Scene discussion - Scenes 11 & 12

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Alexias
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Scene discussion - Scenes 11 & 12

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Summary

This scene follows on from the scene with Hephaestion in the Theatrical Cut and the Final Cut where the cloud- shrouded moon morphs into the dust-obscured sun on the day of the battle. Drums sound and the sarissas of the phalanx rise into view over the crest of the land. In the Director’s Cut it follows on from the battle plans in Alexander’s tent. There don’t seem to be any appreciable differences between the different versions.

A voice is commenting ‘Blood makes the world ..(something which I have listened to repeatedly and can only make out as ‘dry’, which doesn’t make sense), blood makes the rain fall’ as we cut to a priest and a bull about to be sacrificed. Alexander’s officers are standing watching. The priest (presumably Aristander) continues, ‘Blood makes the earth grow. In blood all men are born and die. Blood is the food of the gods below’, as Alexander, grim-faced, approaches the bull, sprinkles some corn on its forehead and cuts its throat. Blood spurts across Alexander’s face, not dark arterial blood which you would expect but scarlet blood.

Alexander mounts Bucephalus, saying to the horse, ‘Today we ride to our destiny’ as Aristander examines the bull’s innards for omens. There are some good shots of the phalanx getting into position for battle and Alexander rides along the front of the line, singling men out for commendation. He says that Darius has at last stood against them and there is then a closeup of an eagle flying over the army.

Alexander’s speech to the army continues, reminding the army that Darius paid in gold to murder his father in a cowardly manner, that Darius enslaves his own men to fight. We are given a shot of an impassive Darius at this point. Alexander says that Darius’s men are not fighting to defend their homeland but because Darius tells them they must fight, while the Persian commanders are haranguing their men. Alexander reminds his men that they are there as free men, at which they cheer and rattle their sarissas. We get a shot of Hephaestion and Ptolemy watching.

Alexander reminds his men that they may die today, but if they conquer their fear they will conquer death. He ends his speech in a bit that seems borrowed from Shakespeare’s Henry V ‘You will answer, I was here this day for the freedom and glory of Greece.’ As the music soars, he looks up to see the eagle above and asks for Zeus to be with them.

As he gallops along the line, Alexander calls to Cassander, then Hephaestion to move. Darius asks an anxious-looking Bessus where he is going and tells him to envelop Alexander. Sarissas are lowered and the phalanx move forward. Darius comments that Alexander is making a mistake and signals his archers to begin firing. A cloud of arrows appears to wipe out half the phalanx. Darius releases his chariots and horsemen, then camels and infantry. Parmenion gives last minute instructions to his infantry, then we get an eagle’s eye view of the battle field, rejoining Alexander’s gallop.

Alexander orders the cavalry to pick up the pace, with Greek infantry running hidden between the soldiers, as the Persian chariots attack Parmenion’s infantry, who seem to deal successfully with the attack, either parting to let them through or bringing down the horses. Meanwhile, Alexander calls to Cassander who looks back over his shoulder at him. I am unclear whether Alexander is calling him back or ordering him to keep going, but Alexander and Hephaestion wheel to the left. The foot soldiers appear out of the dust and surprise the Persians. The cavalry engage with Bessus and the Bactrians, while Alexander keeps going, presumably aiming towards Darius.

We then cut back to the infantry with closeups of hand to hand fighting, a brief shot of Craterus’s young friend who has lost all his fear, and of Parmenion, who appears to be issuing an order to ‘hold together’. Darius seems to be ordering in more infantry and Parmenion sends a rider in search of Alexander.

Meanwhile, Alexander, Robin lane Fox and Hephaestion, the music mounting are heading back at a gallop ‘straight for the hole’ which is presumably referring to the gap that has opened in the Persian lines, although you can’t see it. Alexander is wounded in the thigh by a sword point, and then we get more shots of Parmenion and the sarissa-weilders, and a Darius who seems to be beginning to be doubtful of victory. Parmenion then collars Philotas and tells him to go and tell Alexander himself (presumably that they are hard-pressed) and that if he won’t listen then to survive and live to avenge this betrayal.

