Oliver Stone's Alexander Falls Short of Epic Status
- Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Stone wants us to believe that by going on his long march, Alexander was trying to escape the clutches of his cloying mother. "It's a high ransom she charges for nine months in the womb," he says, in one of the more memorable lines of the film. Stone's Alexander isn't a man who lusts for power and world domination - he's a mama's boy trying to flee the relationship he has grown to despise. He's also a man who never wanted the throne. Even when the golden crown of laurels is thrust upon his head, after his father's death, we see the same indecision and fear that plagued Alexander throughout childhood.
His sexual perversions are virtually ignored in the film. Instead of a man filled with lust who tortured innocent slaves for sexual gratification, we see a homosexual who married just once, for an heir, but who loved his best friend - despite an occasional dalliance with servants. That Stone does not overtly portray homosexual sex (we see kissing and hugging between men throughout the film), probably has far more to do with what audiences are willing to witness than any hesitation on Stone's part to do so. Farrell's lone heterosexual scene is extremely graphic and further highlights his character's revulsion for women. It begins as a rape on his wedding night and ends as an animalistic mating ritual, complete with growls.
History buffs will also be concerned with the way Stone portrays Alexander's mind. Instead of an intellectual who dreams of bringing Greek culture to the world through assimilation, Stone's Alexander is a whimsical, if not mentally ill warrior who cares nothing about those around him, save his beloved Hephaistion (Jared Leto), his lifelong companion and lover. Although we see the scrolls of The Iliad, his favorite book, at the foot of Alexander's bed, which he carried with him wherever he went, we never hear the man quote from it, as he often did. Nor do we ever see him reading, listening to music or speaking about anything that might indicate he was a brilliant man - which, by all accounts, he was. We do witness Alexander's education under Aristotle (Christopher Plummer), but that never translates into his character or personality. Stone even has Alexander return again and again to a cave, a bit like a barbarian, where he studies the painted walls at the urging of his father (Val Kilmer, in a noteworthy performance), who is also portrayed as a drunken savage.
These fatal flaws are further hindered by Farrell's acting, which is filled with boy-like screams and hesitant lines that translate into a melodramatic, unconvincing show. Stone tries to balance our opinion of the commander by having Anthony Hopkins, as his retired general and, later, historian over the great Library of Alexander, pontificate in annoying, exalted voiceovers scattered throughout the film. That dialogue, like Ptolemy's insistence that Alexander was "the freest man I've ever known" whose failures "towered over other men's successes," is so clichéd that even Hopkins can't overcome it.
By far, the best actor in the film is Angelina Jolie. As the embittered, estranged wife of Phillip and mother to Alexander, she resorts to conniving to protect herself from Phillip's ambitions, hissing advice to her son even as her pet snakes slither around her ankles. We don't even mind that she appears to be the same age as her son (she's just one year older than Farrell), because she's so bewitching. Watching her, one can't help but recall Bette Davis.
As he did in JFK, Stone once again explores a conspiracy theory about Alexander's death. We are led to believe that both he and Hephaistion were poisoned, and that Ptolemy covered it up by dictating revisionist history to the scribes. Unlike the death of Kennedy, however, which was shrouded in mystery, this historical hypothesis has little evidence. According to Plutarch's account, Alexander died from the effects of putrid water. But then again, his men had grown battle-weary, having witnessed a 75 percent casualty rate and been gone from home for a decade, so Stone's guess is as good as any.
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