of being cowards and traitors, Alexander swings round and comes face-to-face with Craterus. Even at this most highly wrought of moments, Alexander will not or cannot speak against him, and he moves away quickly. It is a very powerful moment, full of politics and – I believe – love. Craterus is an intriguing figure that I would like to learn more about. Pothos has a good article here. As it notes, however, we don’t know much about him. One thing that is one my mind, though, is his set-to with Hephaestion. Given how much both loved Alexander, what could have been the cause of their fight? I look forward to finding out in another post.
.
The scene ends with the dead bodies of those men Alexander arrested being passed by the Macedonians as they march away. It recalls the humiliation of Bessus.

André Castaigne (1861 - 1929) The Punishment of Bessus

André Castaigne (1861 – 1929) The Punishment of Bessus

Finally, the elder Ptolemy – in a voice over that stinks of realpolitik – says, “In smashing the mutiny and executing the ringleaders [Alexander] did nothing, to my mind, that any general in wartime would not have done.” Alexander, however, was not just ‘any general’ and in truth this was not any war. The choice of Ptolemy to deliver the line does little justice to the real man. According to Diodorus, Ptolemy was well loved by his friends and subjects. If there is any truth in this he must have been the kind of man who if he did not exactly speak for the men would not be the kind to speak against them. Instead, rather like Hephaestion in this film, I think he would be the type to speak cautiously or not at all. With that in mind, I really don’t think he would ever have spoken the words that Oliver Stone puts in his mouth. Writing these posts, I really do begin to see why people get frustrated at Hollywood’s rewriting of history! To be fair, though, I am more aggrieved at Philip’s treatment than Ptolemy’s but it is still a shame to see him so used.
.
Anyway, onwards we go, and in the next post we shall discuss Alexander’s last set piece battle – that at the Hydaspes River against the brave Indian king Porus.

Categories: Alexander in Film | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Alexander Revisited: Alexander and Philip ride to the theatre to Alexander’s Accession

For previous posts in this series click here
.
Welcome back to this series of posts on the third version of Oliver Stone’s film about Alexander the Great. In this post we look at Stone’s interpretation of the most decisive event in Alexander’s life – the assassination of his father, Philip II.
.
Scenes Covered

  1. Alexander and Philip ride to the theatre
  2. Arrival at the theatre
  3. Philip’s Assassination
  4. Pausanias’ End
  5. Alexander’s Accession

Alexander and Philip ride to the theatre
As Alexander wallows in self-pity in his tent, Oliver Stone takes us back to ‘Macedonia 336 B.C. – 9 Years Earlier’ and the day of Philip’s assassination. The scene opens with a great close-up of Philip’s statue of himself, which he really did have carried into the Pella theatre behind those of the twelve Olympian gods.
.
Upon its arrival in the theatre, the statue-bearers seem almost to lose their hold of it for a moment, and the statue lurches dangerously to one side. The assembled Greek guests laugh. We may smile with them, or else see the incident as a foreshadowing of what is about to happen to Philip.
.
Meanwhile, as they approach the theatre on horseback, Philip tells his son, “All my life I’ve waited to see Greeks grovel with respect for Macedonia. Today is that day.” I am open to being proven wrong but these words do not represent the real Philip for me. Yes, like many powerful men, he wanted more and more power, but I have never got the impression that he disliked – much less hated, as appears to be the case here – the Greeks.
.
I’m afraid I see that line as another example of Oliver Stone’s hatchet job; making Philip look bad so that Alexander gets to look good. When Philip adds ‘Today is that day’, I can almost hear Oliver Stone saying “look how limited and parochial Philip was compared to Alexander who wanted to bring Men together and change the world!”
.
The dialogue does not improve for Philip goes on to comment that, ‘They say already, “Philip was a great general, but Alexander is simply great.”‘ By they I assume he means the Macedonians and / or Greeks. But on what grounds are they calling Alexander ‘great’ already? In terms of the film, he’s done very little by 336 that would be worth Greek notice let alone adulation.
.
Philip continues, “But if you ever insult me again, I’ll kill you.” The ‘but’ seems to suggest that Alexander is being called ‘great’ on account of the way he stood up to Philip at the pre-wedding party (which we looked at in this post). Now, granted the Greeks may have enjoyed Philip’s embarrassment, I really doubt that they would have called Alexander ‘great’ for his part in causing it.
.
