This is an action filled movie featuring Brad Pitt as Achilles (more about Achilles in another blog). The movie is based on the Trojan War, as described in Homer’s Iliad, Virgil’s Aeneid, and other Greek myths. However, the plot differs significantly from Homer. The film is directed by Wolfgang Petersen, and written by David Benioff. It received an Oscar nomination for its costume design.
The story of the film goes this way –
The film starts with the character Odysseus (Sean Bean) dictating: “Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity; and so we ask ourselves: Will our actions echo across the centuries? Will strangers hear our names long after we are gone, and wonder who we were, how bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved?”
The film is set in the 12th century BC when King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) of Mycenae and his army are in Thessaly, Greece, looking to expand their military might and empire. His army prepares to engage in combat against a host of soldiers under Thessaly’s king. Rather than suffer great losses, the King of Thessaly agrees to avoid unnecessary deaths by settling the matter through a decisive match between the heroes of the opposing armies. The King of Thessaly summons his greatest and most accomplished warrior (who has reputedly never lost) – Boagrius. A huge brute emerges from the ranks of Thessalian warriors, and then stands proudly before his chanting comrades. Agamemnon shouts for Achilles, who is not in the scene. A messenger boy is sent to summon Achilles. The dialogue that takes place between the boy and Achilles is an interesting one and gives an insight into the character at the first shot itself.
Messenger Boy: Are the stories true? They say your mother was an immortal goddess. They say you can’t be killed.
Achilles: I wouldn’t be bothering with the shield then, would I?
Messenger Boy: The Thessalonians you’re fighting… he’s the biggest man I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t want to fight him.
Achilles: That’s why no-one will remember your name.
Achilles (eventually) arrives at the scene. He sprints towards the giant, avoiding Boagrius’ spears, and jumps past Boagrius while thrusting his knife through his shoulder and neck. The mighty Boagrius falls to his knees and dies. (The first battle scene contains an anachronism: Achilles jumps up and stabs Boagrius through the trapezius, in front of the scapula, and through the aorta; Boagrius takes one step forward and drops dead. This is exactly the way a matador kills a bull, using a technique about two hundred years old—two thousand years after the Trojan War.) Achilles questions the stunned enemy army if anyone else would challenge him. Accepting defeat, the King of Thessaly presents Achilles with scepter as a token for his King, which he refuses, stating: “He is not my King”. In the show, Achilles fights for Agamemnon solely for personal glory. Therein, their relationship is not a cordial one, and Agamemnon detests him and calls upon him because of his (supposedly) undefeated strength.
As fate would have it, Agamemnon has to call upon Achilles again when his brother Menelaus seeks revenge on the Trojan Prince Paris (played by Orlando Bloom) for running off with his wife, Helen (The role of Helen had been first offered to renowned beauty Angelina Jolie , and when she refused it, Diane Kruger was offered the role.) of Sparta. Paris’ warrior brother—Hector (played by Eric Bana)—isn’t pleased to learn of this affair and when he returns to Troy, he urges their father, King Priam (Peter O’Toole), to return the young woman to Sparta. But Priam puts too much faith in his high priests and their interpretation of how Apollo (In Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo, the ideal of the kouros (a beardless youth), was the archer-god of medicine and healing, light, truth, archery and also a bringer of death-dealing plague.) will react.
Accordingly—and with Agamemnon realizing that a victory over Troy would give him complete control over the Aegean (the Aegean Sea is a sea arm of the Mediterranean Sea located between the southern Balkan and Anatolian peninsulas, i.e., between the main lands of Greece and Turkey respectively) —the Greeks amass the largest naval force ever known to man and set sail for the foreign land with 1,000 ships, each with 50 soldiers. With them are Achilles and his younger and inexperienced cousin, Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund), who have been persuaded by King Odysseus (the only King in Greece whom Achilles respects) and Achilles’ mother, Thetis, to join the quest. It is also Thetis who tells Achilles of a prophecy she had learned of which stated that if he does not go to the war he will find peace and have a family of his own but he will eventually be forgotten. If he chooses to go to Troy, his name will last for eternity but he will die there. Achilles cannot resist the glory of such fame and heads for Troy.
The Greeks land on Trojan soil and are able to take control of the beach on the first day of the war. Achilles and the Myrmidons—always extremely useful in battle—are able to not only cause many Trojan deaths but also desecrate the Trojan temple of Apollo and kill the unarmed priests that reside there. Notably, Achilles decapitates the statue of Apollo, supposedly angering the Gods. Briseis—cousin of Hector of Troy—was taken in the midst of the fight and brought to Achilles’ tent to “amuse” him. Briseis questions Achilles’ motives and he tells her “I have killed men in five countries; never a priest”. Agamemnon decides to take Briseis from Achilles in order to anger and insult him. Achilles protests, but Briseis’ words stop Achilles from killing anybody to take her back. The result of this is that Achilles decides not to fight in the next battle.
But before this battle, a challenge is issued by Paris, who does not wish to have a war. He—a man inexperienced in combat—challenges Menelaus—who is a hardened and fierce warrior—to a duel for Helen’s hand in marriage. Menelaus pretends to agree to a duel that would end the war, only to agree with his comrades that no matter what the outcome is, the Greeks will try to take the City of Troy. Menelaus and Paris fight and Paris, though able to knock out one of Menelaus’ teeth, is utterly dominated by the Greek. He is painfully but superficially wounded and crawls to Hector for help. Menelaus goes to attack Paris as he lies at his brother’s feet, but Hector blocks the attack and slays him, and the war is back on. The Greek Generals lose control of their army in the mad rush towards the walls of Troy; the Trojans halt the advancing Greeks and shower them with volley after volley of arrows, inflicting devastating casualties. During the battle, Hector also kills Ajax and the increasingly energized Trojans press their attack against the uncoordinated Greeks. With command of the battle lost, Agamemnon grudgingly bows to Odysseus’s pleas to withdraw, and the Greeks retreat to the beach.
