Homer’s epic work, The Iliad, has been re-imagined countless times since its inception nearly three millennia ago, but perhaps never on such an ambitious scale as the 2004 blockbuster, starring such Hollywood heavyweights as Brad Pitt, Julie Christie, Orlando Bloom and Peter O’Toole. Critics and audiences had varied responses to Troy’s lavish production and nearly three-hour running time, yet despite one’s opinion of the overall effectiveness of the film, its box office dominance and heavy reliance on universal themes such as love and war make it worthy of critical analysis.
Although far from flawless, this version of the well known epic is ripe with dramatic presentation and with distinctly artistic imagery, that supports its take on classic themes like passion, greed, and glory. It is obvious throughout the movie that the makers of Troy were angling to create a cash cow, with its star-studded cast, sweeping graphics and extensive battle scenes. The film is broadly faithful to the original poem: Paris and Helen spark a war with their love affair, and the famed warrior Achilles is drawn into the battle with the lure of everlasting fame.
Spurred by the death of his cousin, Achilles duels with Paris’ brother, Hector, killing the later and sparking a 12-day moratorium on fighting as Troy mourns its prince’s death. During this time, the Greeks devise their legendary plan to invade the city using a giant wooden horse with a hidden squadron of soldiers inside, which is brought into the city by the Trojans. Achilles leads the Greeks in their devastation of Troy, but dies after Paris shoots him in several locations, including his heel.
Within this rough outline, it is obvious that the film seeks to convey classic takes on the universal themes of war, mortality, passion, honor, and love. War and mortality are treated with a nuanced ambivalence: Battle provides justice for wrongs and the glory of ever-lasting life, in the sense that others will sing of the soldiers’ deeds long after they are dead (the reason that compels Achilles into battle despite the promise of a long happy life if he does not).
Yet at the same time death is not treated lightly by the characters, who are faced with the brutal and often unfair consequences of war and are often reflective about their own ends (for example Achilles’ emotional breakdown after avenging his cousin’s death) and the wives who wait at home without realizing they are now widows. Honor too plays a great role: Despite the brutality of battle, the characters strictly abide by a code, evidenced by Hector’s dismay at accidentally killing Achilles’ young cousin and importance placed on man-on-man combat.
Passion and love of course are at the heart of this otherwise violent film: The concept that true love is worth fighting and dying for is repeatedly reinforced, from Paris and Helen’s initial escape, which sparks the conflict, to Achilles’ final acts to protect Briseis. Thus, these values are the raison d’etre for the entire film, the foundation for the story and the impetus for the characters’ actions.
One can see the importance of a movie like Troy to society at the time, immersed as it was (and continues to be) in a long, divisive war that brought questions of morality and mortality to the forefront of American discourse. The film relies a great deal on computer animation, which, despite the intervening years, is still admittedly impressive in scope and ambition; however, this dependence, while necessary for some scenes, reduces the amount of physical design, at which the film excels. The choreography of the individual battle scenes reveals a surprisingly nimble orchestration that highlights the actors’ athleticism.
The visual backdrops and cinematography are also quite well done, and the film’s Academy Award nomination for costume design is well deserved, given the intricacies of the wardrobe, which range from the complex brocade of the warrior’s armor to the royal finery. (In this sense, it could be seen as a very Apollonian film, as the design is well reasoned and presents a cohesive portrait—even if the filmmakers eschewed restraint overall. ) Thus, while the dialogue is passable, and the performances on the whole decent, it is the overall design that lends Troy its most artistic attributes.
It is unfortunate that much of the large-scale architecture was digitally created, as this too would likely have been rendered more richly in physical detail. In sum, Troy may not be a perfect movie, but it is an artistic endeavor, with impressive design elements and values that speak to modern angst. While the timelessness of love may be an overwrought theme, the major values on display, (war, honor, and mortality) are quite relevant in modern America, after nearly a decade of Middle East combat. The aesthetics of the movie also lend it authority, as an artistic cohesiveness to all elements of design is one of its best achievements.