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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas