Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut

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Alexias
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Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut

Post by Alexias »

I recently re-watched the final version of Oliver Stone's film (with additional scenes) after a gap of a good many years, and it actually isn't that bad. After Ptolemy's prologue, starting the film with Gaugamela and a fresh-faced, confident young Alexander overcoming the odds with plenty of action begins the film strongly. There is then Alexander’s life story interspersed with plenty of flashbacks to his childhood and youth (I would have preferred a chronological sequence as I think it would have been less confusing), leading to the decay, decadence and drunkenness in India, Cleitus’s murder, the chaos the Hydaspes battle, Gedrosia, Hephaestion’s death and then Alexander’s own.

Interestingly, it is Hephaestion’s ring rather than the ring on his right hand, the royal ring, that Alexander removes on his death bed, offers to the gods (Ahura-Mazda) which then falls and lies broken on the floor, although Ptolemy appears to end up with on his finger. An indication of failed dreams?

The additional scenes are somewhat interesting too. In one, Alexander is walking along a corridor and talking about libraries in every Alexandria with Ptolemy and others and he glances twice at a young Macedonian who is standing with his face to the wall and avoiding meeting Alexander’s gaze. This could be because he has just left Hephaestion’s room and Hephaestion has taken a turn for the worse, but it seems more likely to point to a conspiracy to poison Hephaestion.

We are not told who this character is, he is not named and has no speaking part and doesn’t seem to appear in the cast list. I think he may possibly be Medius as he is definitely present at Alexander’s final party when Alexander drinks the cup of Herakles. He is also present at the wedding banquet and is seen standing behind Alexander’s shoulder as he argues with Philip. I had always though this was a piece of sloppy direction by Stone as this position should have been occupied by one of Alexander’s principal supporters, Hephaestion or Ptolemy. Instead we get a handsome and unmoved young man sharing the screen with an impassioned Alexander, and it draws the eye away from Alexander and leaves you wondering who this character is, a question that isn’t answered. If he is part of the older Ptolemy’s conspiracy of silence then I think the subtlety is probably lost of the majority of the audience who won’t know who Medius is, and will simply leave them with a sense of confusion.

Less confusing though is the cup-bearer Iolas. I hadn’t really noticed his role before but he hands Alexander a cup of wine in the Indian banquet before Cleitus’s murder, looking less than happy, and he also hands Alexander the cup of Herakles with an apprehensive look. In the additional material he also appears to be hiding under a shield in the battle of the Hydaspes.

So, what is Stone’s view on Alexander? Did he just go too far from his Greek origins and ‘pure’ ideals and become corrupted by the ‘decadent’ East? Did he challenge the gods too far and was cast down by them? Or did he just push his followers too far? I think there is an element of the first view as epitomised by the Macedonians themselves in the Indian banquet, and this results in the third view. As for Alexander challenging the gods and being punished for his hubris, although there is constant reference to the gods in the film, I don’t think this view is coherent enough to be valid in the film.

What we are left with then is an Alexander who is pushed to the point of madness by his mother’s love and ambition. The opposite side of this is his desire to win his father’s love and approval, but where this falls down is that Philip as portrayed by Stone and Val Kilmer is a risible drunk who ‘wants people to like him’.

Nor is Alexander the conflicted individual, not knowing if he is weak or divine, as Stone’s script tries to portray him. Poor Colin Farrell is a fine actor but he wasn’t capable of portraying this type of character. What it needed was a more nervy actor with greater screen charisma, someone like Peter O’Toole to carry off this conflict. Yet was Alexander really this Renault-inspired conflicted character? Or was he more like the character portrayed in Alex Rowson’s biography and someone of ‘monumental self- belief’?
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