The story of a general, who becomes a slave, who becomes a gladiator/warrior, who becomes the savior of Rome.
-Review by David Bruce


This page was created on May 5, 2000
and was updated on May 22, 2005

Directed by Ridley Scott
Writing credits: David H. Franzoni and John Logan

Russell Crowe .... Maximus
Joaquin Phoenix .... Commodus
Connie Nielsen .... Lucilla
Oliver Reed .... Proximo
Derek Jacobi .... Gracchus
Djimon Hounsou .... Juba
Richard Harris .... Marcus Aurelius
David Schofield .... Falco
John Shrapnel .... Gaius
Tomas Arana .... Quintus
Ralph Moeller .... Hagen
Spencer Treat Clark .... Lucius

Produced by David H. Franzoni, Branko Lustig (executive), Terry Needham (associate), Steven Spielberg, Douglas Wick
Original music by Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt and Lisa Gerrard
Cinematography by John Mathieson
Film Editing by Pietro Scalia

RATED R for battle and gladiator violence.

A hero will rise.

It has been four decades since chariots raced and swords flashed across movie screens in epic dramas of a time long past. Now, director Ridley Scott brings the glorious battles of the ancient Roman arena back to the big screen in a sweeping story of courage and revenge.

The great Roman General Maximus (Russell Crowe) has once again led the legions to victory on the battlefield. The war won, Maximus dreams of home, wanting only to return to his wife and son; however, the dying Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) has one more duty for the general -to assume the mantle of his power.

David Bruce

The story of a general, who becomes a slave, who becomes a gladiator/warrior, who becomes the savior of Rome.
-Review by David Bruce

I found lots of connections to other films and to several Biblical stories and themes. Before I begin, however, let me emphasize that I found 'Gladiator' to be unique and the story very original. My teenagers loved it. They were impressed with the story and the recreation of Rome. 15-year-old Matthew called the film "awesome;" and 16-year-old daughter Kathleen wanted to tell me of all the parallels she found to the Biblical Joseph story. Being keen on noticing foreshadowing (it runs in the family), they had figured out the end from the beginning.

There is a little bit of the Prince of Egypt in the beginning of the story. A father/leader (Caesar/Pharaoh), two sons, one natural and one adopted, with the future of the nation (Rome/Egypt) at stake. And like the Biblical Esau and Jacob story, one 'brother' steals the father's blessing.

The battle scenes at the opening of the film reminded me of the realism of Saving Private Ryan and Thin Red Line. War movies will never be the same. Also interesting, the opening scenes take place in Germany as Rome takes over, giving us an echo of the Nazi takeover of Germany. The Nazis fashioned their symbols after those of Empirical Rome.

The slavery gives a strong sense of Ben Hur, with a hint of POE and Amistad. There is also an echo of the Biblical Joseph story.

In our culture, the sympathy is always with the slave/victim. And seldom with the master. Example: It is hard for us to imagine George Washington as a slaveholder. Or, that the Biblical Abraham was a slave owner.

The stadium scenes resonate with 'Spartacus' and DeMille's 'Sign of the Cross.' They are spectacular to watch and the chariots give it a real 'Ben Hur' feel at times. In fact the whole plot is very similar to Ben Hur (minus the shared history with Jesus).
Believed dead, the Gladiator is revivified in the form of a slave. These slave-to-hero and death-to-life themes give this film a Moses/Jesus feel. In fact, 'A Hero Will Rise' is one of the movie's tag lines.
"(Jesus) emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name" -Philippians 2:7-9 NRSV
In 'Star Wars' when Darth Vader lifts his mask the truth was made known. In this film the mask is also used to conceal and reveal truth. In this case the truth is being that the dead "brother" has risen from the dead. So, deal with it!

Reviewer Dave Kehr writes, "Scott emphasizes the dryly allegorical aspect-violence becomes entertainment, entertainment becomes politics-at the expense of the wild action and kinky eroticism that have traditionally been the form's stock in trade. "

Here is, to some extent, a reflection of our own times. The Gladiators are given a modern day WWF Wrestling style. In modern wrestling the violence is fake, but in Rome it was very real. Why is real gladiator violence not acceptable behavior in today's world? Some scholars cite the cross of Jesus Christ as the beginning shift away from gladiator-style human sacrifice. Eric Gans writes, "Christianity's impact on the West is a tribute to the power of its basic conception, which is the absolute centrality of the position of the victim... The moral significance of this position is enormous."

In this film evil comes in many forms: The brutal war at the beginning, the Emperor of Rome, and the tiger. In myth the chaos monster must be overcome. Maximus' victory over the tigers assures his place as ultimate victor in the story's final ending. He becomes "Maximus the savior." In fact that is a closing line in the film.