To find the answer to this question we have to go beyond the film. By 336 Alexander had already fought in one major battle – at Chaeronea – where he fought on the left wing. That was in 338. Two years earlier, while Philip was campaigning in Asia Minor, Alexander had defeated the Thracians in battle and even founded a city (Alexandropolis) – a rather cheeky action as the right to do so was really the prerogative of the king.
.
It is true that Alexander was involved in other military engagements between 340 and 336 but Thrace and Chaeronea were, I think, the most likely to get him noticed by anyone. And yet, I don’t think I am being too harsh when I say that neither Chaeronea or Thrace were enough to have him called ‘great’. It seems to me that Stone and his fellow screen writers are simply and very clumsily trying to foreshadow Alexander’s later reputation. There is really no need for them to do so; if anything, it just cheapens his later heroism.
.
Arrival at the theatre
More clumsy foreshadowing takes place when Philip dismounts his horse and greets Black Cleitus outside the theatre. He turns to his son and says, “This man you can always trust, Alexander. Treat him as you would me.” Oh dear times two. What makes the foreshadowing here feel clumsy is the fact that although Alexander’s showdown with Cleitus is for him many years in the future, we have already seen it happen and not ten minutes earlier, at that. The short gap between Cleitus’ death and this scene makes it feel redundant, and makes me wonder why Stone decided to break the story up with flashbacks in the first place. I suppose it does add new information to the story – the suggestion that Alexander’s murder of Cleitus is a parricide-by-proxy – but only at the cost of slowing the flow of the narrative. Could the information not have been given in another way? Was it worth suggesting that Cleitus’ death was a form of parricide in the first place?
.
At the stage door, Philip tells Alexander to enter the theatre with the rest of the Guard. But his son pauses, for he sees Pausanias ahead and senses that his father is in danger. Missing the sight of his killer, however, Philip thinks that Alexander only wants to enter the theatre with him so that everyone thinks that he – Philip – is implicitly declaring Alexander his heir. He accuses Olympias of putting Alexander up to the job. But why should he care if Olympias did, though? Just moments earlier – while they were still on horseback – Philip told Alexander that  after they invade Persia he – Alexander – will have ‘all the gold in the world’. Philip obviously does not mean this literally, but it is a rather strong hint that he regards Alexander as his successor.
.
When Philip walks through the door he is bathed in shadow, and we see him walk awkwardly. I really liked this nod to his lameness.
.
Philip’s Assassination
In real life, we do not know whether Alexander had prior knowledge of his father’s assassination much less whether he had anything to do with it. What happens next in the film suggests to me that in Oliver Stone’s opinion he was innocent of any kind of involvement.
.
As Pausanias violently kisses Philip in the theatre, we see Alexander on his way to join the Guard. He recalls the rape of Pausanias at the pre-wedding party. Pausanias stabs Philip. Hearing the murmur of surprise in the theatre, Alexander connects the dots and rushes to his father’s side. He holds Philip in his arms and looks genuinely shocked by what has happened. Conversely, Olympias is about the only person in the theatre who remains calm and collected.
.
If we follow the cui bono principle, Alexander certainly has to be a suspect in his father’s demise but so far as the film is concerned, the fact that he only realises that Philip is in danger when he recalls what happened to Pausanias at the party, his shock and Olympias’ coolness shows that she was more likely to be behind his violent death.
.
One last point – as Philip entered the theatre, there were several quick shots of the statues of the gods. The camera also panned up to the sky where I am sure that we heard the cry of an eagle – Zeus declaring that Philip’s time was up. Neatly done by Stone et al.
.
Pausanias’ End
There is not much to say about this scene except that it follows what is supposed to have happened to Pausanias – according to one tradition, anyway. As he ran away from the theatre, Pausanias tripped over a tree root. If I recall correctly, he was either killed there and then by his pursuers or taken alive, and executed afterwards. I don’t think we see it in this film but it is also reported that after his execution, Olympias placed a crown upon his head. I seem to recall that she also had his cremated remains buried on top of Philip’s.
.
Alexander’s Accession
As Philip lies dying in Alexander’s arms, the Greeks flee from the theatre. Quick action is needed to restore peace in the realm. Thus, Hephaestion raises Alexander’s arm and declares him king. Ptolemy raises his other arm; both of them – as it seems – put the crown on his head. In reality, it was Antipater who declared Alexander king. In terms of the film, though, Hephaestion and Ptolemy are the perfect choices for this duty.

