Russell Crowe plays General Maximus Decimus Meridius, a successive soldier and loving family man to his wife and young son. Maximus is respected by his soldiers and those that know him. However, when the Emperor’s jealous son finds out that his father has offered his empire to Maximus rather than him, he is infuriated. To ensure that this does not happen and he is emperor he, Commidus, decides he must kill his already dying father before Maximus can take his place.
Not stopping at that once it succeeds, he then tries to have Maximus killed. When the plan fails and Maximus escapes, Commidus decides he will destroy the three things that matter most to Maximus – his wife, his son and his harvests. Maximus, who is weak from Commidus’ plans and distraught to find the bodies of his wife and son, is found and sold in slavery.
Maximus soon finds himself fighting in stadiums to hundreds, owing to his obvious strength and such a skill of fighting. He soon stands out as a great fighter, and beats increasingly hard opponents until he is considered the best gladiator in all of Rome. A shocked Commidus then finds out the identity of the famous gladiator, and eventually the pair agree to fight until death should come upon one of them. Maximus is determined to finally get revenge on the man that killed those he loved, and does so as Commidus is killed in the battle. However, immediately after fighting Commidus, Maximus begins to weaken from the battle and he too dies only a distance from his former rival with the crowds upon him in the stadium.
The main casting is as follows:
General Maximus Decimus Meridius – Russell Crowe
Emperor Marcus Aurelius – Richard Harris
Commidus – Joaquin Phoenix
Lucilla – Connie Neilson
Quintus – Thomas Arana
Directed by Scott Riley
War, in films such as ‘Gladiator’, is generally glamorised quite a lot. For example, the full effects of war are not often shown and it is often made to look rather exciting and heroic. In reality, I suspect it is quite a contradiction to that. It is also noticeable that there is usually a hero and perhaps roles such as a love interest in films such as this and this is probably not true in real life.
Other films that focus on a war are ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Pearl Harbour’. ‘Saving Private Ryan’ does not actually glamorise war a great deal; and it does show the horrors of real life fighting. ‘Pearl Harbour’, however, does glamorise war a great deal. It also has a hero and a love interest, and I feel that it is not a very realistic in which the way war is portrayed.
The opening battle scene sufficiently demonstrates the ruthless efficiency of the Roman military machine. There is no choreography of red-crested troops arranging themselves around a battle strategy; no shields, helmets or breastplates glitter in the sunlight. Rather, it shows the brutality of war. It is a spectacle of murderous hard-textured efficiency rather than of fragile dramatic posturing. The battle takes place at the edge of a miserable, mist-shrouded forest. The pace of the fighting snaps back and forth between real time and slow motion. There are no lingering close-ups of eviscerated corpses; instead, choreography that is fast as it cuts between shots, and the abrasive percussion of colliding weapons powerfully evoke the bloody devastation wrought by metal wrenching through living flesh. The colours are the gloomy greys, blues and blacks and the soldiers fight in mud. War is successfully shown realistically.
Maximus is immediately established as the hero in ‘Gladiator.’ We first see a man walking through a field, and can assume this is him. This is not actually what he is doing, but what he thinking. The fact that we immediately are shown his thoughts show instantly that he is a main character and the way the film focuses on him from early on suggests the story is mainly about him.
We are also told quite a lot about Russell Crowe’s character, from clues such as his physical appearance, the camera angles, narrative viewpoint, what he says and what others say about him.
Maximus wear a fur coat and although it may be from the cold, it shows his rank and authority. He also wears metal armour and so we immediately see that he is a soldier because of this. His beard shows a certain level of seniority and maturity. His facial expression is strong and determined.
We see what Maximus is like as a person soon into the film. He is obviously very respected – he is saluted often and we see that his soldiers are not his inferiors but his friends – he is not standoffish with them at all. He also stands on the middle of the soldiers, with men all around him, all of whom salute and laugh at his jokes.
From this respect we assume he is a great soldier. He also upset over the loss of some of his men, which shows his sensitive side. We see this again as he gives his dog a quick glance and obviously cares about the animal.
When Quintus says that the opposition should know when to give up, Maximus replies, “Would you, Quintus? Would I?” He believes if you believe in something, you should not give up. Maximus admires the opposite side when they refuse to give up – even though it is not at all likely that they will win.
From clues such as these, we have established Maximus as the ‘hero’ of the film. It is important to have a hero in films, as it is one of the reasons we want to continue to watch. We want to know if he will be okay and what will happen. It’s natural to want the ‘good guy’ to win.
In films like ‘Gladiator’, there is generally a side we are meant to sympathise with. It is the same concept as having a hero – we then want to know which army will win. There is a fine contrast between the two armies in this film. This is shown in many ways – for example there is a distinct difference between the costumes, language, tactics and attitudes. Maximus’s men seem very strategic and organised. Their clothes are much more presentable than the opposite side, making them look the better side of the two. The other side, however, are more chaotic and less calculated (they simply charge forward) – they look noticeably dirty and more simply dressed.
The characters attitudes to wars are also an important element in the film. From what we know about Maximus’s character, it is likely that he would not want war. Also, rather than fighting, he is keen to return home to his family and life – though I do think that he is a proud man and would want to fight for something if he believed it was the right thing to do.
Commidus, on the other hand, is less easy to determine whether he would want war. I think that from his cruel and obnoxious personality, he would want war. He would probably have wanted to fight to show his power and superiority, rather than for the good of his own country. In the opening scenes of the film, he ‘conveniently’ enters the battle after it is finished and so he would probably not risk his life for fighting but have someone else do so for him.
From what is suggested about Emperor Marcus Aurelius, I think that he had similar attitudes to war as Maximus, but possibly he is keener that Rome shows off its strength. We do know that he does agree with Maximus’s attitudes to war, as he asks him to be Emperor in his place before his own son, Commidus.
So, in conclusion, the opening scenes of war are presented quite accurately and the scenes are shown without much glamorisation. A fine example of this is the colours used on film – it’s mostly colours such as greys and these show the atmosphere and mood of the battle. There are also not many ‘gory’ shots that are shown, this leaves the images more to the mind and also is very effective. In addition, the battle itself is brutal more so than over the top or planned fighting. These are just some of the factors that make ‘Gladiator’ presented so realistically in its opening scenes of war.