Wolfgang Petersen's ‘Troy'

Strictly speaking, Troy isn’t an adaptation of The Iliad. The closing credits of Wolfgang Petersen’s production tell us that David Benioff’s screenplay was “inspired” by Homer’s epic. But actually most of the movie is an expensive guess at what inspired Homer. If a Trojan War really took place, what was it like?

Petersen and his collaborators seem to have been serving three urges while making Troy. First, there is that “real story” urge to excavate the history behind the myth. And so Agamemnon no longer presides over the Greeks as the King of Kings but as the Bully of Bullies, a land-grabbing, trade-route-coveting warmonger using Helen’s abduction as an excuse to wipe out Troy, his only real mercantile opposition. The lovers, by no means admirable in Homer, are here not the pawns of the gods but of their own selfish sentimental eroticism. Achilles comes across less as a prince than as a nihilistic mercenary clutching at fame as the only meaningful thing in an otherwise barren world.

Indeed, the universe does appear godless in Troy, and seems to provoke the rudiments of atheism in some of the characters. Mouthing a variation on Stalin’s sneer at the pope, somebody asks, “How many battalions does the sun god command?” (Curiously, Achilles’ sea-nymph mother, Thetis, survives the deity cut, but comes across as a sort of earth mother who opens an astrology shop on the Sunset Strip with a sideline in Tarot...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.