By-the-bye, did you know that the real Hephaestion’s nickname was Philalexandros – Lover of Alexander – while Craterus was called Philobasileus  – Lover of the King. The nicknames obviously point to the way they related to Alexander. Given Craterus’ closeness to Alexander as king it is a shame that Oliver Stone didn’t choose him to raise Alexander’s arm along with Hephaestion. Perhaps this is why Stone instead gives Craterus the honour of proclaiming Alexander king the loudest after Hephaestion.

Categories: Alexander in Film | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Alexander Revisited: Philip’s Wedding Party & Atop the Hindu Kush

For the previous posts on Alexander Revisited click here
.
As you can see from the title to this blog post, I am covering just two scenes in the film today. This is because an intermission follows the Hindu Kush scene so it forms a natural break for both the film and me. I’m not sure why Oliver Stone felt the need to have an intermission on a DVD but I don’t mind as it gives us the opportunity to admire some ancient Greek works of art (or copies of the same). And listen to Vangelis’ evocative music, which reminds us very well indeed of Alexander’s nobility.
.
In the last post I said that I would not use the word ‘ravage’ to describe an act done by one person to another. Well, perhaps not surprisingly, I have since seen it used in that context and it fitted perfectly. We live and learn.
.
Scenes Covered

  1. Philip’s Wedding Party
  2. Alexander and Ptolemy atop the Hindu Kush

Philip’s Wedding Party
Pausanias
‘Macedonia – 9 Years earlier’ and it is party time in Pella as Philip celebrates his forthcoming marriage to Attalus’ niece, Eurydice. And everyone except Alexander is having a wonderful time. The reason for his sadness, of course, is he knows that as and when Eurydice gives birth to her first son, he will replace Alexander as heir to the throne of Macedon. We know, of course, that things were not quite that simple in real life, but this is a film and films have to simplify their stories in order to fit them on the screen.
.
Although I love the movies one thing I will never get used to is the way they habitually include dialogue or scenes that seem not to make any sense at all in terms of the narrative. For example, after chiding Alexander for his self-pitying, Philip tells Pausanias to go away; ‘you bore me’ he tells him. Seconds later, however, we see him raping the young man before sending him away to be assaulted by others. How can Philip be so dismissive of Pausanias one minute and then hateful enough to brutally attack him the next?
.
It could be that his dismissiveness is an act, designed to gain Pausanias’ trust in order to facilitate the rape, but if so the film is guilty of bad story telling. You can’t introduce one idea (Philip’s dismissive attitude) then turn it round (his hatred) without explaining why the change took place. It might be that we will see the reason for Philip’s switch later on. If we don’t, though, the script writers are guilty of a mistake. Either that or I am because I have missed the scene where Philip’s behaviour was explained.
.
One thing I will give Oliver Stone credit for, though, is the perfect casting of Nick Dunning as Attalus. We don’t know what the real Attalus was like but Stone’s is a nasty, sneering nobleman with a fatal amount of pride poisoning his soul. Dunning captures the physical appearance of such a man perfectly.
.
By the way, if you would like to read about what really happened between Philip and Pausanias (and Attalus), Diodorus Siculus is your man. His account is available to read here. As you’ll see, Philip never raped Pausanias – his worst crime was not to take Pausanias’ complaint against Attalus seriously. If Diodorus is to be believed (and we must be wary), Attalus is the real villain of the piece.
.
Attalus’ Intemperance
Once Pausanias has been sent away, Attalus proposes a toast; firstly, to ‘Macedonia and Greece, equals in greatness!’. Would any Greek or Macedonian have ever actually said that? Well, maybe, although I find the statement hard to reconcile with their constant attempts to beat each other up. More to the point, why would Attalus bother making that toast upon the marriage of two Macedonians? Perhaps when he wasn’t ruining people’s lives he was just a very polite man.
.
His third toast, to Eurydice, “a Macedonian queen we can be proud of!”, his malevolent expression towards Alexander, and the final toast, ‘… to their legitimate sons!” took my breath away. You’ve got 99 problems, son, and Alexander is now each and every one. Also, it’s notable how it is Hephaestion who launches himself like a rocket at Attalus while Ptolemy tries to restrain Alexander. That’s their rôles in the film explained in a second.
.
Father and Son
The next moment gives me much food for thought. Philip accuses Alexander of being lead by his mother. Alexander angrily denies that this is so. Given how the last scene between them worked out I am not surprised, but had Philip touched upon a truth here? I think he had, to a point. Alexander is obviously worried about what is going to happen to him but he remains loyal to his father; until, that is, he is ordered to apologise to Attalus.
.
Alexander and Ptolemy atop the Hindu Kush
‘Hindu Kush – 10 Years Later’ (i. e. 326 BC). The film is now behind the times. In 326, Alexander was at the Hydaspes River preparing to fight his last major battle, against Porus.
.
The scene opens with a neat mosaic graphic showing Alexander’s progress over the mountain range. A beautiful wide angle shot of the snow capped mountains then appears. Finally, we stand behind Alexander in a rich red cloak staring into the distance.
.
The elder Ptolemy tells us that in the spring, ‘Alexander marched an army of 150,000′ across the passes of the Hindu Kush’. When I first saw this figure, I thought that Stone and his fellow script writers had succumbed to the same temptation to exaggerate as some ancient Greek writers. However, while looking up in Robin Lane Fox’s biography the name of the river that marked the easternmost point of Alexander’s expedition (it is the modern day Beas, known in antiquity as the Hyphasis) I found that while at the Hydaspes River (on his way back from the Hyphasis), Alexander received 35,000 troops from the west, which ‘raised the army’s strength to 120,000’. Not quite 150,000 but close enough. Having said that, when Alexander crossed the Hindu Kush he only had around 30,000 men.
.
As we watch Alexander’s army trudge across the desolate landscape, the elder Ptolemy gives a special mention to the rôle of slaves, the ‘anonymous, bent, working spine of this new beast’ which is a complete sop to modern sensibilities – the real Ptolemy would not have given them a second thought. He then says, ‘[r]avaged or expanded, for better or worse, no occupied territory remained the same again’. That is certainly true in some cases. However, one of my chief impressions of Alexander, is that more often that not he was very happy to let natives continue in their administration of their particular region. Occasionally, he would put Macedonians in charge but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. This is something I need to look more closely at. If you have a different impression, though, feel free to leave a comment.
.
Alexander and Ptolemy
Alexander and Ptolemy look over the Hindu Kush (The ‘Indian Caucasus’ in Arrian). The king asks his friend, “Have you found your home…?” Ptolemy tells him he thinks it will be Alexandria, ‘Well,” he says, “at least it’s hot. And Thais, she loved it there.’ Eliot Cowan’s delivery captures Ptolemy’s gentle humour, sadness (note the past tense used to describe Thaïs) and longing perfectly. It is my favourite moment in the film.
.
Historically, the scene is all wrong. Thaïs could not have loved Alexandria as when they left it, it had not yet been built. Ptolemy’s use of the past tense when talking about his mistress suggests that she is already dead. Well, this might be correct, but at least one writer in antiquity says she married Ptolemy after Alexander’s death (see my post here). It doesn’t matter, though, for the beauty of the scene in both its words and Eliot Cowan’s acting forgives all its sins.
.
When Alexander tells Ptolemy that he has no home, Ptolemy reminds him that he has Babylon, ‘Where your mother awaits your invitation’. Except that Olympias is in Pella, waiting for Alexander to bring her to Babylon. The reference to her waiting for his invitation only makes sense if she is in Pella but not Babylon.
.
Alexander then goes into full mystical mode, “… each land, each boundary I cross I strip away another illusion.” What are these illusions? Could they be about what he is capable of? That would certainly make sense of his suspicion that death will be the last one to fall away. Despite the fact that he fears he will be confronted by illusions until his death, Alexander says, “Yet still I push harder and harder to reach this home.” I have to admit I am not entirely clear what Alexander is saying here – he has, after all, just told Ptolemy that he has no home. I’m guessing that ‘home’ is a euphemism for his desire to find himself fully, to strip away all of the illusions he has about himself. What do you think?
.
“We must go on Ptolemy. Until we find an end.” Poor Ptolemy; now he knows: ‘an end’ means ‘the end’ – death. Death, that is, for Alexander; but if for him, then so for everyone. Unless, of course, something is done about it.

