Alexander the Great was an unrelenting Macedonian conqueror who amassed the most sizable empire in the world. The Oliver Stone-directed epic covers the tumultuous, short life of the protagonist from childhood, to triumph, to his mysterious death. Colin Farrell plays the great general, and Angelina Jolie, only one year Farrell’s senior, plays his mother, Olympias.
A lot has been made of Jolie’s casting in the role; sometimes odd casting choices can be made to work (30-something Dustin Hoffman playing a 100-year-old honorary Indian in Little Big Man, for one) and this one was taken very seriously. “We always treated each other as mother and son,” Jolie says. “Between Colin and me there was never a funny joke about it. We met with this unspoken ‘we are going to take this seriously’.”
Even more has been made of the strong sexual theme, showing that Alexander loved both men and women. Lawyers in Greece, with apparently nothing better to do, are reportedly ready to file lawsuits against the director and studio for even daring to suggest that the polytheistic conqueror might have chosen lovers of both sexes.
Well, okay, the movie does more than “suggest”, but every historical text I have read and every documentary I have ever seen on Alexander bring up the unusually close bond he shared with his boyhood and lifelong friend, Hephaistion (played by Jared Leto).
Bisexuality was quite common then for men, so I see nothing wrong with the supposition in the movie (however, my male friends all complained about the love scenes between Farrell and Leto — of course, I’m sure girl-on-girl would have been fine with them. it’s the old double standard).
The actors are also nonplussed by the homoerotic themes in the movie. “It ain’t about that, man,” says Farrell. “It ain’t about that. It’s not about sexuality. I didn’t even think of the sexuality in the film because it was nothing to do with Alexander as an individual. Any sexuality that’s represented in the film is historically accurate to the time. So none of the relationships are built on that or based on that, so I didn’t even give it a second thought. Everything seemed very natural.”
Leto adds, “Hephaestion was Alexander’s advisor, trusted companion, the person he knew would always tell him the truth no matter what. You know, when you’re at that precarious position when you’re leading men through battle, you need those people who you know will tell you the truth no matter what. So, I always understood their relationship simply as built and based on an unquestionable love for each other.”
Stone agrees: “On the gay front, if this came down to a ‘did he or didn’t he?’ movie, I think we’re in trouble. I hope it’s a larger agenda. I think that you’ve got to go back to that time. The word ‘gay’ didn’t exist, the word ‘homosexuality’ did not exist, it was not thought of. I suppose you say it was sort of a polymorphous sexuality. As Anthony Hopkins says at the end of the movie, ‘He was the freest man I’ve ever known.’ And I think that’s true. He really pushed the limits and he wanted to see what was human. And in the Greek sense of the word, as male and female could be unified, so was the possibility that man and god. Man could be a god. That’s why ancient heroes like Heracles were divine, the son of Zeus. These things are not so foreign once you accept the conditions of that time. So, Alexander explored the world and he wanted to push the borders of the world. Sexuality is just a part of it.”
Since Jolie plays the mother to a so-called bisexual son in Alexander, I ask her if she would mind if her own (adopted) son Maddox grew up to be something other than heterosexual. “No, of course not!” she says emphatically. “As long as he’s comfortable with who he is, that is what’s important to me.”
The still single Jolie says that Maddox is growing up with some “very interesting father figures” — Olivier Martinez on the set of Taking Lives; Colin Farrell on Alexander; and Brad Pitt on the set of the upcoming Mr and Mrs Smith — she really couldn’t ask for any better.
Aside from her leading men, Maddox is also learning a lot about different kinds of animals. There were plenty of horses on the set of Alexander, but Jolie’s scenes are all shared with slithery snakes (a nod to Olympias’ Pagan nature). “I loved the snakes!” Jolie enthuses. “I think they’re magnificent creatures, and I think it’s interesting in the film, it’s something that people are afraid of, [and I was able] to conquer it and to be at one with it. They weren’t defanged or anything.”
Wasn’t working with all those serpents even a little scary? “I was okay with it for me, but I was nervous when there was a little kid [Jessie Kamm, who played Alexander as a youngster] that I, as a responsible adult, had to be carrying a large snake around the six-year-old. This kid’s first day on a movie ever in his life and he’s surrounded by this room full of fire and snakes all over the bed and the floor and this psychotic woman he’s never met snuggling up to him in bed and putting snakes on his head. He was just great.”
But is the movie great? Critics are saying no, but only the audience will really be able to answer that question.