Alexander is engaged in hand-to-hand fighting and he dismounts from Bucephalus to retrieve his sword, he is attacked and Cleitus hacks off the sword arm of his attacker. Cleitus chides him to pay attention: his father still watches over him.

There is more hand to hand fighting, with Hephaestion pulling a man off Alexander and Cleitus and Ptolemy also on foot. Hephaestion takes a blow in the back and stabs his attacker in the neck. Ptolemy fires and arrow (where did he get the bow?) to fend off another attacker. Alexander spots Darius, mounts Bucephalus (still miraculously there), grabs a javelin and rides for Darius, followed by Hephaestion. He throws, narrowly missing Darius, who turns his chariot and flees. Alexander stares after him in disbelief, and tells Ptolemy they will go after him. Trumpets sound to summon the cavalry.

Philotas arrives with the news that his father is lost and the Persian have overrun the flanks and are into the baggage train. Alexander cries out in frustration and Ptolemy warns him that he risks losing his army if he pursues Darius. Alexander retorts that if they capture Darius they gain an empire as the eagle flies after Darius. He tells Darius that even the ends of the earth will never be far enough before turning away.

The scene then cuts to scores of wounded men lying around in a ruined building. There is a lot of activity and groaning and a young man approaches the camera and says, ‘you bleed freely, my lord, let me tend to your wound.’ Alexander, on foot and covered from head to foot in blood, stops him saying there are far worse than him, go tend to them.

Alexander stares around at the wounded men, and his eye settles on a young man, lying alone on a blood-soaked pallet, his face covered in blood. Alexander goes to him, telling him he is very brave and asks his name. As Alexander continues talking to him, asking him where he is from, we see a pair of hands untying a metal mallet from its coverings. Alexander lifts the young man’s head, telling him to let his body go loose, be brave again, and he will live on in glory. He signals with his eyes and a stake is placed against the back of the young man’s neck, the mallet is struck and the young man’s neck is broken.

The scene cuts to a weeping Alexander, still covered in blood as the daylight is beginning to fade. Ptolemy’s voiceover tells us that the Persian empire, the greatest the world had known, was destroyed as closeups of an eagle tearing flesh are interspersed with a weeping Alexander, the battlefield in the background. Alexander was now king of all, Ptolemy tells us as closeup of Alexander’s eye, changes to the eagle’s eye.

There is a brief flashback to the cave scene and a young Alexander staring at the painting of Prometheus’ liver being torn out by Zeus’s eagle before we get a panorama of the carnage of the battlefield and Ptolemy’s voiceover telling us that Alexander once told him that we are most alone when we are with the myths.

Comment

The marching phalanx creates a suitable air of growing tension, but intercutting this with Alexander sacrificing the bull dispels this. The sacrifice should be a very solemn moment witnessed by the whole army, not a rather hurried, last minute affair. I think Stone’s love of inter-cutting let him down here and spoiled the dramatic buildup to the battle.

He also made a mistake here in not making Hephaestion visible in this scene. As we have just had a lengthy scene involving Alexander and Hephaestion, for continuity’s sake we should have seen Hephaestion visible in the sacrifice scene but he isn’t. The long-haired person hidden behind the priest Aristander is Cassander, but maybe Stone at the time he filmed the sacrifice scene, hadn’t made a decision about the preceding scene, but I still maintain Hephaestion should have been visible in this scene. It is also a mistake Stone makes in the scene where Alexander and his officers discuss what to do about Parmenion after the assassination attempt. Hephaestion, as Alexander’s supposed closest confidante should be shown either approving or disapproving here, and he should be shown offering support before they go into battle.