Categories: Alexander in Film | Tags: , | 5 Comments

Alexander Revisited: Olympias’ Warning to Bagoas’ Kiss

Welcome back to this series of posts on Oliver Stone’s film. It’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote the last post so it was both a challenge and a pleasure to pick up from where I left off.
.
In the last post, I mentioned that the elder Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) states that during their hunt for Bessus, the Macedonians got completely lost, and I expressed scepticism that this really happened. Well, I was reading Robin Lane Fox’s account of the search the other day and sure enough he does not mention that the Macedonians got lost despite their difficult ascent and descent of the Hindu Kush. I found out from Arrian, though, that there was an occasion when it happened. I should have remembered it, too, because it was a very famous one; namely, as Alexander and his Companions were on the way to Siwa. Then, they were saved either by snakes (Ptolemy) or crows (Aristobulos). Perhaps we might say that having omitted Siwa from his film, Oliver Stone decided – albeit in a limited way – to allude to it later on.
.
Scenes Covered

  1. Olympias’ Quarters
  2. The Royal Tent, Sogdia
  3. Hermolaus’ Suicide
  4. The Trial of Philotas
  5. The Execution of Philotas
  6. Outside the Macedonian camp
  7. Antigonus’ and Black Cleitus’ Journey / Alexander Writing
  8. Parmenion’s Assassination / Bagoas kisses Alexander

Olympias’ Quarters
The first scene finds Olympias in full schemer mode. As Attalus and his niece Eurydice arrive at the Royal Palace ahead of her marriage to Philip, Olympias warns Alexander that Attalus will persuade Philip to make his son his with her his heir, and Attalus the boy’s regent should anything happen to him. She continues, Alexander will be sent on ‘an impossible mission’ that will cause him to be ‘mutilated’ while Olympias herself ‘no longer queen’ will be executed. Olympias’ solution to this problem is for Alexander to marry and produce an heir; the child would be a ‘pure’ Macedonian, which would force Philip to name Alexander as his heir.
.
Several things about this scene confuse me. Firstly, as far as I am aware, Olympias’ royal status would not de facto be affected by Eurydice becoming Philip’s wife. Secondly, Olympias’ apparent belief that producing a pure blood Macedonian heir would guarantee Alexander the throne seems entirely novel. If it was a matter of blood, then upon Philip’s death, surely the country would skip Alexander and put his son on the throne.
.
In real life, Alexander’s inheritance was indeed threatened by Philip’s marriage to Eurydice (who, by-the-bye, was called Cleopatra before her wedding to Philip) on account of her being Macedonian whereas Olympias was an Epirote. He eventually won the throne by being in the right place at the right time at Philip’s death. Alexander could have had a hundred pure blood sons but if he had been in the Peloponnese when Philip was assassinated none of them would have stopped someone else claiming the throne first.
.
Alexander is not convinced by his mother’s reasoning so she – rather randomly – drops into the conversation the fact that ‘there is still Kynnane’. Number one: who? Number two: so…? Presuming that this is the same Kynnane who was the real Alexander’s half-sister, is Olympias threatening Alexander? “If you won’t do as I say, she will.”? I’m still trying to work that out when Olympias suggests that “Eurydice was perfect. If your father, that pig, had not ravaged her first!” Who is she??
.
“To ravage” something is to bring great destruction upon it. I’m not sure I would use the word to describe an action done by one person to another (I think I would use ‘ruined’ instead). What, I suspect, the scriptwriter meant was ‘ravish’. But whether Olympias is saying that Philip raped or destroyed/ruined Eurydice who exactly is this Eurydice in the first place? From the context, she is obviously not Attalus’ niece. Could she another sister of Alexander’s? She might be, but then, who – in the context of the film – is Kynnane? I have to ask that because Stone explicitly states that he only has one sister.
.
As quickly as the mysterious Kynnane and Eurydice come they go; Alexander is not impressed by his mother’s talk although that does not prevent him from falling into her lap a moment later in what seems to be a mildly orgasmic moment for Olympias (cf. 1:40:12ff)
.
Speaking of which, could the film be implying an incestuous relationship between Alexander and his mother? In the moment referred to above, I think it at most plays with the idea that they were also lovers. Having said that, Oliver Stone’s queen and prince do not exactly have a normal relationship. When they are close, they come too close; when they are apart, they treat each other like enemies. Case in point – look at how Alexander reacts when Olympias suggests (not even directly) that he should assassinate Philip. Predictably, he is angry, but also physically intimidates Olympias before – when she tells him that Zeus slept with her, putting his hand over her mouth.
.
It’s all so jarring that one hardly notices Alexander’s reason for not assassinating Philip – it would start a civil war. As if he would worry about that. A neat reference to Orestes’ torment by the Erinyes (referred to here as the Furies) follows before Olympias’ last gnomic utterance. “I wonder,” Alexander asks, “did you ever love [Philip]?”. To which Olympias replies, “I never stopped.”. All I can say is she has a strange way of showing that love.
.
The Royal Tent, Sogdia
From Olympias’ quarters in 337 we move forward ten years to the Macedonian camp somewhere in Sogdia. A series of quick scenes follow, all threaded together by the elder Ptolemy’s narration.
.
Alexander is given a cup of hot wine (?). Perhaps it smells funny because he turns back to his page; the young man knows that the drink is poisoned; he breaks down and confesses. Just as we have seen Alexander and Olympias fall out, we have reached the start of the break down of Alexander’s relationship with his men.
.
Hermolaus’ Suicide
The page, whose name is Orestes, points the finger of blame at someone named Hermolaus, whose tent the film now cuts to. Looking out into the dark, Hermolaus realises that he is about to be arrested. As Perdiccas walks in, Hermolaus runs himself through with his sword, crying, “Death to tyrants”. This phrase is supposed to have been said by Marcus Brutus when he and the conspirators assassinated Julius Caesar. I read that John Wilkes Booth also shouted it when he shot Abraham Lincoln. Tyranny, it seems, can be what you make it.
.
The Trial of Philotas
Hermolaus dies, but the conspiracy against Alexander is uncovered. As the conspirators stand before the king, one voice is heard – Philotas’. He has been implicated in the plot. He defends himself nobly but is still found guilty. Clearly, Philotas’ fate is meant to reflect the continuing degeneration of Alexander’s character. But it isn’t only Alexander who is responsible for his death. Hephaestion, Ptolemy and Antigonus sit in judgement (standing in here for the Macedonian army). They also have Philotas’ blood on their hands.
.
The Execution of Philotas
The senior officers’ complicity is stated very boldly and without shame by the elder Ptolemy when, as Philotas is speared to death, he says, “None of us defended Philotas,” he says, “But then again none of us ever liked him. And of course his power was carved up by the rest of us.” It is a very shocking, even if honest, display of venality that portends the ever shifting alliances of the Successor period.
.
Outside the Macedonian camp
A brief scene in which Alexander and his high command decide what to do about Parmenion follows. The decision to execute him is taken. I don’t suppose Alexander had much choice except to give the go ahead for this. As the elder Ptolemy makes clear, under Macedonian law the head of the household was responsible for everyone in his family’s actions. Therefore, if the son died, the father had to as well. That was the law, though, and a king could overrule it. And yet, Alexander could hardly let Parmenion live having killed his son contentious circumstances. Especially since Parmenion had 20,000 men under his command and through them control of Alexander’s supply line.
.
Antigonus’ and Black Cleitus’ Journey / Alexander Writing
So, off Antigonus and Black Cleitus go; to Babylon where Alexander sent Parmenion after the ‘Macedonian council’ (see last post) in Bactria. The elder Ptolemy says that it took Antigonus and Black Cleitus ‘three days’ hard riding’ to get to Babylon.
.
Here is a map from what appears to be a very interesting website My Reading Mapped, which features an interactive map of Alexander’s expedition. I shall enjoy looking into that. Anyway, Sogdia is in the north-east corner (just above Bactria) of the empire. Babylon is away to the west on the Euphrates River. Oliver Stone is asking us to believe that Antigonus and Black Cleitus covered that distance in three days.