Bulletin Board:

Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2001
From: ted dailey

To me, i felt that Maximus was played Jesus once he was told by his father, (God) Marcus Arralius, about what his mission was. His support of love for his family and his persistance to give Rome ("the mob") the dream back was what motivated him to save Rome, dispite the efforts Commudus made to make him fail. Although Maximus was loyal to his Mystisism, I felt that Maximus went through a change in questioning himself by killing all those men in the areana. Here, i think he took the side of Proximo, and realized that he had to take the part of the Rouge to survive in the beggining. We see him as a rouge the whole time he is known as "Spaniard"....but when he decides to stop killing, he becomes known as the "Genral", back to his old peaceful and content self. Even when he faces death, the warrior with the mask, he is able to see truth of innocence in the man's bloddy face, and shows mercy. I think he was in control the entire time, defying Commudus at every chance, and with the love and loyalty of his family, his men, the crowd, Marcus Aralius, Proximo, Lucilla, and Quintis, they all took a part in supporting his mission/sacrafice to save Rome. *Also, we see the spectrum of the shadow (commodus) and light (Maximus) as one person with two opposite sides when they both die at the same time...

Subject: Thoughts on Gladiator
Date: Mon, 1 Jan 2001
From: Jeff F.

Dear David -
Thank you for your hard work to create this interesting web site!

One of the most powerful themes throughout the movie Gladiator is, interestingly enough for such a violent film, love. If one takes the time, one realizes that almost all of the characters are motivated by love; either sacrificing themselves for love, or wreaking revenge because of a perceived lack of it. The dialogue is peppered with the word. A motivational outline of some of the more important characters reveals their similar underlying feelings:

Maximus: Motivated by his love for his family, Marcus Aurelius, and the men under his command.

Commodus: Motivated by a desire to be loved by his father, his sister, and the people of Rome. Always perceiving, and many times correctly, that he is not loved by those around him, this wrends his heart horribly. Sadly, he attempts to force people to love him, which is his ultimate doom. Ironically, this most destructive character is motivated by an intense desire to love and be loved. Though this character is the most despicable in the film, I find him the most complex and tragic.

Lucilla: Although she has many opportunities to thwart her brother, her love for her son and for Maximus prevents her from taking direct action. She is bound by a fear, not for her own life, but for the lives of the ones she loves.

Proximo: Even crusty Proximo speaks on the virtues of love. While advising Maximus on how to survive the games in Rome, he tells him, "The reason I was the greatest [Gladiator] was that the people loved me. Win the love of the people, and you will win your life." (This quote is from memory.) Juba: Juba's motivation is also for the love of his family, and probably for Maximus as well.

Marcus Aurelius: He expresses a great deal of love for Maximus, as well as remorse that he has not loved his son Commodus more fully.

Love seems, from this perspective, to be one of the predominant themes in the movie. This is emphasized by the opening and closing shots, which picture Maximus walking through the Elysian Fields towards a reunification with his family. Throughout the film there seems to be a deliberate and conscious effort to weave this common thread as the basic motivation for all that the characters do. Though they may all share this basic desire, their characters shape the expression of this desire through their actions.
Jeff F.

Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2000
From: Helena Sullivan

Hi all!
I loved this film, even though it reminded me of so many others. But why does Hollywood insist on re-writing history so often? Take for example Saving Private Ryan- you would think that the USA was the only country to land on France! And in another recent film Hollywood erroneously attributed the capture of the Enigma machine, and the breaking of its code, to the US when in fact it was the UK who did both!

Here again, a lot of poetic licence is employed, but at least there is an acknowledgement to the fact put at the end of the film! Commodus was indeed murdered, but not until he had reigned for 12 years. As for the character of Maximus, I understood that Roman soldiers were forbidden to marry-? (Was this revoked at some time? Or was it different for Generals?). The daughter of Marcus Aurelius was banished and later killed by Commodus, yet in the film she survives him. And the death of Commodus did not welcome in another Republican era, rather his murderer became Emperor in his stead. Anyway, it is still a great story, I just don't know why ALL the characters weren't fictional from scratch, like Maximus. Why bother putting in characters from history and then re-writing their lives? Why not just invent new ones?!

The battle scene at the beginning took me back to another film, though not one that would be immediately compared with this one!- The battle of Agincourt, in Kenneth Brannagh's HenryV echoes here: in that film too, the battle is shown in all the mud and rain and dirt; none of the shiny armour of earlier films! The skill of the archers is highlighted, the screams and noises of battle are there, all underneath a rousing score. At one point, again, just like in Gladiator, the action slows down, the noise fades, and the music swells as the viewer is thrown back from observing the fighting in detail to feeling the sadness of the desperate scene. Throughout Gladiator, Maximus is seen to bend down, pick up some of the soil and meditively fold it in his hands before fighting. This too, is in Brannagh's Henry V; before Agincourt, the king and his soldiers kneel and do the same.