Unfortunately, the actor playing Aristander doesn’t look as if he has a clue what he is looking for in the bulls’ innards and this makes the scene look rather ridiculous to modern eyes, especially as he looks as if he is trying to hide the fact that he is doubtful of victory. Shouldn’t Alexander have waited to see what the omens were too? It would have been more dramatic to have the sacrifice at dawn.

Another mistake is that as Alexander is riding along the battle line surveying the troops, we get a shot of the troops from what is meant to be Alexander’s point of view. Unfortunately it is about 20 foot in the air – Bucepahlus would have had to have been a mighty big horse!

Maybe I am nit-picking a bit here, but for me the troops don’t look like men who would intimidate anyone, nor do they look disciplined or focused enough for men about to go into a major battle. Oliver would have done well to watch the faces of the real soldiers drilling in Trooping of The Colour (anyone who doesn’t know what that is, try looking on YouTube to see what I mean). That’s discipline and cohesion – which the phalanx would have needed in bucketloads to be effective.

Is Alexander’s speech inspiring? Not really, and personally I found Colin’s intonation of ‘and glory’ at the end of the speech cringe-worthy. I also have huge issues with that silly helmet bouncing around on his head (and the fact that it is fastened with a buckle, which the Greeks didn’t have).

There are some impressive shots of the advancing phalanx and the Persian chariots, but the arrows shot by the Persians appear to wreak total havoc on the phalanx and appear to take out half the men. I got the impression that the Macedonians had been flattened by this, which plainly isn’t the case but Oliver is presenting us with misleading information.

The cavalry ride off to the right, while it makes dramatic sense, cannot in reality have been taken at a gallop. It goes on forever and the horses would have been exhausted after galloping for a mile or two, ruining their effectiveness in the charge. Alexander might have taken it at a trot, but not a gallop. The men running between the horses would have been exhausted too, but Stone seems to have let drama override practical considerations here.

The attack of the Persian chariots is more compelling, but we don’t really get to see the effectiveness of the phalanx as a fighting machine against infantry, just a rather confused jumble of shots of piercing spearheads.

Meanwhile, Alexander’s gallop is still going on, although the music matches well the left turn of the cavalry. The most noticeable thing here is Jared’s horsemanship, elegant and fully in control of the horse – Robin Lane Fox, an experienced horseman himself, said he had the makings of an excellent horseman – and very much in contrast to Colin’s horsemanship, which is all elbows, knees and bowed back. Silly point I know, but when you are bored you notice things like that.

It is bit difficult it makes sense of the infantry action at this point and why Parmenion is sending to Alexander for help. It is also difficult to hear what he says, but it does seem as if he is panicking a bit and maybe not up to the job. Whether this is intentional or not is difficult to say, not having seen Parmenion in action before, but I think the actor playing Pamenion is miscast as he doesn’t inspire confidence that he is a very capable general.

Meanwhile, Alexander is still galloping. I would have loved to have seen a proper cavalry charge but by the time the Macedonians join with the Persians, they are so strung out and lacking in formation that there is no real impact or shock of assault. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that cavalry did not attack infantry, which makes sense as it would be suicide riding an unarmoured horse at a phalanx of sarissas, but what about ordinary infantry?

I don’t quite understand why Stone shows us the phalanx apparently still intact and advancing, with a shot of a despondent looking Darius, and then a panic-stricken Parmenion and a Philotas who looks as if he is making a last stand. These are confusing messages and I don’t know if this is meant to imply that Parmenion is not really in trouble (when in fact they were), but Stone is not showing a beleaguered left of the army.

Anyway, Stone then makes another huge mistake in having Alexander dismount from Bucephalus and start fighting on foot. If he disappeared from view, the army might assume he was down and panic could set in. It also destroys the effectiveness of the cavalry unit. It is understandable why Stone did it for dramatic reasons (also allows him to put in the Granicus moment where Cleitus saves Alexander’s life), but realistically it is not convincing. Nor is it convincing that his horse would still be there to remount when he was ready without a groom to hold it, but this is a bit of dramatic licence. There is also another ridiculous moment where Hephaestion spends an eternity pretending to skewer someone in the neck with his sword. And why has Ptolemy suddenly got a bow and arrow?