Alexander's Empire

Alexander’s Empire

In reality, Alexander sent a man named Polydamas not to Babylon but Ecbatana (modern day Hamadan, Iran) where Parmenion was then residing. You can see Ecbatana on the map above just under Media. Thanks to his guides and their camels, Polydamas arrived in Ecbatana after eleven days of no doubt hard riding over desert and waste land*. Upon his arrival, Polydamas gave Alexander’s written orders to the relevant generals and it was they who assassinated Parmenion.
.
* This reduced the travelling time from three weeks
.
Bagoas kisses Alexander / Parmenion’s Assassination
The final scene that we’ll cover in this post juxtaposes Alexander and Bagoas in bed together with Parmenion’s death in Antigonus’ arms. On the face of it, this scene is all about the contrast between  positive and negative themes; for example, love / hate, personal / public, and faithfulness / betrayal.
.
I would take the view, however, that the primary meaning of the scene is not to be found in the juxtapositions that it offers but the theme of degeneration that both the bedroom and Ecbatana scene reveal.
.
Parmenion should never have been assassinated. There was no evidence linking Philotas to the plot against Alexander. Parmenion may have opposed Alexander at Gaugamela and in Sogdia but he is never represented as being tempted by treachery. His death is really an act of judicial murder.
.
As a eunuch, Bagoas represents a sexual tradition that the ancient Greeks found effete and distasteful. For Alexander to take him into his bed, therefore, is for him to associate himself with that tradition and represent, in terms of the film, another step in the degeneration of his character. Many people will watch Bagoas kiss Alexander and think what a sweet moment it is; in actual fact, it is a profoundly sad one for the door out of that bedroom leads into the chamber where Alexander will kill Black Cleitus in a drunken rage.
.
Oliver Stone uses a number of metaphors to show Alexander’s decline. They range from simple things like the length of his hair, to his sex life, to his drinking and so forth. He doesn’t use Hephaestion. The intimacy of their relationship is only ever hinted at. In this, Stone is faithful to what we know from the historical record. I wonder, though, if the reason why he doesn’t show Alexander and Hephaestion together is because he wanted to keep the relationship in a sense ‘pure’. Bear in mind that sexual relationships between two grown men were also disapproved of in Greece, perhaps Stone didn’t want to distract attention from the fact that they were so close by sexualising the affair. We criticise him for not showing Alexander and Hephaestion together when in actual fact Stone was doing his best to uphold them all along. It’s just a thought.
.
Read the index of posts in this series here

Categories: Alexander in Film | Tags: , | 9 Comments

Alexander Revisited: Entry Into Babylon to the Palace Balcony

Welcome back to this series of posts on Oliver Stone’s Alexander Revisited. We are now an hour into the film, and we pick it up as Alexander makes his triumphal entry into Babylon. Before going any further, though, I must commend to you this comment, which was made in connexion with my last post on this topic. In it, the author displays a knowledge and understanding of the film which far exceeds my own. The comment gives me an opportunity to thank all of you who comment, and indeed, all of you who read The Second Achilles. I am very grateful. I would use more flowery language but I am English and that is not what chaps do.
.
Scenes covered

  1. Entry into Babylon
  2. Walking through the palace
  3. In the harem
  4. Olympias’ letter
  5. On the balcony

Entry Into Babylon
I wish I knew how to do screen captures so that I could show you the start of this scene. If anyone knows how it is done on the MacBook Pro’s DVD player then do let me know. The scene before us is Alexander’s arrival in Babylon. Riding beside him is Hephaestion. Two things immediately jump out at me.
.
Firstly, the mere fact of Hephaestion’s presence. I don’t speak with any authority here but I can’t believe that Hephaestion would really have ridden beside the king on a formal occasion such as this. Yes, he was Alexander’s best friend/lover, but surely the honour of entering Babylon at the conquering king’s side would have gone to his most senior officer – Parmenion. So, why is Hephaestion there? The answer is simple, really – for the same reason that Ptolemy is in the Royal Tent on the night before the battle at Gaugamela even though in real life he wasn’t at that point one of the High Command: for the sake of the narrative. Ptolemy is in the tent to re-enforce his credibility as the narrator of the story. Hephaestion rides beside Alexander to remind the audience of how close he was to the king, which in turn makes the future scenes (and his death) between them more meaningful.
.
Secondly, Hephaestion’s helmet. It is topped with a white ‘mohawk’ (I’m afraid I don’t know the proper name for this feature) down the middle with two black feathers on either side. I have no idea how historical this helmet design is but I like it nonetheless as it is clearly meant to be a ‘companion’ to Alexander’s lion helmet, with its red mohawk and white feathers.
.
Alexander arrives in Babylon to rapturous applause from the Babylonians. I was a little suspicious of their enthusiasm until I read in Arrian that on approaching the city, Alexander was,

… met by the people of the place who with their priests and magistrates came flocking out to bring him various gifts and to offer to put the city, with its citadel and all its treasures, into his hands.

This is not quite the same as the scene that Oliver Stone gives us but the people’s joy we see therein certainly echoes Arrian’s words.
.
At the end of the scene, the camera rises and we see the famous ziggurat. Wikipedia tells me that it was in a state of decay by the time Alexander arrived in Babylon, and that he destroyed it in order to rebuild the structure. Unfortunately, his untimely death in 323 meant that this project was never completed.
.
Walking through the palace
A most sumptuous scene indeed; very befitting of its location. As an added bonus, we discover that Virgil got his phrase ‘fortune favours the bold’ from Alexander himself! In the bedchamber, Alexander describes himself as the ‘king of the air’. I doubt it was intentional, but wasn’t that one of the appellations of the Devil in Jewish theology?
.
[A moment later…]
.
I have just looked it up. This is what I was thinking of – St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 2:2,

… you were living by the principles of this world, obeying the ruler who dominates the air

A round of applause to anyone who can guess which translation of the Bible that comes from (answer below).
.
Philotas tells Alexander that Darius is not worth bothering with.

Philotas … he has no power, Alexander. He is lost in the mountains with no army.
Alexander As long as he is lost, Philotas, he can be believed in.

The truth of this is still very evident in our own time. Look at the example of Osama Bin Laden. He, too, was lost, but still able to inspire Al-Qaeda agents the world over until the American army finally tracked him down.
.
To be sure, Darius’ influence was never so great as Bin Laden’s. Indeed, by the end, he could not even inspire those who were with him, and they assassinated him. Nevertheless, Alexander’s words remain relevant to us in that they recognise that power can lie as much in the person of someone, or the idea that they represent, as much as in laws and so-called ‘legitimate’ authority. I am sure this thought sustained Osama Bin Laden as he made his way from one cave to another.
.
Alexander’s words here also remind me of something that Arrian says,

… when [Alexander] knew his death was imminent he went out with the intention of throwing himself into the Euphrates, in order to disappear without trace and make it easier for posterity to believe that one of the gods was his father and he had gone away to join them.