Achilles learns that Briseis has been given to some men by the king after their poor performance in battle as a “morale booster”. The men are beating up and molesting Briseis when Achilles saves her from being raped and branded by hurting two of them. He then takes her back to his tent. Achilles attempts to clean her wounds but she fights him away. That night, he wakes up when Briseis tries to slit his throat so that he won’t kill any more Trojans; but she can’t do it, and instead he wrestles her down, caresses her thigh and has sex with her. The next night the two are in bed talking, when Achilles tells her that he is leaving in the morning. He says,” I’ll tell you a secret. Something they don’t teach you in your temple. The Gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.” At the same time he admits in grief – At night, I sometimes see them. The faces of the men I’ve killed. They’re waiting for me on the far bank of the Styx. They say, “Welcome, brother.”
The Trojans attack the Greek camp at dawn. Frustrated at not getting a chance to fight, Patroclus takes Achilles’ armor when the Trojans attack the beachside camp and a battle ensues. He brings courage to the Greeks, as they mistake him for Achilles, and eventually fights man-to-man against Hector. In the fight with Hector, Patroclus’ throat is cut: Hector is dismayed when he pulls Achilles’ helmet off—Patroclus—and gives him the coup de grace (death blow intended to end the suffering of a wounded creature). When Achilles finds out about this, he punches his best friend and begins to strangle Briseis. He is enraged and marches toward the Trojan gates to fight Hector. Hector stops the city’s archers from opening fire and goes down to face Achilles face to face in battle.
Before the fight begins Hector tells Achilles that one who dies will be given the same treatment as a prince would get after death form the other, to which Achilles replies—“There are no pacts between lions and men.”
After engaging in a ferocious spear and sword fight in which both combatants are wounded (Achilles in the chest and side, and Hector on the leg), the director and the actors have shown the realistic fight face to face. One must watch this scene to differentiate the fights as shown in Bollywood movies mostly those of Sunny Deol. Achilles finally plunges his spear through Hector’s armor, piercing his chest and killing him. Achilles ties Hector’s body behind his chariot and drags it around the city walls, then drags it back to the Greek camp. Later that night King Priam secretly slips into the camp and meets Achilles to plead with him to return Hector’s body. Impressed by Priam’s courage and virtue, Achilles returns Hector’s body to him and allows Briseis to leave with Priam back to Troy. He also assures Priam that a proper amount of time (12 days) is given to allow for a proper funeral service for Prince Hector.
During the 12 days that Troy mourns Hector’s death, the Greeks devise a plan to enter the city, using a hollowed-out wooden horse, devised by Odysseus. Assuming victory, the Trojans, against the advice of Paris, take the horse into the city and celebrate long into the night. After the celebrations, the Greeks hidden inside the horse engage in a surprise attack, and open the gates of Troy to allow the entire army inside the city walls. They commence the Sack of Troy, killing nearly everyone and burning down anything they can find. Achilles starts searching for Briseis; meanwhile a group of Trojans (including Helen) flee the city. Though Priam is killed by Agamemnon, Paris refuses to leave at this time and hands the Sword of Troy to Aeneas, quoting his father by telling Aeneas that as long as the Sword of Troy remains in the hands of a Trojan, the people have a future.
Achilles frantically searches for Briseis, who is at the shrine of Apollo being threatened by Agamemnon. Agamemnon tells her that she will be his sexual slave. She kills him with a concealed knife, and is saved from Agamemnon’s guards when Achilles reaches her. However, Paris sees Achilles and shoots him in the heel (Achilles’ tendon) once, and three times in the chest, while Briseis screams at Paris not to kill him. He pulls out the three arrows from his chest, but the one left in his foot marches him into death. Briseis tearfully leaves the city with Paris after Achilles assures her that “everything’s all right, go.” Achilles then delivers his last words,” You gave me peace in a lifetime of war.”
After a last disorganized and futile attempt by surviving Trojan soldiers to repel the invaders, the battle ends and the Greeks storm the inner palace only to find that Achilles has died just a few moments earlier. They perform the funeral rituals for him the next morning. The story ends with Odysseus lighting Achilles’ pyre, saying “Find peace, my brother,” and then narrating “If they ever tell my story, let them say…I walked with giants. Men rise and fall like the winter wheat, but these names will never die. Let them say…I lived in the time of Hector, tamer of horses. Let them say…I lived in the time of Achilles”.
The end is tragic; it’s a tragedy. All corpses lying here and there.
Brad Pitt and Eric Bana did their own fighting scenes. They even had a side bet, where each would pay the other for every accidental hit made: $50 for light strikes, and $100 for strong hits. Pitt paid $750 to Bana, who did not have to pay Pitt anything.
I learned much more about Greek history, Trojan War and Sparta and Troy through this movie than through history books which I learned in the high school. It creates interest in learning and knowing history when one watches such movies. While wandering around Shaniwar Wada (a palace fort in the heart of Pune city. It was the seat of Peshwa rulers), I and my friends had the same opinion regarding teaching history in schools through movies, animations and presentations rather than through those dull history books. I remember a quote about history – History repeats itself. But I added a few words which gave a full meaning to the quote –
History repeats itself; but not now and then.