(Image from IMDb)
To be completely honest, I am not entirely sure where I should begin discussing the movie Immortals (2011). I suppose I should preface it by saying that I have only seen it once and refuse to see it again (at least in theaters, with only a slim chance of watching it again on DVD). I have no idea what happened to my sensibilities, since I thought that being a Classics minor had pretty much shocked everything from my system. However, I am so completely repulsed by the character of Hyperion and the torture he inflicts on his own army, not to mention his enemies, that I cannot imagine watching this film again; I almost had to walk out, I was so disgusted.
**SPOILER ALERT: reading farther may spoil the movie**
Anyway, on to discussing the actual content of the movie. I went into the theater understanding that this movie does not attempt to tell any particular story from Greek mythology, but instead is drawing characters and pieces from it to tell a “new” story. I do not feel that it managed to tell any story well, however, since I am still baffled as to many of the characters motivations. I of course understand that Theseus wants to kill Hyperion for murdering his mother and razing his village, but I do not understand Hyperion’s motivation for wanting to create as much destruction as possible on his quest to find the Epirus bow and release the Titans in order to kill the gods. I also fail to understand who the gods are (other than the obvious Zeus, Poseidon, and Athena) since they were never addressed directly. More to the point, none of the gods (except Poseidon) had appropriately defining weapons or symbols to identify them; Zeus did not have his thunderbolt, Athena did not have her spear and shield, and I do not know of any god who fought with a hammer in Greek mythology. Looking at the character list is not very helpful either, since the names listed do not necessarily make that much sense for the six gods who play a role. I would have liked to hear more about the war the gods had with the titans, why there are so few gods, and why they are forbidden from interfering in the action on penalty of death. The choice to make the gods not actually immortal is an interesting one as well and I want to hear more about the consequences of that for the order of the universe, especially since the movie put so much emphasis on the idea that every man’s soul is immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine. I did not feel as though that aspect, which lies at the very heart of the movie, was well fleshed out and understandable.
For not being the story of Theseus as we know it in mythology, the movie still does a decent job of keeping enough reminders in the story. Theseus still hooks up with Pheadra (although not a daughter of Minos) and she gives birth to their son Acamas. They even managed to cleverly work in the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, which is the only part of the movie that I actually liked. It was a very different take on the creation of the Minotaur (since he was actually just a human wearing a bull helmet), but it worked very well as one episode in the larger battle against Hyperion’s army.
However, the presence of these reminders of the original story beg the question, why did they choose Hyperion, who in mythology is a titan of the sun, as the mortal king who tries to get revenge on the gods? Why not choose the figure of King Minos, who is actually part of the original story of Theseus? Perhaps having too many figures from the myth would cause academics to rip it apart as failing to tell the story properly, but a more complete reimagining of the story would have been better than what was very poorly pieced together in the film.
Similarly, the choice to use the Sibylline oracle is an interesting one, because although the title of Sibyl belonged to many different prophetesses of Apollo, it was primarily associated with the Sibyl of Cumea who played an important role in Roman history. The Greek equivalent (and predecessor) was the oracle at Delphi, which Apollo was very protective of. Despite Zeus’s prevention of the gods interfering in the affairs of mortals, Apollo would have been perfectly justified in going after Hyperion with a plague or shooting him from afar for destroying the Sibylline monastery if Apollo was really itching for the fight that all of the gods seemed to be. Above all else, the gods were justified in mythology for taking out those who dare to defile their temples and priests/priestesses.
Overall, I was not thrilled with this film. The story is too thin and lacks enough internal logic to make up for the truly grotesque violence. If they really wanted to tell a story about the immortality of the soul and the relationship between humans and gods, there is a lot more they could have done with the story to make those issues clear.
For more information on Greek mythology please refer to the following.
Morford, M. P. O and Lenardon, R. J. (2007). Classical Mythology (8th ed.). New York; Oxford University Press.