LOS ANGELES — Although he lived 2,300 years ago, Alexander the Great may have something to say about current American politics.
Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” has rekindled interest and prompted a wave of books, TV documentaries and magazine articles about the young warrior-king, who conquered most of the known world by leading his armies from Greece to the Middle East and across to Asia and India.
With the big-budget movie debuting just weeks after the presidential election, Americans still fiercely divided about President Bush and his policies, and U.S. forces locked in bloody conflict in Iraq (one of Alexander’s stomping grounds), Stone’s “Alexander” almost can’t help but seem like a political allegory.
Relevant to today's politics
Both Alexander and President Bush are the most powerful leaders of their day, raised in the shadow of dynamic fathers who also wielded worldwide influence, and defined by an ambitious and ongoing war in a foreign land that is historically difficult to occupy. Both men spent years pursuing a high-profile enemy leader who fled into the hills of the Middle East.
“The film was never made for the purposes of a correlation or to say anything about today’s present state,” said Colin Farrell, who stars in the title role. “People say history repeats itself, well it does in different ways, shapes and forms. This was kind of a freaky coincidence that our story takes place exactly where all the madness we’re all talking about takes place now.”
“Alexander” can be viewed either as a support for or an argument against the current administration — and the interpretation could vary from Blue State voter to Red State voter.
“I think it depends on what your political slant is and what you want to do...[Stone] made a film that is very open-minded, laying things out there that are both good and bad,” said Angelina Jolie, who co-stars as Alexander’s mother, Olympias.
Jolie, an active follower of foreign affairs as a U.N. goodwill ambassador, said she’s happy “if [the movie] raises questions and gets people talking and gets people looking at how we approach entering other cultures, what we do against them, what we do when we don’t understand them.”
Up for debate is this: Has Bush followed in the footsteps or missteps of Alexander?
Video: Trailer: 'Alexander' Stone acknowledged the coincidences, but since he started developing the project in 1989 he said it’s obvious he didn’t have President Bush in mind as a point of reference.
According to Farrell, the filmmaker, who previously stirred political emotions with “Platoon,” “JFK,” “Nixon” and “Born on the Fourth of July,” is “always intrigued by greatness, by people who make a difference, people who left their mark on the world, people who have something to say about how life is lived and how times are either a-changing or not a-changing.”
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Alexander has intrigued Stone since boyhood.
“He’s a dashing-warrior king who had a vision of compassion, generosity of spirit and peace,” Stone said. “He was not a needless killer, he was not a butcher. At times he did massacre, but these were hard times. He did so with a purpose, with a reason. He did not have the Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun mentality. He was a builder, and in his wake he left a Hellenic empire. There was a boom in the Mediterranean, and Iran, there was a sense of growth in the world, a spurt of learning, exemplified by the library at Alexandria,” a cultural wonder of the ancient world.
Lessons to learn
Although he didn’t intend “Alexander” as political commentary, even Stone agrees that people will see parallels.
“I started this thing before all this nightmare came down, this morass,” Stone said of the Iraq war. “It’s ironic, and I think there is a coincidence that’s far beyond my understanding, but I would certainly not limit this to the current situation. This is an older situation, East vs. West. This is pre-Muslim, and there was always a conflict between Persian and Greek.
“Alexander was beautiful because he saw beyond that conflict into a synthesis,” Stone added. “I’m not so sure our present administration does. It’s great that they say, ‘Democracy, blah, blah, blah,’ but you have to modify democracy to the local customs.”
Even though the world has changed dozens of times over since Alexander’s days — which predated Jesus Christ and Mohammed — lessons in ancient history remain for modern people.
“And what is the lesson?” Stone asked. “Alexander brought the Hellenic way which is, let’s say, more freedom for the individual. He abided by the customs of, unlike our administration, of leaving the [opposing] armies intact and used the armies. He always needed more men.”
After Saddam Hussein was toppled, the United States disbanded the Iraqi army instead of incorporating those not loyal to Saddam as a police force, a move criticized as making it more difficult to fight anti-U.S. guerrillas.
“[Alexander] was always inclusive, and we were exactly the opposite when we went into Iraq. We were totally exclusive...You could argue the policy was malformed from the beginning, misintended.”
Stone said he considers that an error in strategy and has no interest in bashing the president.
“I would not put Bush down. We have to move on,” Stone said. “The election happened, and there’s no point in crying over it. It’s a fresh slate for me, personally. I look at him fresh. People change. ...
“Often second-term presidents do become better presidents. They’re a little bit wiser and they don’t have to run so hard to get elected. So things might change. You hope for that.”
If Bush manages to transform Iraq and Afghanistan into secure, democratic states; if he can negotiate with Iran to disband its nuclear weapons program and calm Islamic radicalism; if he continues to work peacefully with Russia, which has its own historic interests in the region...Stone says the U.S. president may earn the legacy of the ancient hero of “Alexander.”
“It’s a grand scheme,” Stone said. “If he pulled it off...in 20 years, maybe he would be considered ‘Bush the Great.”’
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