It was brilliant to see the realistic, un-glorified portrayal of battle taken to greater heights with the greater budget of Gladiator. Certainly any other film will be hard put to find a more thrilling opening scene.

As to the comments regarding the statuettes of his family, it is quite probable that Maximus would have had these, given to him as a gift, a safe-keeping, when he left his wife for service to the Emperor. A modern day equivalent would be to take photo's of loved ones with you when leaving home for war. They might have meant a little more than just a reminder; more like a connection home. Having Maximus praying to his 'Blessed Mother' and 'Blessed Father' isn't something just thrown in to heathenise the prayer scene; he might have been addressing some of the Roman deities, or he might have been addressing his dead parents; in the same breath he says 'blessed ancestors I honour you' and this, coupled with the fact that many Roman soldiers of this time were loyal to the god Mithras, seems more likely.

As to the comments regarding Maximus being christian, if only with a small 'c' (!) I really appreciated the way a Roman warrior and heathen was shown to have a loyal, vulnerable, respectable and likeable character. The message here is that there is good and bad in all peoples, and that a person is loveable because they are loved; what matters most is that you know yourself and are true to yourself: ALWAYS HAVE THE COURAGE OF YOUR CONFICTIONS.

Helena Sullivan. Isle of Sheppey, England, UK

Subject: maximus was not a christian
Date: Sat, 18 Nov 2000
From: "mallet"

After reading these gushing reviews of "Gladiator", I must ask folks to remember that in 180 A.D., the Christian community was far too small to amount to much of a threat to Rome. Please stop making the fictional Maximus into a Christian, because he was not. I doubt that a Christian of 180 A.D. or C.E. (whichever you prefer) would have prayed to clay figurines of his family. Maximus thinks of his wife and son whilst holding the figures in one scene; Cicero gives them to him in another scene; and Juba (his name is not "the African") buries them at the end of the movie when Maximus dies. Other than that, "Gladiator" was a good movie, though not Oscar quality, and I anticipate buying it on video.

Date: Tue, 4 Jul 2000
From: Dave Shinoda

What separates Gladiator from being simply a movie about violence and revenge (in the same way that American Beauty is not just a movie about sex and midlife crisis) is that Maximus is being led by a commitment to something that is of greater substance than a desire to avenge the deaths of his family. There is the scene where he is being taunted by Commidus and he is able to quench his desire to rip out Commidus' throat by recalling his true mission, given by Marcus Aurelius, to restore the honor of the empire. This makes me see the importance of allowing our lives to be governed by things like love and loyalty and the principles that emerge from such relationships. Maximus had a clear sense of priority, based on love and loyalty. Out of the love of Marcus for him, emerged a loyalty that motivated everything that he did. His love for his family and the assurance that he would be reunited with them, and most importantly that they would wait for him to finish his mission and fulfill his purposes in this life, kept him on course and willing to finish is mission. Again, his mission wasn't simply payback for Commidus. It was to restore honor to the kingdom and then having completed his mission he wanted to go home. For the Christian it is an application of "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.
Dave Shinoda

Subject: Maximus the Merciful?
Date: Sat, 24 Jun 2000
From: Andy

Hi. In response to the person who wrote that Maximus showed mercy to one of the gladiators he vanquished, and was hailed by the crowd as a hero for doing so---I think that although the character of Maximus was relatively more merciful than the average man of his culture, he was in that particular scene contesting indirectly with Commodus. The former champion gladiator was lying beaten and injured, Maximus standing over him, and the crowd was waiting to see what the emperor's response would be. Commodus made the gesture for the man's death, but Maximus refused to kill him. I don't think Maximus's point was to be merciful, but simply to defy the emperor. In other words, had Commodus called for mercy---Maximus would've killed the man. The crowd itself was not being particularly merciful; rather, they were caught up in the contest of wills between Maximus and Commodus; they loved Maximus for being his own man and defying the emperor.

Subject: Marvelous
Date: Sun, 11 Jun 2000
From: Mike Stevens

I thought Gladiator was everything a movie should be !! It was refreshing to see such a well done film without the need for cursing or sex. I am surprised at the "R" rating, in that the battle scenes were very tastefully done and the filming did not, as a general rule, focus in on any gore. I would have no hesitation about allowing a young teen to see it.
Mike Stevens

Subject: Russell Crowe
Date: Sun, 21 May 2000

References: 1 Dear David, What do you think about the upcoming movie star "Russell Crowe" and his two latest films "The Insider" and "Gladiator"? I live in Europe, Switzerland and I became a big fan of this charismatic actor since I saw "L.A. Confidential". But here in my place nobody knows his name. That's very pity. So, how it is in the States? I'm sure he'll soon receive the Oscar. This year the Academy has made a mistake! Kevin Spacey is a great actor too, but the role in "American Beauty" don't deserve the Academy Award! He was much better in other movies. I was disappointed to hear my favourite hansom actor hasn't won the most important film prize! I haven't seen "The Insider" or "Gladiator" yet. But I'll go to watch Russell in his role as a general who became a slave next Friday...and I'm looking forward to see his next project with my also favourite actress "Meg Ryan"!!! So please tell me about the all american opinion for that man - RUSSELL CROWE and his movies! I would be very thankful...
Best wishes from SANI

