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Troy: How Hollywood Kills Stories

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Troy : How Hollywood Kills Stories


Cathy Lynn Pagano 


          My friend says we breathe the world in through stories.  I know that sometimes the only way to understand a situation is through a story.   Yet our media feeds us stories 24/7 without really satisfying us.  This is because it feeds us dead stories, stories emptied of meaning.

          Once again Hollywood has missed an opportunity to tell us a story that matters; that could have made us contemplate our lives and the state of the world.   Only Hollywood could take one of the seminal stories of Western culture and distort its meaning by the manner of its telling.  Wolfgang Petersen 's movie Troy has Hollywood 's typical Achilles ' heel.   What makes it miss the mark is its complete lack of meaning.  Why does Hollywood insist on mediocrity?  Why throw out historical context?  Why the insistence on believing that movies are there merely to 'entertain '?   There 's a secret that Hollywood just doesn 't get: a good story with meaning makes more money because it makes us think and sometimes even changes our lives.

          What David Benioff 's script doesn 't do is give the story an appropriate context; he didn 't frame the story of the Trojan War the way Homer did.  Homer gets writing credit for the story of Troy , but Mr. Benioff disregarded his viewpoint, which is what 's kept his two epic poems on the best-seller list for thousands of years.   Perhaps the filmmakers thought that their Hollywood take on the story was better than his.  Or perhaps they didn 't want to make Homer 's point, for fear of making a political and social statement.  Either way, Mr. Petersen 's movie misses the mark.  And we viewers are the losers.

          In ancient Greece and Rome , everything tended to be compared to Homer 's two works, the Iliad and the Odyssey.  Events in their history made sense when seen in the light of the events narrated in these two works.  These two epics became the focal point of Greek values and the Greek worldview, which became the foundation of our Western culture.   The Greeks regarded the Trojan War as the defining moment in the establishment of 'Greek character '. They did so mostly because of the poetry of Homer, which was regarded as their highest cultural achievement.

There was a public recitation of Homer 's work at the festival of the Panathenaea, which was held every four years.  The Panathenaea was the most solemn of all festivals held at Athens and its contests possessed a sacred character.  The Homeric poems were recited during the festival by bards and singers who took turns reciting parts of the poems.

Mr. Petersen and Mr. Benioff needed to do better research, not only into historical facts but into the story 's symbolic meaning.  If they had understood the story and its meaning for the ancient world, perhaps they could have given us a chance to have a similar experience to that of our ancestors who heard this story thousands of years ago.  For Homer 's story of the Trojan War provides an opportunity to contemplate the reasons for going to war and the horrendous effects of war on both the conquerors and the conquered.  I would say this story has meaning for us today, wouldn 't you?  If The Passion of the Christ could generate so much national dialogue, a well-done Troy might have as well.

Homer 's Iliad, which is only one although the most famous episode in the story of the Trojan War, is set in the final year of that 10 year war, fought between the Greeks and the inhabitants of the city of Troy .  The legendary conflict forms the background for the central plot of Homer 's story: the wrath of the Greek hero Achilles.  Insulted by his commander in chief, Agamemnon, the young warrior Achilles withdraws from the war, leaving his fellow Greeks to suffer terrible defeats at the hands of the Trojans. Achilles rejects the Greeks' attempts at reconciliation but finally relents to some extent, allowing his companion Patroclus to lead his troops in his place. Patroclus is slain, and Achilles, filled with fury and remorse, now turns his wrath against the Trojans, whose leader, Hector, son of King Priam, he kills in single combat. The poem closes as Achilles surrenders the corpse of Hector to Priam for burial, recognizing a certain kinship with the Trojan king as they both face the human tragedies of mortality and bereavement.

What Homer did with the story of the Trojan War was brilliant.  He focused the whole story of hurt pride, wounded dignity and extreme vengeance through the lens of the warrior Achilles.  He begins his story thus:


Sing the Wrath, Goddess, of Achilles son of Peleus,

the accursed wrath that brought infinite pain to the Akhaians [Greeks] and hurled many strong souls down to Hades souls of heroes! and left them to be booty for dogs and a banquet for the birds, but this was the will of Zeus being accomplished, from that moment when there stood against each other in opposition the son of Atreus [Agamemnon], lord of men, and godlike Achilles.

"Sing, the Wrath, Goddess, of Achilles. . . "  Homer 's words, echoing down the centuries, speak of the effects of Wrath, when men refuse to give up their anger and resort to violence.  The word wrath means 'determined and lasting anger; extreme or violent rage; fury. "  Homer emphasizes the futility of a fight that is the result of the long and sustained anger of Achilles: "the accursed wrath that brought infinite pain to the Akhaians [Greeks] and hurled many strong souls down to Hades [Death] souls of heroes! and left them to be booty for dogs and a banquet for the birds ... "  The horrors of war indeed!  

Homer 's Achilles, the archetypal Greek warrior, contains the shadow elements of the Greek character: the driving greed for empire and power of Agamemnon, and the anger and cruelty of Menelaus, the Spartan king whose people delight in war.  Achilles ' wrath over having his slave girl taken away by Agamemnon echoes the wrath of Menelaus over Helen 's 'abduction '.  Yet, if Helen 's betrayal of Menelaus was the will of the gods, (how convenient to have God as an excuse) then any excuse can be used as a just cause for war.  In truth, the Trojan War was an economic war, clothed in false glory and self-righteous anger.  Homer ends the Iliad with the funerals of both Hector and Patroclus, a Trojan and a Greek.  He had a message in his story.  War is a no win situation.  Everyone suffers.

We are experiencing such a wrath now in American politics over 9/11 and the war in Iraq .  Our nation has chosen wrath instead of reconciliation, economic and military might rather than searching for the truth and choosing the right response.  In choosing war, we are hurling many brave men and women and innocent children down into Hades.   But then again, we have been doing this since we first colonized America .  We have been a warrior nation and an economic empire from the very beginning, as well as a land of religious fanaticism.  It 's interesting that Mr. Petersen and Mr. Benioff decided to leave out the gods in the script of Troy .  The Bush Administration sees this war on terrorism as a religious 'crusade ', even though they try to sell us on their lies of bringing democracy to Iraq and the Moslem nations.  A good re-telling of the Iliad might have helped us understand how we let George Bush 's wrath, his economic agenda, as well as his belief that he was following the will of God [Zeus], lead us into this devastating war. 

          We could have had another focus for a national discussion on the topic of war if Mr. Petersen and Hollywood had given us a story worth seeing.  Only Hollywood could kill this ancient story.  Does Hollywood insist on being irrelevant in this time of national dialogue, or does it promote mediocrity on purpose to keep us from critical thinking on important issues facing our country.   Either way, 3 thumbs down for Mr. Petersen 's Troy .

Cathy Lynn Pagano, M.A., www.fountainofdreams.net , is a Jungian Psychotherapist and teacher. Reprint permission is given as long as article content is not altered or changed and credit is given to the author. First published by OpEdNews.com.


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