He goes on to state that Roxane stopped Alexander from fulfilling this plan; in fairness to Arrian I should say that he prefaces the anecdote with a very dismissive comment regarding the writer who ‘had the face’ to tell the story in the first place. Likewise, I do not believe that Alexander would ever have thought of throwing himself in the Euphrates but it is noteworthy that someone thought the story worth making up in the first place. I have to admit, it does rather tally with what we know of the care with which Alexander cultivated his image.
.
In the harem
We move from the bedchamber to the Great King’s harem. Here, we see Alexander exercise his wisdom and clemency in a reactive and proactive way. Firstly, he stays Nearchus when the latter’s desire to acquaint himself with the concubines threatens to get ahead of him. Secondly, he releases any slave or servant from duty who wishes to return home.
.
By the way, if you freeze the frame at 1:03:30 you can see the raised back of Ptolemy’s armour. I presume that this is in order to provide additional protection from sword blows aimed at the back of the neck. It actually reminds me of the head and neck support device that motor racing drivers use to prevent whiplash injuries. It’s a tenuous link, I know, but it struck me (no pun intended) nonetheless as I watched the film.
.
Alexander’s first meeting with Bagoas is followed by a brief glance from Polyperchon (who, again, does not speak), and an unsteady camera shot of Hephaestion. I really liked that; the odd camera angle emphasises Hephaestion’s emotions – who is that person Alexander is taking such an interest in? I’m not sure I like him…
.
As the Macedonians bundle Alexander over, Darius’ daughter, Stateira, makes her entrance to plead for the lives of her family. Except, she mistakenly thinks that Hephaestion is the king and turns to him instead. Alexander is nonplussed for ‘[h]e , too, is Alexander’. It is a great moment, and all the better for having actually happened. In real life, it was actually Darius’ mother, Sisygambis, who made the mistake; I wonder why Stone changed it? So that he could have a younger – and therefore, more beautiful? – woman appear? It’s not as if there weren’t enough in the harem already.
.
When Alexander announces that he will treat Darius’ family as his own, Persian and Macedonian alike are taken aback. The camera cuts to Black Cleitus and Cassander. It is a great moment of tension if you know the story because it represents another breaking of the ways between Alexander and his people. It is worth noting Hephaestion’s nod when Alexander turns back to him. Despite Bagoas, he is ever faithful.
.
Olympias’ letter
Olympias complains to Alexander about being left in Pella while he is in Babylon, and warns Alexander to beware of his friends. Only one person remains free of her poisonous pen: Hephaestion. Maybe she knows that Alexander would not listen to any criticism she did have.
.
On Olympias and Hephaestion, this thread on the Pothos forum might be of interest.

… [a]pparently Hephaistion… received many letters from Olympias where she criticized and threatened him.

I did not know that they corresponded, so look forward to reading that thread to find out more information.
.
On the balcony
Alexander the visionary comes to the fore as he and Hephaestion look over Babylon. The new Great King wants to free his people. I’m not sure of what he means by this – presumably he doesn’t intend to give people charge of their own affairs – but leaving that aside, it is significant that Alexander doesn’t seem to see himself as a liberator but how freeing the people would make him greater than Achilles and Herakles, perhaps even the equal of Prometheus, who gave the world fire. For me, this is typical Alexander – always comparing himself to the greatest and the best, always trying to outdo them. We could see this scene as Alexander displaying proto-democratic tendencies and therefore an example of Hollywood’s inability to keep a character authentic to their period, but with a little charity, I choose to see it more as a very good example of Alexander’s pothos, his yearning to go higher, ever higher, until he is somewhere north of Olympus (which, in geographical terms, funnily enough, is Macedon!).
.
For his part, Hephaestion restates what Philip II told the young Alexander – remember that Achilles and Herakles suffered greatly. As they look towards the Hindu Kush from their vantage point, Ptolemy will do likewise in respect of Parmenion by encouraging Alexander to return home. Both he and Hephaestion get better shrift than Parmenion did or, I think, Philip would have had Alexander been a little older.
.
Hephaestion goes on to remind Alexander that he once said ‘the fear of death drives all men’ and asks him if there are not any other forces in his life. For example, love. This is the third ‘Christian’ moment in the film. Of course, love is not a Christian concept but the way in which Hephaestion is implicitly asking if love does not drive Alexander feels to me too strange a question for him, a pagan, and a politically high ranking one, to ask. For me, the question would be more appropriate in a mediaeval drama rather than one set in antiquity.
.
Read the index of posts in this series here

* The translation of the Bible used is the Douay Rheims

Categories: Alexander in Film | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Alexander Revisited: Olympias’ Bed Chamber to the Caves at Pella

In my previous post on Alexander Revisited I commented on the fact that in his deathbed scene Alexander seemed to be offering his ring to the Persian god, Ahura Mazda. A commenter on my Facebook Alexander page (here) has suggested that he is actually offering it to the eagle that appears throughout the film.
.
This eagle is either Zeus himself or, perhaps, the Aetos Dios (Eagle of Zeus) which functions in Greek mythology as both a symbol of the king of the gods and as his servant. Whichever interpretation we go with, the eagle’s presence in the film is meant as a sign of Zeus’ approval of and support for Alexander’s mission. It’s no wonder, then, that as they approach the seemingly impassable Hindu Kush, Alexander asks Ptolemy in concern, ‘where has our eagle gone?’. Has Zeus deserted him?
.
I like the idea of Alexander offering the ring to the eagle. The only problem with the idea, though, is that the bird does not appear in the deathbed scene. Does it appear at the end of the film? I’m not going to fast forward to find out. Feel free to tell me; otherwise, I’ll find out at the end of the picture. Certainly, it would make perfect sense for Alexander to offer back to his divine father the power that he felt his father had given him. Now that I think about it, that sounds rather Christian, doesn’t it? I’ll come back to this thought, later.
.
Scenes Covered

