Welcome to our third character spotlight here at the Bible of Zack Snyder! Last we did Rorschach from Watchmen and before that was our very first one, looking at Lois Lane from Man of Steel, so today The Bible is going back to the original bad-ass female: Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgo in 300.
In real life, Queen Gorgo was known to be a very out-spoken and brash woman- with her character in Frank Miller’s graphic novel and Snyder’s film adaptation only slightly embellished from real life. Gorgo is as mysterious as she was cunning, and not much is known about her past or what happened to her after King Leonida’s death at the hands of the Persian Empire.Gorgo is even cited as one of the very first code-breakers, and did, in fact, say the “only Spartan women give birth to real men” line from the film, which seems way too cool to believe.
Herodotus, a Greek Historian, even reported that in her teens, the politically savvy and wise beyond her years Gorgo had convinced her father not to side with Aristagoras of Miletus, fearing that he would corrupt her father, King Cleomenes- a side that would lose in a very early conflict to the Persians.
In the film, Gorgo is a Spartan first and foremost, something explored even more heavily in the Snyder-penned sequel 300: Rise of an Empire; but a trait none the less that is every present in Gorgo’s dialogue and her actions. immediately, Gorgo is a woman who is very much in love and serving with her husband and her people a trait that never comes off as submissive or sexist. In fact, right off the bat when Xerxes’ messenger visits Sparta with an offering of ‘earth and water’…
“Do not be coy or stupid, Persian. You can afford neither in Sparta!”
“What makes this woman think she can speak among men?”
“Because only Spartan women give birth to real men!”
Many complain about Snyder’s sex-scene between Gerard Butler’s Leonidas and Headey’s Gorgo but it’s a very important moment for the audience and for the characters themselves. The sex is a power play between the two, rough yet intimate, and deeply erotic- beneath the full moon, brought brilliantly and movingly to the screen by Snyder- it also contrasts Gorgo’s ‘rape’ much later in the film; but that’s coming up.
It’s important to note how well of a performance Headey gives as Gorgo and to see how that went on to impact other roles such as Sarah Connor in the short-lived Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on FOX, MaMa in DREDD 3D, Mary Sandin in The Purge and obviously Queen Cersei Lannister in HBO’s acclaimed Game of Thrones.
Through the film Headey does an amazing job (coupled with Miller and Snyder’s writing and directing) of showing that Gorgo is not an ignorant or brash woman for the sake of being one- she was brought up in this society with not the gift or the permission to speak in a man’s company but born with the right. It is alarming to think a society in 500 or so B.C. was more progressive and free-thinking than the modern world.
orgo was actually not even present past the beginning of Miller’s graphic novel- something Snyder saught to rectify:
Whose idea was it to expand the role of Queen Gorgo?
“It was my idea, but she just monitored that I think, you know? Even just I’ve got to say like at the end of the graphic novel, [flipping through my copy of Frank Miller’s 300] Leonidas goes, ‘My queen, my wife, my love, be strong goodbye,’ right? And so I kind of felt like, ‘Gosh, you know, it’s been a while since I’ve seen her.’ It’s like I want that to resonate. I want you to remember her.”
-Zack Snyder interview with About.com.
And it worked, Zack, because the audience remembers Gorgo probably more than Sparta itself. In today’s world of rape-culture and under-developed and objectified female characters, it’s important to see that 300 uses the rape of Queen Gorgo by Theron not as a way to demean Gorgo- as Leonidas was sacricing himself for his country in tense and dramatic manly action scenes, Gorgo sacrificed her pride to Theron for the same reason.
Gorgo remains un-victimized by this, and later retaliates in the film’s most surprisingly ‘badass’ kills, when even after Theron gets what he wants from Gorgo, he still verbally humiliates her in front of the council on the basis that she is a woman, and that Leonidas did not deserve their help on the grounds he was breaking Spartan law.
After giving a rousing and moving speech to the council, Theron attempts to verbally smack her down and this when Gorgo reaches for a guard’s sword (the symbolism and use of the phallic object is remarkable here) and impails Theron, echoing his words to her as he raped her:
This will not be over quickly. You will not enjoy this. I am not your Queen!
Years later, Snyder would revisit Gorgo in 300: Rise of an Empire which he wrote; but did not return to direct (you can read my review of it here). In the film’s follow-up, Gorgo takes over the camp-fire duties that Dilios held in 300 recounting the battle of Marathon, the journey of Themistocles, and the origins of the blood-thirsty Artemisia.
While Gorgo remains telling this story to the Spartans on their way to fight Xerxes’ forces, she acts as a parallel to Artemisia, and further solidifies these two films as being a girl’s playground in a boy’s home.
Gorgo speaks wisely and passionately to the Spartans just as she spoke with such fierce devotion and conviction to the council from the first film, only now she is in charge of the Spartan army, and even leads the brave soldiers off the boat to taste Persian blood.
It begins as a whisper… a promise… the lightest of breezes dances above the death cries of 300 men. That breeze became a wind. A wind that my brothers have sacrificed. A wind of freedom… a wind of justice… a wind of vengeance.
Beautiful, fearless, and a warrior in every right as her husband, Gorgo is yet another shining example of Snyder’s deep writing and characterization as well one of the most capable and tough female characters ever put on-screen.
For such a bro-tier film about buff dudes killing each other, Snyder made the manliest chick-flick ever- and it paid off heavily. Maybe one day he can get to work on that female Expendables starring the women he’s worked with- because to Snyder it seems that the men on-screen are only as strong, or weak, as the women that are there as well.
What did you all think? Love Gorgo? Hate her because of Cersei? Sound off below.