Is the battle scene effective? For me it just seemed a bit silly and unconvincing. Was this because the outcome is already known, thus robbing the scene of tension? Is it because it doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next and making you jump? Maybe this is because it jumps around too much instead of focusing on one stream of action. Maybe it is because there is no clear goal. Perhaps all of these are contributing factors.

Or is the scene not effective because we are not emotionally engaged with the characters? All we have seen of Alexander is a young man struggling ineffectively against his parents, who has just turned down intimacy with his friend. Suddenly we see him running amok and killing people. Release of tension? That’s a bit of a poor judgement on Alexander’s motivation and character.

Alexander turns away from pursuing Darius and the film then cuts to the wounded. For anyone unfamiliar with Alexander’s history, they must have wondered what the outcome of the battle was. Are we supposed to assume that because Darius fled, the battle ended and Alexander won? Apparently so.

The wounded scene is an absolute bloodbath – there seems to be blood everywhere, even up the walls. Surely Alexander’s physicians would have been well-prepared for the aftermath of battle. The Greeks had excellent medical knowledge and would have been well aware of the need for cleanliness and there must have been ample women, boys and slaves in Alexander’s camp to care for many of the men, get the bleeding stopped and get the men clean and comfortable. Alexander himself looks as if he has been in an abattoir, covered in blood from head to foot, and alienates Hermolaous’s hero-worshiping attentions to his wounds. Whilst understanding the point that Alexander considers his men’s wounds more important than his own, it is heavy-handed and unnecessary.

As for the young Glaukos, he is lying on a blood-soaked bed (with no sign of any bandages). If he had really lost that much blood, he would be virtually comatose, and the mercy killing would have been completely unnecessary as he would have slipped away very shortly afterwards. Or are we meant to assume he’s lying in other men’s blood? Unnecessary though as the Greeks were no fools medically.

And finally, we come to the part of the scene where Alexander weeps on the battlefield. For me, this was a moment of complete dissociation and disbelief in the film. My initial reaction on seeing it was - WTF? What are you crying for? You have been the sole cause of all this carnage. It wouldn’t have happened but for you, so why are you regretting it? This scene was a huge mistake on Stone’s part because he is imputing modern, humanistic feelings to Alexander, maybe in an attempt to endear him to modern audiences. Yet Alexander did not live in a world where value was placed on every single human life. His reaction on surveying the fallen would have been pride that they had found a glorious death. Grief for lost comrades would have been appropriate when the bodies were disposed of, but not in the immediate aftermath of battle.

The reaction Stone gives Alexander here is also an old man’s reaction; it is not the reaction of a young man in his twenties. Alexander would have been celebrating the victory, his blood would still have been up, and he probably would have got drunk afterwards, as many of his army would, instead of indulging in maudlin sentimentality.

Finally, the reference to Prometheus at the very end of the scene is difficult to make sense of. Ptolemy’s comment that we are most alone when we are with the myths, sheds no light, nor does it make particular sense. The eagle tearing out Prometheus’s liver was Zeus’s punishment for Prometheus stealing fire to give to men, so is Stone saying that the eagle feasting the on the dead soldiers ie death, is a punishment for Alexander benefitting mankind by defeating the Persians and ensuring the Greekness of future history? Is he really saying that we should be grateful for the self-sacrifice of these men in bringing about the world we currently live and the freedoms we enjoy? Is he seriously making a parallel between Alexander’s victory and American victory in the Gulf Wars? Perhaps he is therefore attempting to make Alexander relevant to modern audiences, but it is an uncomfortable parallel.

Cross-posted at Alexander's Army http://alexandersarmy.livejournal.com/t ... by%20scene
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