As a history major in college, I have always had an interest in the achievement that was Rome. Sure it came apart and had a multitude of problems but its power and image had a major affect on the history of the world and even impacts us today. And when you think of Rome, you also think of gladiators.
The movie “Gladiator” was basically everything I expected it to be: awesome. It was a very gruesome and brutal film with plenty of scheming and plotting to make it more than just a standard action movie. The characters were interesting and a little deeper than they appeared at first while also featuring some impressive costumes and cinematography. I understand why it won a few Oscars.
Of course Russell Crowe shines as Maximus who basically embodies the classic protagonist. He is strong-willed and loyal yet also willing to stand up for what’s right. In a nation full of schemers and liars, Maximus is one of the few with actual morals. And as he goes from General to Slave to Gladiator, more and more people emanate extreme love for the character.
And this works as the perfect contrast to the villain Commodus. After he kills his legendary father Marcus Aurelius, this spineless antagonist focuses on himself and how he can be loved by all of Rome. He doesn’t care about fixing any actual issues but instead on what will make him be truly loved which is something he never achieves. However this is what makes Commodus a great villain because he slithers and deceives his way through the movie in an attempt to achieve his ultimate, disdainful goal. He reminds me a lot of Kefka from “Final Fantasy VI” (and yes I did just drop a video game reference). Commodus is truly insane.
Now what surprised me the most is how this film is actually more of a love story…but not in the traditional sense. Instead it is about a man who is loved against one who wants to be loved. Maximus earns the loyalty and support of everyone around him from his soldiers as well as servants to fellow slaves and finally everyone in Rome. The hero doesn’t strive to be loved either; he achieves it through his actions and goal of avenging his family and finally meeting with them in the afterlife.
Commodus, on the other hand, looks for love from everyone in the movie including his father and, creepily, his sister. The whole point of the gladiator games are for him to be loved by his people which, ironically, leads to love for Maximus over him. And as he continues to fight against the gladiator, Commodus continues to lose. At the end of the movie, after trying to stack the deck in his favor in a fight with the protagonist, this villain still loses with not even his soldiers attempting to help him. A very satisfying ending for the viewer.
Now sure the film does have a few minor flaws such as the length and a few underdeveloped or forgotten characters but the overall imagery and theme of “Gladiator” is what makes it so successful. It’s not about just brutal violence but instead about the impact of a true gladiator as well as the importance of love. Once again, Rome still has influence.
+ Danny Reiter is the producer of the Dan Sileo Show