The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Alexander (2004)

There is a line at the end of Oliver Stone's new film "Alexander", where Anthony Hopkins as an aged Ptolomy reminesces about the career of the great general and king. Specifically, he speaks of Alexander's failure to unite the entire world: "His failures tower above other men's successes."  Well, frankly I feel much the same way about this film.  "Alexander" is a brilliant failure, doomed by the peculiar period of American history we live in today.  We demand deeper examinations of our cinematic heroes, but aren't really ready for the truth. The undeniable fact of Alexander of Macedonia's bisexuality sinks this film. They want to be honest about it, and cannot be, and that leaves a hole at the center of the film.  If his lifelong love of his best friend Hephaistion had been his love for a woman, the filmmakers would have been able to deal with it frankly and honestly, and as a simple matter of fact.  But they knew this would have doomed the movie.  Period.  Let's be honest about this. But then, by dancing around it, they created another kind of damage, an artificial sexual tension that must have driven preview audiences crazy.  Read the reviews, and check the number of barely-veiled homophobic comments.  But I'm not saying that it was audience perceptions alone that damaged the film, that it is great, and people just don't appreciate it.  I'm saying that the filmmakers had to work around the natural emotional core of the film, and in doing so, sabotaged the naturalness.  In addition to this, uncomfortable audiences, convinced they were ABOUT to see something they didn't want to see, said to themselves what audiences always do when things get uncomfortable: say "it's only a movie, its only a movie..." and tear up the artifice, something one can do with any film, any film at all, if suspension of disbelief is broken.  I've watched the exact same thing happen in black films reaching for a white audience, terrified to frankly show black male sexuality.  The hole rips the reality from the film. 
That being said, the film is gorgeous, the story of a man with no center, no home, denied one by his vicious, scheming mother and broken father.  With no center, he searched endlessly for the edge of reality, hoping that by finding the edge of the world, he could then define the center.  There is no edge, so collapse was inevitable, and tragic.  Looking at the box office, the same can be said here.  But I'll say this in no uncertain terms: this is a film that flirts with greatness.  Fail it does, but by God it tries, and for that Oliver Stone has my undying respect.

Black hole at its core and all, I give it a B+

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