  1. Olympias’ Bed Chamber
  2. In the Palestra
  3. Mieza
  4. The Taming of Bucephalas
  5. In the Caves at Pella

Olympias’ Bed Chamber
Following the brief scene in the infirmary we are transported back to Pella ’20 Years Earlier’ – 351 BC. To the surprise of no one who knows anything about the historical Olympias, it begins with her playing with her pet snakes. The scene takes a surprising turn, however, when Olympias plays a brief but very tender game of hide-and-seek with her son (38:25 ff) as she walks round the bed curtain. If you had asked me why Olympias wants the best for Alexander before I had watched this scene I would have said simply because she is ambitious and she hates Philip. Her love for Alexander, however, is expressed so clearly and absolutely in this moment that I would now say that while yes, she is ambitious and hates Philip, I think she genuinely wants the best for Alexander. A mother who didn’t would not have thought or cared to to play that simple yet highly meaningful game.
.
Speaking of Philip the mood turns sour when he breaks into the bed chamber. I complained in the last post about how Olive Stone had treated Parmenion. Well, I have to say, he does a real hatchet job on Philip, too. He insults, and tries to force himself on her. Only Alexander’s and the snakes’ presence cause him to step back – briefly. I am not an expert on Philip but I do not recognise this version of him. If Stone was capable of giving us a more nuanced Olympias, I really don’t know why he could not have done the same with Philip.
.
In the Palestra
As the scene cuts to the young Alexander, now twelve years old, wrestling in a Palestra; the elder Ptolemy tells us in voice over that he believes it was ‘in friendship that Alexander found his sanity’. It is no accident, I think, that as he says this, the camera closes in on Alexander wrestling Hephaestion. Alexander had other friends, of course, but whether or not we regard them as being lovers, he had no friend like Hephaestion.
.
Brian Blessed leads the wrestling class and we see him walk around giving advice to the boys. At the beginning of the next scene, the elder Ptolemy reminds us (in voice over) of the famous saying that Alexander was only ever beaten once – by Hephaestion’s thighs. I rather like Blessed’s comment to the young Ptolemy, however, when he reminds him that in order to fight well he doesn’t ‘need to eat every day or until [he is] full’. I can’t help but feel that this is a nod to the fact that the later Ptolemys (from Ptolemy II Philadelphus onwards) were often overweight.

Ptolemy II and his sister-wife, Arsinoë II

Ptolemy II and his sister-wife, Arsinoë II

Mieza
In a way, this scene – where we see Alexander and his friends being taught by Aristotle – is a difficult one to respect as it is less about the individuals present and more about Aristotle’s thought and examples of Greek prejudice in the middle of the fourth century BC. Thus, we hear a lot about the importance of reason ruling over passion, and effeminate Persians.
.
To be fair, Stone does use this scene to set up Alexander’s decline later in the film. For example, the philosopher tells Alexander and his friends that the Persians’ ‘slavish devotion to their senses’ causes them to ‘castrate young boys such as yourselves for their sexual pleasure.’ These words are met with dismissive laughter. Clearly, when Alexander gets into bed with the eunuch Bagoas later on, we are meant to see this as an example of his Medising, going native. Curiously, although in the context of the film this is a bad thing, leaving aside the fact that Bagoas is a eunuch, many people will today think that a expression of same-sex love is a good thing. It is good that we are challenged to see Alexander’s actions as his contemporaries saw them and not as we (might) do.
.
I think there is also in this scene a subtle acknowledgement of the nature of Alexander’s relationship with Hephaestion. When Hephaestion asks Aristotle if a man can love a woman equally he dismisses the possibility out of hand on the grounds that women (unlike men) are slaves to their passion. It is not hard to imagine Hephaestion taking this thought away and allowing it to inform his later romantic choices.
.
Before Hephaestion’s question, Stone has Cassander ask the awkward questions about Achilles’ excessive behaviour and the possibility of his love for Patroclus being ‘a corrupting one’, which makes Alexander look askance at him. As I said in the previous post, if Stone had implied at the end of the film that Cassander was responsible for poisoning Alexander this would have been another step along establishing him as Alexander’s nemesis but he doesn’t, so the potential conflict goes nowhere.
.
The Taming of Bucephalas
This lovely scene is faithful to what really happened (as I remember it, that is) in respect of how Alexander managed to tame Bucephalas, the horse who was afraid of his shadow. The scene does manage to be a little anachronistic in that Stone places Philip’s future wife, Cleopatra Euridike in it. No date is given for the taming of Bucephalas* but as Alexander is still a young boy we can assume it is before 346 when he would be ten. From the look of him, I think 347/8 would be about right. Anyway, Philip didn’t marry Cleopatra (who took the name Euridike after marrying him) until 338/7. Yet, here she is, with her uncle Attalus in tow, already his wife several years earlier. The reason for Euridike’s and Attalus’ appearance is to introduce the divisive figure whom Alexander will confront at the party a few years later. This is the kind of change that one can allow because it helps the narrative. It’s a shame Stone didn’t limit himself thus (I’m still sore over his treatment of Philip, and about to get sorer…).
.
In the Caves at Pella
After Philip and Olympias’ confrontation in the bed chamber there won’t be many people who will be cheering for the king by the time he takes Alexander to see the cave art. And after his misogynistic screed in this scene (“It’s never easy to escape our mothers, Alexander. All your life, beware of women. They’re far more dangerous than men… [Olympias] makes you weak.” and so on) even fewer will be supporting him. A big shame. Neither Philip nor Olympias were perfect. If anything, Olympias committed the worst crimes.
.
I mentioned at the start of this post the curiously Christian nature of Alexander offering Zeus his ring. As Philip leads the young Alexander out of the cave, having depressed himself it seems more than the boy with his crash course in how Men hate the gods but are condemned to be dealt ever harshly by the immortals, he tells his son that, “[o]ne day, things will change. Men will change. But first, the gods must change.” Truly, Philip is a prophet. I’m all for foreshadowings of the future but it would be good if they were rooted in the present moment (of the character’s life). Casting Philip as a kind of prophet doesn’t really sit well for me. What he says would more appropriately (for me, anyway) come from Alexander who, as I have said before, did help the spread of Christianity by his spread of hellenism.
.
* Plutarch places it in 344. I know that Alexander was never very tall but I can’t believe he is as old as 12 in this scene
.
Read the index of posts in this series here

Categories: Alexander in Film | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: