Alexander (Certificate 15 in UK)
‘Desperate Housewives’ hit our screens the other day in a blaze of publicity assuring us that it is a potential successor to ‘Sex in the City’. In contrast this week saw the opening of ‘Alexander’ a film by Oliver Stone that the Christian Right in America has turned into box-office poison by staying away from cinemas nationwide. Why is this? The former is most definitely not a ‘blaze’ but just banal nonsense with zero dramatic content. The latter a brave attempt to bridge the chasm between American and European cinema. It does this by taking the best elements of the Hollywood genre and blends them with Classical epic theatre.
It is easy to see why a film like Alexander has challenged American audiences. The first few minutes give us a lesson in philosophy and statesmanship instead of an all out blood and guts fest. One can almost hear people say, “What is this?” or “I came to see a movie not the History Channel”. Many reviews have spoken of an over-historicizing in this film but I say ‘hallelujah’ about time. There is such a paucity of proper education in the cinema and this is a rare treat. Stone drew on the expertise of Robin Lane Foxe, Oxford historian and the premier Alexander expert and it shows.
Alexander is an intelligently drawn film that only loses its way when pandering to the American lust for wanton violence although in a film about a General as prolific as Alexander battles cannot be removed entirely. Alexander’s life was not violence free but the film clearly shows the other side of his nature that of a youthful idealist who in the end could not pace those around him and therefore keep them on board in his schemes for a truly multi-cultural society.
Despite being almost three hours long this film easily holds an audience as it is visually stunning and with sufficient depth to carry the drama. It is an emotional roller coaster and an exciting action film although Stone chooses to ignore the great military exploits of Alexander’s father which would have made the context for Alexander’s achievements and the support of his followers all the more believable. The film tries hard to encompass this great man’s achievements and his dream and is ground breaking in many ways. It is fundamentally about the man and his dream and it is easy to assume from the limiting genre of film that the dream of multi-culturalism and tolerance was a failure. However, Alexander laid the basis for European culture, as we know it today and this needed further exploration in the film. The lack of tolerance expressed in Alexander’s murder by his followers towards the end of the film perfectly reflects today’s Western expression of xenophobia and is another warning against any State’s folly in pursuing separatist and pre-emptive policies, Stone did this before in Born on the Fourth of July.
Stone is convinced that the US audience have boycotted Alexander purely because of the bisexuality depicted in it although Alexander’s heterosexuality is only seen in the context of his aggressive ravishing of Roxanna in order to get an heir. Interestingly for the gay audience he puts Hephaiston’s, his lover’s ring back on after this encounter. Stone’s beautiful and ultimately challenging non-sexual depiction of Alexander’s relationship with Hephaiston, one of true love, proves by the US movie-going public’s response, that love is much more dangerous than sex. Towards the beginning of the film Aristotle tells his young pupils “When two men lie together in lust, it is over indulgence. But when two men lie together in purity, they can perform wonders.” And herein lies the meaning of the whole film. Radical stuff. This along with the film’s historical, intellectual, anti-establishment and non-heterosexual stance makes for an uncomfortable vehicle in the Right-Wing US but we in Europe have more sense.
The film is well researched and is thoughtful and thought provoking. It will become I think a classic film of its time. Perfect for this years first LGBT History Month.
(Starring Colin Farrell, Jared Leto, Val Kilmer, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins and Chrsitopher Plummer)