Brad is the hero for our time. Flawed

Share
Related Topics

Hollywood has a new hero, his torso rock-hard and rippling with muscle. He, or rather the film he stars in, cost $175m (£104m) and required the presence of 1,000 Mexican extras, as well as 250 Bulgarians from a sports academy in Sofia. The movie is based on the Illiad, with bits of the Odyssey thrown in, and is a departure for Hollywood studios, which have traditionally located their epics - Spartacus, Quo Vadis, Antony and Cleopatra, Gladiator - in ancient Rome rather than Greece. Its key figure is Brad Pitt as Achilles, greatest warrior among the Greek army besieging Troy. Pitt offers American audiences a model of valour and sacrifice at this most difficult moment in their history.

"Today, when our politicians are so grey, so bland, we need reminding of what it is to have moral truth, higher ideals," says Troy's German director, Wolfgang Petersen. It's not difficult to imagine Hollywood studio bosses seizing on Homer's tale of a group of countries (actually city-states) banding together to punish a wrong done to one of their number, in an early version of Nato's article five, the collective defence clause. The parallel (to which Pitt himself has alluded) is all the more insistent when you recall that Troy was in Turkey, which shares a border with present-day Iraq. In the film it is Western leaders who prevail, although they have to endure a siege lasting 10 years.

I don't know whether Donald Rumsfeld has a Trojan horse up his sleeve, but this is the kind of myth-making Americans love. All countries have fantasies about themselves, but few display them so confidently as the United States. They began to emerge with the founding of the nation, when its leaders modelled their political system on Republican Rome; George Washington was often portrayed in a toga, overlooking the fact that the high-minded Republic degenerated into a brutal, corrupt empire. That is how many foreigners regard the US today, especially in the Middle East, where the invasion of Iraq is viewed as a neo-imperial adventure designed to further American power and interests.

The unfairness of that verdict irritates many Americans, but the rhetoric of the country's leaders must bear a great deal of the blame. Earlier this month, when pictures of torture began to emerge from Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, politicians and generals united in declaring such behaviour was not "the American way". They were expressing the widely held belief that the US stands for democracy and freedom, yet only last week Rumsfeld told a Senate hearing that Pentagon lawyers had approved sleep deprivation, dietary changes - presumably a polite description for starving captives - and other methods used to break prisoners.

America's friendly critics would welcome evidence of contestation and debate in a nation that too often appears to give unquestioning assent to its own myths. Most Americans believe their country is a force for good and are shocked by evidence to the contrary, whether it comes in the form of support for military coups in Latin America or mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. As shaken Senators emerged last week from viewing more horrific pictures from Iraq, I couldn't help recalling that one of the first acts of the Bush administration was to overturn Bill Clinton's decision to sign the statutes of the International Criminal Court. The incoming president wanted nothing to do with the court, and I suggested at the time that US governments had good reason to fear a tribunal with jurisdiction over war crimes, such as the massacre at My Lai in Vietnam.

There also seems to be collective amnesia in the US about a spate of articles and TV programmes that suggested, in the months after 11 September 2001, that torture might be justified in some circumstances. Given the lies the Bush administration told about links between the suicide bombings on the East Coast and Iraq, it seems likely that some of the soldiers and military police at Abu Ghraib believed they had encountered just those circumstances. Now, as the world contemplates the Bush administration's shame and its lame excuses, a Hollywood star turns up at the local multiplex, streaked with blood and sweat, to make ordinary Americans feel good again. Anyone familiar with the Illiad might conclude that Achilles, the warrior with a fatal flaw, is a more appropriate image for contemporary America than Hollywood realises.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee