Movie Review: Gladiator

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At last, the wars have come to and end. Rome has finally conquered the last of the barbarians, and thanks to the brilliant leadership of General Maximus, the empire can now have peace. As thanks for this great feat, and as a safeguard to protect Rome from internal corruption, Emperor Marcus asks Maximus to succeed him. This, of course, makes Marcus’ arrogant and vile son incredibly angry. So much so, that he orders Maximus and his entire family be killed. And Commodus assumes the throne

In a terrible twist of fate, Maximus survives and becomes a slave to fight as a gladiator for a local spanish lord. Crushed by grief, and driven by revenge. Maximus swears to avenge his family’s death, and then to join them in Elysium. To defeat the emperor though, he has to win every match to not only be a gladiator, but to win the crowd- and that, is a bit more difficult.

Things I Liked

Maximus is of course, the man of the hour (or two) in this film. He displays amazing leadership on the battlefield. Submission and humility to those around him. Loyalty to the Emperor of Rome. And Mercy to the Gladiators who wind up helpless in the area- even when he is told to kill them. He loves his family with a passion, and enlisted to support them. He teaches other Gladiators to work together so that they may survive. He also preservers in every adversity- whether it be a physical or emotional challenge.

We see all manners of people die in loyalty to Rome. Senators, Servants, slaves, and Gladiators- all showing courage and conviction to rise up and stand against that which is not of their country. The Camaraderie and teamwork between Maximus’ friends is encouraging to see, even in the midst of the death ridden arena.

Proximus, the slave trader, eventually makes a choice which is incredibly honorable and sacrificial. We see Maximus’ good character rub off on the man, who tell Maximus- “Careful, you might make me a honorable man.

Are you not entertained?! Is this not what you came to See!?!” 

Maximus cries this after dispatching incredibly quickly an arena full of enemy gladiators. The crowd is deathly silent, in shock at what they just saw. And this short clip, before the ignore their conscience and cheer, is a remarkable testimony to the awfulness of the Gladiator games. It is shown the crowd understands the terribleness of the sport, but chooses to support it anyway. And after we understand that support… All manners of brutal assaults are released.

Things I Didn’t Like

While never glorified, violence is going to be the main expected qualm, or warning, against this movie. We see dozens of men slashed, stabbed, speared, and shot to death, a few are beheaded, some crushed into walls, and some trampled by chariots. One man is stabbed in the back and forced to fight. A person is sliced completely in half. Another man is killed by a slow stabbing of a dagger into his throat. Blood spewing and flowing accompanies all these scenes. 

Outside the arena, we are shown how Maximus’ family is murdered. A boy is speared then trampled. We see both bodies charred when Maximus arrives days later to late. In the final war, men are cut down, stabbed while down, and burned to death. Heads roll- literally. A servant is hung then his torso filled with arrows when he tries to warn Maximus.

Commodus lusts after his sister, Lucilla, and makes several physical and verbal advances toward her which would be considered incest. In order to anger Maximus, Commodus tells him in detail what they did to his wife physically before they killed her. Lucilla and Maximus share a passionate kiss.

Religion and death is discussed immensely in this film. In line with Roman mythology, Maximus believes his family awaits him in Elysium. Otherwise known as heaven. He prays to his Ancestors, but mentions God in his prayer. Anther man, from Africa, believes a different religion than Maximus, yet they believe they will all wind up in the same place. Such and eclectic mix of beliefs shown and the idea of all religions go to heaven was disappointing, but not surprising.

Closing Thoughts

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the TRUE emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next. “

What is the greatest thing you can take from a man? Is it his dignity? His pride? His family? A tough question to answer, but in this movie, we see all of these ripped from Maximus in the most unjust way possible. In a sense, he doesn’t deserve any of this according to his service to Rome, and as such we share his just wrath against the man who did this all for a throne.

Maximus isn’t just driven by personal revenge. If he was, he would be a character to pity and disregard. What makes this film memorable (aside from the bloodbath you are washed in) is seeing one man’s character defeat and defend the Rome the true Emperor sought to establish. A Rome of the people, by the people, for the people. Maximus’ one desire is to join his family in eternity- to the point of committing suicide. However, since he is a man of principle, he carries out the Emperor’s last wish to the fullest. That is, to give back to Rome her true self.

Unfortunately, in order to accomplish this final wish, he- and us along with him, are dragged through one of the most brutal forms of “entertainment” possible. That is, men killing men for sport. It is one thing to read about the terrors of Rome’s colosseum in a history book and go “That’s awful”, it is far another thing to see a recreation and truly understand the vileness of what went on in that time. The film condemns the games, but unapologetically shows the deaths of a battle in a gruesome fashion.

In the end, Gladiator is a tragic story of a man eventually sacrificing everything he had for Rome. Thing is, it is made clear that Rome is an idea. A concept. An intangible which you can never touch. Maximus was driven by his faith and loyalty as to what Rome was for His emperor. I asked myself at the end of this film, would I be as passionately loyal for my King?

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One thought on “Movie Review: Gladiator

  1. Great review, Austin!
    I admit it was hard for me to watch this particular movie due to the amount of gore, but the underlying themes paired with excellent cinematography made it worthwhile.
    Just something I noticed: no matter what tragedy Maximum had to endure, he always persevered and used the trials to make him stronger because he knew loyalty to Rome was more important than revenge. In a roundabout way, I’ve always seen that as a reminder of how, “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”. As long as we are continually putting our King before our own desires, we can trust that He will find glory even in the hardships we face.
    I might be digging too deeply into the morals of the movie, but that was just something I had noticed as a point of application.

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