Nine Things I Learned By Watching “Troy”

Tough guys don’t wear helmets

[Note from Mark: My good friend and erudite novelist Thomas Lakeman has contributed to the List of 9 before. This list was too good to pass up. I'll let him take it from here.] As anyone who's ever studied it will attest, The Iliad is a big damn poem about a guy who spends most of the war pouting in his tent instead of fighting because he's waiting for everybody else to admit they were wrong. No, we're not talking about George Bush – that's Achilles, the archetypal gloryhound who wins not because of foresight or virtue, but mainly because of his family connections (okay, so maybe we are talking about W.). Now, thanks to director Wolfgang "Get off my plane!" Petersen, all of Homer's ageless wisdom is compressed into two and a half butt-kicking hours. Here (with apologies to Robert McNamara) are nine easily digested lessons on war, Greek style:

  1. Color-code for easy reference. As Rick reminded Ilsa in Casablanca, "The Germans wore gray. You wore blue." In Troy the Trojans all wear blue (with the kinds of tie-dye patterns you usually only see at craft fairs), while the Greeks wear red. In modern terms, that's Trojans = Pepsi, Greeks = Coke. Even though she's on her second hubby, Helen is still entitled to wear white. Meanwhile Achilles and his Myrmidons wear black, thus identifying them as the Bronze Age equivalent of the Oakland Raiders.
  2. Always have an escape route from your own sequel. And you thought there was no beating Greek fate. In The Iliad, Hector's wife and son are killed on the walls of the city. In Troy, they flee to safety through a conveniently placed escape tunnel (why couldn't Homer think of that?). Some are spared by life, others by death. Menelaus is killed halfway through the movie, even though he's later a supporting character in The Odyssey. Agamemnon is done in by Achilles before his wife can murder him in The Oresteia. Top honors go to Queen Hecuba and Cassandra, who don't even exist in Troy – thus shortening the lineup for The Trojan Women.
  3. Insist on historical accuracy until it becomes confusing or weird. Drop a hat and the producers of Troy will crow about historically accurate battle scenes, authentic Bronze Age armor, etc. This passion for authenticity extends to the scholarly pronunciation of names: that's Pree-am, not Preye-am, Mene-louse instead of Mene-lay-us. Of course, by this logic we should be calling the main character A-kill-ay-oos, not A-kill-ease – but who the hell ever heard of an A-kill-ay-oos tendon? And say, as long as we're on the subject of our hero – when exactly did Achilles's lover Patroklos become his "cousin"?
  4. A posh British accent is no longer de rigueur. Back in those sword-and-toga Cinemascope epics of the 1950s, ancient Greeks and Romans talked like Members of Parliament. Now, in this post-Gladiator world, it's considered cool for upper-class types like Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Menelaus to sound off like boyos from the corner pub. No telling what accent Brad Pitt's going for – something left over from Interview With the Vampire, minus fangs. Thank God for Peter O'Toole.
  5. Tough guys don't wear helmets. If Troy were a World War II movie, would we think there was anything particularly heroic about a guy taking off his helmet in the middle of a battle? Maybe it has something to do with the need to reflect "magic hour" light off Brad Pitt's golden tresses. Two words, Achilles: Gary Busey.
  6. The beaches are full of timber. Every time somebody kicks off, the Greeks have to build him a funeral pyre big enough to roast the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. So where are they finding all this lumber on a big sandy beach? Lifeguard stands?
  7. The gods envy Brad Pitt. At one sexually charged moment, Achilles tells his squeeze Briseis, "The gods envy us because we are mortal." I suspect the gods are more likely to envy somebody because he has no discernible acting talent, and yet makes $20 million for showing his butt. Not to mention being married to Jennifer Aniston. Smiting, anyone?
  8. You can stop a battle any time you feel like it. According to Homer, the Trojans lost because the gods were against them. Nope! Turns out they got whacked because somebody (whose initials are Prince Hector) decided to cancel the battle just as he was on the verge of winning. Reason being? Because he – whoops! – killed somebody! Hector, baby, this ain't West Side Story. You don't stop the rumble just because Riff and Bernardo got knifed.
  9. Even great Homer is no match for a test audience from Palmdale. Let's face it. The Iliad is a great poem, but it's notoriously short on naked priestesses. Thankfully, the wise development executives decreed that (a) Agamemnon is the villain and needs a "comeuppance scene" at the climax; (b) the Trojan horse provides a perfect third-act "ticking clock"; and (c) Orlando Bloom gives the sword of Troy to young Aeneas, thus setting us up for Troy 2: Rise of the Romans. All that's missing is Achilles's wise-cracking black sidekick, played by Cedric the Entertainer. Arms and the Man, yo!