Welcome to “Films My Father Loves.” One of the first things I expressed passion for as a teenager was movies, and the second I showed it, my dad latched onto it as a way to connect to me. Now, I try to connect with him over the movies that stuck with him and influenced how he raised me.
Around the age of 10, I decided I needed an email account. I absolutely cannot remember what spurred this decision. My mom’s job had her constantly on America Online (AOL) at home, so to me, the internet was just YouTube videos and the subject lines I saw over her shoulder. Maybe I wanted to tap into the adult-like nature of being online. So one night, right after dinner, I got onto her computer and started making a Gmail account. When I tried to create “[email protected]”, I was informed in red text that it was taken and that maybe I should try a number at the end. At that moment, I tacked on a 300, not because there were 299 other Allan Lopezes online, but because I knew my dad had mentioned a movie by the same name. When I told him my username, he asked with a smile, “did you put that there because of me?” and, embarrassed that I copied him so blatantly, I lied and said no. To this day, that is the only bald-faced lie I have ever told my dad.
Zack Snyder’s 2006 film “300” is built on a lie. Not just the historical inaccuracies — turns out, there were more than 300 — but in terms of story. King Leonidas of Sparta is informed of the incoming Persian army of Xerxes, whose hundreds of thousands of men have laid waste to everyone in their way. When Leonidas asks the mystic elders for permission to go to war, they relay a divine message that no war can occur during the time of Carneia, a religious festival. As Leonidas hikes back down to Sparta, a man appears from the shadows and gifts the elders Persian gold for their collusion. The king is then forced to bring only 300 men with him as his “personal bodyguards” as he walks towards a battle he has no chance of winning.
When I call my dad, he quickly volleys questions about my first two weeks here. I smile to myself when I realize that is all he cares about and the movie is the last thing on his mind. After 10 minutes of me updating him on friends I haven’t seen since freshman year, I am able to ask what he likes about the movie. At my request, he made sure not to rewatch it. If he had, he would have probably noted things like cinematography because he knows I would have talked about that back in high school. Instead, I want to discuss only the moments that have stuck with him as he tells me, “it’s teamwork and skill and brotherhood.” He sticks to his point about underdogs and unexpected victory. He relates it to when he watches a football game and is told about the predicted winners by the oddsmakers. At that moment, he needs to choose the team that cannot win on paper.
As I am thinking through whether to ask him if he thinks of himself as an underdog, he suggests an angle for this piece. The film states that when a Spartan boy is born they are taken to the top of a cliff and flung off it if they display any imperfection. If they are healthy, they are trained in combat and then sent into the wilderness at seven years of age to fend for themselves and become men. My dad then ties this brutal process to how he raised me — having been strict but never thrown-to-the-wolves cruel. “I know you have problems with what I did and did not let you do. I don’t regret how I raised you … you turned out great,” he told me.
The men of “300” are great men. They are tall, muscular, noble, devout (and for some odd reason, not Greek). Simply put, they are … men! I’m 144 lbs, soaking wet and 5’9” on a good day. I put my phone on Night Mode first thing in the morning because my eyes are too sensitive to blue light. I am writing this article with crumbs from my dorm’s “Make Your Own Charcuterie Board” event on my shirt. I can’t be a great man … right?
My dad is a great man. My dad’s name means shooting star. He is named after a king. When my grandfather was young, he had a very close friend that he eventually drifted apart from. Years later, while watching a movie, he is reminded of that friend. He looks up at the silver screen and watches Rudolph Matè’s “The 300 Spartans” and says to himself, “I’m going to name my first son Leonidas.” My dad is Leonidas Lopez. And to him, I am a great man.
Is “300” great? It is epic and extreme and undoubtedly the most masculine piece of media I have seen in years. There are terribly uncomfortable parts in the film, like a character’s sexual assault, that aren’t made any more palatable by the revenge later on. There are visceral action sequences that pop with style. It is exactly what six-year-old me would imagine an R-rated movie to be like and in that mindset it was a fun time. It knows exactly what it is, even if it isn’t truly great.
I just chuckle when my dad calls me great, not wanting to really take it in. I zone out and think about my childish email address, about fessing up about my lie after all these years. But I hesitate and I start to wrap up the phone call. In my head, I tell myself that I will acknowledge what he said the next time we talk. I then go into my calendar and schedule our next phone call about movies.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.