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My Troy

As Steven said, we saw Troy this weekend, and my response is close to his. I’ve read portions of all the pertinent epics in the original, so I had strong feelings going into the movie and mixed feelings coming out.

My favorite part, as everyone knows, is when Hector was racing down the stairs To His Doom and was met by his stern-faced wife holding their lovely son. Poor heartbroken Hector peers down at tiny Astuanax, who promptly bursts into tears, terrified by his father’s hair-capped helmet. Hector takes it off for one last cuddle before suiting up again. Of course, this wasn’t in the movie, because somehow it doesn’t matter to other people as much as it does to me, but I was expecting that. At least all three of those characters got appropriate depth and screentime.

What impressed me most was the way all the characters who were relatives managed to look alike. I’m not sure about making Achilles and Patroclus cousins, but it explained the necessary resemblance well and allowed a palatable reading of Patroclus’s adoration, although the parallel to the similarly retconned Briseis cousin status seemed weird. The women were all excellent, which was a comforting surprise. I went in a Rose Byrne fan, which helped me avoid being too troubled by some of the stereotypes Briseis played out.

And the fighting! Well, all the one-on-one stuff wasn’t too impressive to me, but watching the shields collide and the blood flowing out to make the earth wet was just amazing and saddening. I know this is how it works, but it was hard to watch and harder to ignore. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such compelling battle. We watched like Priam’s family, gauging the trends while keeping our eyes on the heroes. The desecration of Hector’s body was similarly captivating and all the more poignant because I wanted Achilles to follow his lead and be a hero, treat him with respect and felt myself mentally urging him on to honor, even knowing how the story would go.

And then there’s all that stuff about not knowing how the story goes, but it wasn’t too much of a problem. It’s not as if I think Homer wrote a definitive history, and I’m quite sure there wasn’t a Homer, so while I think some of the changes didn’t work on a story level, I wasn’t hoping for a fully accurate translation. In fact, my favorite scene actually in the movie played on some of the ambiguity and conflicting stories and implications of choosing a focus. Helen tells Paris something like, “Every day I was with Menelaus, I was a ghost. Only now am I real.” And certainly that’s the sort of thing people say when they’re in love and when it’s true, but it’s made even better and truer by the story that Helen never went to Troy but was spirited off to Egypt while a war was fought for the sake of her ghost in Troy, and only later was the deception revealed. This made up for some of the lack of ambiguity and subtlety in much of the rest of the plot dealing with the motivations for war, and so I choose to believe it was intentional.