Film Reviews

ALEXANDER

By • Nov 24th, 2004 •

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Warner Bros. Pictures / R-Rated / 175 minutes

QUOTE: Historically accurate (minus one key point) but was Alexander so weepy? What about his extravagant lust for bloodshed? He sold tens of thousands into slavery.

If I were the spokesperson for the gay community I would be enraged that Alexander the Great has been deemed “bisexual,” when even a casual reading of his life shows he was a practicing, and recognized, homosexual.

A movie about a lusty 21-year old conqueror should never open (and close) with a prolonged, extreme close-up scene(s) of an aged Anthony Hopkins as narrator and friend of Alexander’s, Ptolemy. We do not need Ptolemy explaining Alexander’s motives to us.

Show us. We can dope it out.

I am obsessed with Alexander the Great and have been embedding facts about him in my reviews preparing for Oliver Stone’s epic ALEXANDER. My sources herein are from Peter Green’s “Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C., A Historical Biography” and Robin Lane Fox’s “Alexander the Great.”

From Peter Green’s book: It was said Alexander idolized Olympias and that “he never cared for any woman except his terrible mother.”

Not according to screenwriters Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, and Laeta Kalogridis. Here, Alexander (Colin Farrell) has a contentious relationship with his mother, Queen Olympias (Angelina Jolie). Her husband, King Phillip of Macedonia (Val Kilmer), had taken a fifth wife solely to produce another male heir. Philip, accusing Olympias of adultery, even suggested that Alexander was not his son. Philip and Alexander did not have the cordial relationship shown here.

When Alexander destroyed the city of Tyre he sold 30,000 survivors into slavery and two thousand men of military age were crucified. Alexander was a cruel man who terrified the world. According to Stone & Co., Alexander cried a lot and contrary to his historical nature, asked for advice.

It was well known that Alexander “actively disliked ugly people.”

Alexander was “below average height, but very muscular and compact of body.” A handsome young man, his hair was blond and tousled and is said to have resembled a lion’s mane. There was a nasty rumor floating around ancient times that he was three cubits, or four feet six inches high! And, since there was a “German myth that he was king of the dwarfs” and did in fact need a stool for his feet when on the throne of the Persian king, he probably was quite short. Which makes his leadership triumphs even more remarkable.

Regarding Alexander’s lifelong controversial companion, Hephaistion, Fox writes: “Hephaistion was the man who Alexander loved, and for the rest of their lives their relationship remained as intimate as it is now irrecoverable: Alexander was only defeated once, the Cynic philosophers said long after his death, and that was by Hephaistion’s thighs.” Hephaistion was the better looking of the two men and, even at the age of thirty, Alexander was still Hephaistion’s lover. “Eventually Hephaistion was married to Alexander’s new wife’s sister because ‘Alexander wanted Hephaistion’s children to be his own nephews and nieces.’ It is one rare and timely insight into the bond between the two men.”

Peter Green writes of Hephaistion: “The king’s alter ego has not gone down to posterity as a very sympathetic figure. Tall, handsome, spoilt, spiteful, overbearing and fundamentally stupid, he was a competent enough regimental officer, but quite incapable of supporting great authority. His most redeeming quality was his constant personal devotion to Alexander.”

Stone & Co. place Hephaistion (Jared Leto) as “an extra” always in the background. He never once looks at Alexander with lust. His privileged position as Alexander’s alter-ego is never recognized by him! I did not for one moment believe these two were life-long lovers. Farrell tried, but Leto was unwilling.

Alexander’s mother Olympias, “was violently jealous of her son’s inseparable companion” and Hephaistion sternly cautioned her about interfering. Here, Hephaistion is no sex magnet or threat, just a cute young man with stringy hair and bad eye makeup.

Hephaistion’s sudden and unexplained death left many historians to consider he was poisoned. After his death, Alexander’s “grief went beyond all normal bounds. For a day and a night he lay on the body, weeping: no one could comfort him. Hephaistion’s wretched physician was crucified.” Alexander wanted Hephaistion lawfully worshipped as a god. An oracle Alexander consulted refused this but said it was permissible to establish a hero-cult in Hephaistion’s honor. Alexander disregarded the oracle’s instructions and Hephaistion was actually worshipped as ‘God Coadjutor and Saviour.’