Date: Thu, 18 May 2000
From: "John McLaren"

This was a brilliant film and in my eye matches up to the old epics such as Ben Hur. I thing that impressed me was the amount of research they made in making this film which showed in the details of how the Roman army 'worked', costumes, sets, and the work they put into making the 'Virtual Rome'. They story was lavish and engrossing, although sometimes predicable but always gripping. I liked the theme of life after death that ran constantly through the film and the relationship that develops between Maximus and the African. All in all this was an excellent film and I'm already looking forward to seeing it again soon.
John McLaren - Youth Leader The House youth Dept.
New Life Church

Date: Tue, 16 May 2000
From: "David & Marla Rogers"

When the credits rolled, I initially thought that I had seen a pretty good movie (though not great). On further reflection and discussion with my wife, I decided that I was disappointed and disillusioned with what could have been a great film with both action and important thematic social commentary. The action was well-executed (pun intended), the acting was good, the cinematography, direction, editing and pacing pretty good. The story itself worked as its own story, but I am still disappointed.

There are glaring historical details that when realized it takes away from the supposed heroism of Maximus and the "nobility" of Marcus Aurelius. The philosopher/emperor Marcus Aurelius was indeed considered the last of the five "good Emperors." But he did not outlaw the gladiatorial contests (as stated in the film), in fact he emphasized their importance for the masses. He also increased local persecution of Christians. He upheld their executions. (Now he did require good proof of the accusation of a person being a Christian, but those determined to be Christians were summarily executed.) Also, his son Commodus did not die relatively soon after becoming Emperor. He reigned from 180-192 A.D. Maximus was a fictional character.

The movie begins with the Roman Army facing a local army from Germania. The protagonists are clearly the Romans, and Maximus is portrayed as a positive noble warrior. It is interesting to recall that if this scenario followed the setup of the movie Braveheart, our sympathies would have been with the Germanic barbarians and not the technologically advanced Romans. Also, Maximus was not really fighting for democracy for the common man as the movie wanted to hint. He was primarily motivated by revenge. And the democracy that the Senator Gracchus wanted was one where only citizens could vote.

But one needs to realize that actual citizens of the empire made up an arguable minority of people. A great number of the people were slaves and other non-citizens. Citizens were the wealthy. In other words, Maximus, if truly fighting for freedom for the people, was only accomplishing the acquisition of more power for the wealthy and privileged. Why didn't the movie address the rise and growth of Christianity? Why weren't we shown people being executed for their religious convictions? That would have been inspiring, but apparently portraying the martyrdom of Christians isn't politically correct enough. By the way, a thumbs up gesture means to kill the person. A fist with two fingers extended is the sign for life. I do enjoy your site. Keep up the analysis.
David Rogers Pastor of First Baptist Church, Zapata, Texas

Date: Sun, 14 May 2000
From: ks

the thing that i liked most about this movie was how no matter what happened to maximus, he never stopped praying, he never turned his back on God. when his family was crucified, when he was made a slave, and when unjust things were brought on against him, he kept on praying! amen. --ks

Date: Sun, 14 May 2000
From: Kris C

David, I was impressed by the spectacle of Gladiator. One thing that struck me is how - reflecting our current attitudes back into ancient Roman culture - we impress what are actually Christian values on the heroes. For example, the hero, Maximus has an overwhelming belief in a real afterlife. Maximus prays (although they try to paganize it by having him appeal to his heavenly father and mother) in crisis. Finally, and most telling - when he spares the life of the Roman champion in the Coliseum - Maximus is hailed as a hero by the Romans. As I understand it, the Greco-Roman attitudes towards mercy was not particularly favorable. Being merciful was generally considered a weakness. Christianity elevated mercy to a virtue. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:12-13) This reminds us how much our culture has benefited from its Christian ethics and that our current western attitudes and values is neither "universal" nor "basic". Something to think about.
Kris C.

Date: Mon, 8 May 2000
From: Lee.Wallace

One aspect that impressed me so much about this movie was the climate and culture in which the early church was nurtured. Can you imagine preaching a gospel of peace and love as Jesus did to such a vicious culture? To love your enemies must have been incredibly alien to the culture of the day. I also could not help but think of the many Christians who were killed in the coliseum by the hungry tigers that were shown in the movie. I went home from the movie thanking God for the peace that the church enjoys today. --Lee

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