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To what extent was Alexander the movie accurate?



The 2004 Hollywood epic, Alexander, falls short of a historically accurate portrayal of the successful Macedonean military commander, Alexander the Great. Oliver Stone, the film’s director, has attempted to recreate his version of Alexander as true to history as possible, but the movie’s reluctance to adhere to significant historical details, such as the absence of the rebellion of Thebes, the battle of Issus and the siege of Tyre, all but ignoring the Gedrosian desert crossing, as well as its inaccurate depiction of Alexander’s death, indicates this clearly isn’t so.

The movie starts well by retelling Alexander’s early life as accurately as possible, introducing the audience to a number of significant relationships in his life, most notably the ones between his mother and father. The film does a commendable job of establishing the connection between Alexander and his mother Olympias by capturing much of the raw emotion shared between the two. Olympias’ almost obsessive love and encouragement of her son in the movie is supported by Randall, who suggests: “She did everything to protect and advance Alexander’s interests, constantly instilling the notion of greatness†(Randall, 2004, p. 15). The film’s depiction of Alexander’s relationship with his father Philip is also accurately portrayed. It builds tension between the two in certain situations, for example the angry outbursts between father and son at Philip’s wedding to Cleopatra. However, Alexander the movie never denies the love that Philip holds for his son and heir, most notably in the scene in which he exhibits obvious pride in Alexander’s taming of the horse Bucephalus. Philip, Plutarch tells us, “shed tears, it is said for joy, kissed him as he came down from his horse, and in his transport said, ‘O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee’†(Dryden, Clough & Hanson, 1992, p.8). Evidence of Philip’s fondness for Alexander can be further taken from Randall’s book: “While Philip II and Alexander did not get on well with each other at times, the former was unquestionably proud of his son and his affection for him was never in doubt†(Randall, 2004, p. 16). This proves that the two most significant relationships in Alexander’s life were portrayed in the movie with a high degree of accuracy.

Between the time Alexander ascends the throne and the film’s first major battle, which is set at Gaugamela, much is left out. The most significant of these events includes the crushing of the rebellion of Thebes, the battle of Issus and the siege of Tyre. While it would be impossible to include all of Alexander’s great victories, these three all played a major part in his long term success. Prior to Philip’s death the Greek city of Thebes had been forced to pledge allegiance to the late king, and with the transition of rulers it saw an opportunity to retake its independence (Wikipedia, 2006). Eager to make an example of the rebellion, Alexander swiftly, with no little bloodshed, conquered Thebes and razed it to ground (Geocities, 1997). The battle of Issus was equally important as it was Alexander’s first major victory over the Persian army. During the battle Alexander led a direct assault against the opposing king of Persia, Darius III, who responded by retreating from the battle (Randall, 2004, p.44). Following this, Alexander’s siege of Tyre was even more ruthless than any that came before. As the Greek historian Mestrius Plutarch put it: “The sharpness of the assault so inflamed the rest of his forces who were left in the camp, that they could not hold from advancing to second it, which they performed with so much vigor that the Tyrians retired, and the town was carried that very day†(Dryden, Clough & Hanson, 1992, p.26). After Tyre was in Alexander’s hands, he was so enraged at the fight it had put up and the loss of his men that he proceeded to destroy half the city, massacring many of its inhabitants (Wikipedia, 2006). By not including these three significant events in the film Alexander, many important historical details are left out. It also fails to portray Alexander’s sometimes ruthless and unforgiving nature.

The film consistently enforces the idea that Alexander believed in the unity of mankind. While it could appear that Oliver Stone included this for mere dramatic effect, according to historian William Tarn this is not the case (Ancient Library, 2005). Further evidence proving that Alexander did in fact hold such a belief can be found on the Ancient Library webpage, where it notes: “(After returning from his campaign in India) Alexander hosted a massive banquet, at which both Macedonians and Persians shared his table†(Ancient Library, 2005). This demonstrates that the film accurately portrayed Alexander’s belief in the unity of mankind.

The film simplifies Alexander’s return to Babylon in 236 BC to the extent that it appears nonsensical. The journey back to Babylon was a major part of Alexander’s life and the fact that the film does not devote an adequate amount of time to it is misleading. Following Alexander’s conquest of India, the Macedonean king decided, much to the disappointment of his own men, to continue his jouney of discovery by leading his troops down the river Indus. Craterus took the eldest of the soldiers to Camania by a relatively easy route, Nearchus’ fleet was ordered to explore the Persian Gulf by sea, while Alexander led his army through the Gedrosian desert (Chrisp, 2000, 40). “More soldiers were to perish from hunger and thirst during the desert crossing than had died in all the battles in Asia†(Chrisp, 2000, 40). Further evidence of this is provided by Plutarch, who wrote: “Alexander lost a vast number of his men, so that an army of one hundred and twenty thousand foot and fifteen thousand horse, he scarcely brought back above a fourth part out of India, they were so diminished by disease, ill diet, and the scorching heats, but most by famine (Dryden, Clough & Hanson, 1992, p. 64). The fact that the film merely glances over this “disastrous and unnecessary†(Dryden, Clough & Hanson, 1992, p. xiii) march across the desert indicates that it was not included so the viewer’s perception of Alexander would not alter from the more positive approach the film gives to his character.

The film’s depiction of Alexander dying from poisoning is mere speculation, and is not proven by fact. As the film comes to an end, we are told by Ptolemy that the king’s death was plotted by his own generals. While poison has never been ruled out of being the cause of Alexander’s death (Gill, N.S., 2006), the thought of being murdered by an ally, and in particular a general, is unlikely. Alexander had no living male heirs who would have been able to take over the empire. Any general of Alexander’s would have been able to foresee its collapse following the death of their ruler (Wikipedia, 2006), which is indeed what happened. Plutarch tells us: “(Alexander) was attacked with a fever, which seized him, not as some write, after he had drunk of the bowl of Hercules, nor was he taken with any sudden pain in his back, as if he had been struck with a lance, for these are the inventions of some authors who thought it their duty to make the last scene of so great an action as tragical and moving as they could†(Dryden, Clough & Hanson, 1992, p. 70). To an extent, this is exactly what Alexander the film has done, by over dramatizing Alexander the Great’s death to please its audience without it being supported by any proven fact.

While Oliver Stone’s Alexander recreates some relatively accurate details of Alexander the Great’s life, it is what Stone leaves out or doesn’t give sufficient attention to in the movie which prevents his portrayal of the Macedonian king and conqueror from being a historically accurate account. By leaving out important events such as the rebellion of Thebes, the battle of Issus and the siege of Tyre, all but completely ignoring the Gedrosian desert crossing, as well as over-dramatizing Alexander’s death, a true insight into his life is lost.
Did you write this :lol:

If that was a historical account of Alexanders life....then he had a suck life....the movie was so dull
I think that Hollywood script writers live by the following creed:

"Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."
It's a film, it's not supposed to be completely accurate. It would be boring if it was.
Originally posted by el_tk@Apr 7 2006, 07:24 AM
It's a film, it's not supposed to be completely accurate. It would be boring if it was.
You think I wrote this **** for fun? It was an ancient history essay I thought the world deserved to see.

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