Interestingly, one month after Hephaistion’s sudden death, Alexander’s wife became pregnant and she bore him his sole legitimate heir.

What kind of love was theirs? Was Alexander planning to adopt Hephaistion and make him his legal heir? Is this why Hephaistion was poisoned? This is my theory.

Stone & Co. place Alexander’s wife Roxane (Rosario Dawson) already months pregnant at the time of Hephaistion’s death.

Kings knew exactly how to curry favor with Alexander, whose homosexuality must have been widely known. After all, King Philip was stabbed to death by Pausanias, a jealous, discarded lover. Pausanias had denounced Philip’s new homosexual lover as, “among other things, a hermaphrodite and a promiscuous little tart.” The scandal Pausanias caused was remedied by a friend of Philip’s who invited Pausanias to dinner and raped him in front of his guests. He then gave the young man to his guests to rape, then to his staff, who also beat him up. When Pausanias went to Philip, the king laughed the whole thing off.

Did the betrayed Olympias provide the get-away horses for Pausanias after he publicly stabbed Philip? How were Alexander’s three closest and trusted friends able to catch Pausanias and kill him so quickly before any inquiry could be made?

(Reminds me of another lone assassin who conveniently was killed while in police custody before anyone could dope out the truth.)

While Stone & Co. make it clear that Alexander would never steal the kingdom from Philip and blame only Olympias, Phillip was laying the foundation for removing Alexander as his heir. Philip’s killer kisses him on the mouth before stabbing him, but the inference of a homosexual relationship is never established.

Was Macedonia too gay for Oliver Stone?

King Nabarzanes brought a number of costly offerings on an official visit to Alexander. Among these were “a eunuch of remarkable beauty and in the very flower of boyhood, who had been loved by Darius III [him too?] and was afterwards to be loved by Alexander. The name of this sinister youth was Bagoas: as time went on he acquired great influence over the king.”

Stone & Co. place Bagoas (Francisco Bosch) around Alexander as a slave-attendant. He has no dialogue or influence over the king. However, one glance by Cassander (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) marks Alexander squarely in his proper sexual milieu. Meyers should have played Hephaistion.

By our standards, Alexander was not bisexual. He was homosexual. The fact that he eventually married was essential to his dynastic obligation to produce an heir – much like Prince Charles had to do.

Enough history! Just how gay is ALEXANDER? How terrible is it?

I do thank Stone & Co. for faithfully using Alexander’s own words as recorded by historians. I am sure that Stone did not want to represent soldiering as an opportunity to live among, and love, men. However, it might have been the motive for Alexander keeping his men killing, looting, and marching 22,000 miles all over the known world. For it is true Alexander cared nothing for the spoils of war. He said: “What use are possessions to me if I achieve nothing?”

I could have done without the first 20 minutes. Who cares about old Ptolemy and the Alexandria library or Alexander’s boyhood teacher Aristotle (Christopher Plummer)? Who cares that Alexander and his fellow students wanted to emulate Achilles and his lover? Did we really need a lecture on the honorable nature of male-male love?

Jolie needs another 10 years of motherhood before she truly understands Olympias’s passion for seeing her son made king. Kilmer is just playing a bravado role without restraint. Farrell – is it his fault Alexander had a heap of blond hair? – gives a sincere, intelligent performance. It is not his fault Stone could not capture the psychological dynamics of one of history’s most fascinating men. If only Stone had not meandered around so much. As Alexander pushes into Persia and India, the mood intensifies and the film turns dark. Stone should have used these deeper colors, coarser film stock, and brutal settings throughout the entire film. His flirtation with the idea of a Hollywood epic doomed ALEXANDER.


Cast:
Alexander: Colin Farrell
Hephaistion: Jared Leto
Olympias: Angelina Jolie
Philip: Val Kilmer
Ptolemy: Anthony Hopkins
Roxane: Rosario Dawson
Aristotle: Christopher Plummer
Cleitus: Gary Stretch

Credits:
Director: Oliver Stone
Screenwriters: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis
Producers: Thomas Schuhly, Jon Kilik, Iain Smith, Moritz Borman
Executive producers: Paul Rassam, Matthias Deyle
Director of photography: Rodrigo Prieto
Production designer: Jan Roelfs
Music: Vangelis
Costumes: Jenny Beavan
Editors: Tom Nordberg, Yann Herve, Alex Marquez

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