“Gladiator” – A Warrior on the Road to a Lost Paradise [Analysis]



Title: “Gladiator”

Release Date: 2000

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou




“Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?” – this is the question Maximus asks the audience watching his fights in the arena. But not only to them – this question also reaches the viewer on the other side of the screen, who comes to the cinema to watch a great spectacle. Over the millennia separating us from the gladiatorial fights in the Colosseum arena, a lot has changed, but not everything. Man remains a fighting being, and life a great battlefield. “Gladiator” by Ridley Scott, on the other hand, shows that in this inevitable clash one thing seems to be the most important: not to lose dignity and honor even in confrontation with the greatest evil.

“Gladiator” – the story of the brave Maximus

Awarded five Oscars, Ridley Scott’s movie is an outstanding historical cinema, realized with great panache. Visually and musically stunning, the show’s plot goes back to antiquity, for the action of “Gladiator” is set in the second century during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (played by Richard Harris) and then his son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). The old emperor of Rome, tired of the constant wars finishing off the empire and aware that his cruel heir may drown Rome in blood, decides to return to the republican tradition of the Eternal City. He wants to turn the empire over to the Senate, and before that, entrust temporary power to his most loyal and beloved legion commander, Maximus (Russell Crowe).

Nevertheless, when Commodus learns of his father’s plans, he murders him and then passes a death sentence on the general. Maximus slips out of the hands of the praetorians, but fails to save his wife and son, who are bestially murdered, from revenge. The desperate and wounded soldier falls prey to human traffickers and ends up in a gladiatorial forge run by Antony Proximo (Oliver Reed). From now on he will have to fight to the death to the delight of the crowd, until finally there is a chance to reach Rome, in front of Emperor Commodus himself….

Gladiator movie review

The movie “Gladiator” – Ridley Scott a master of cinematic spectacle

“Gladiator” is undoubtedly one of Ridley Scott’s greatest works, in which the director proves that he is a true artist of cinema. The epic historical fresco captivates the viewer on every level, so it’s no surprise to see fully deserved Oscars for Best Picture, Costume Design (Janty Yates), Special Effects, Sound (Bob Beemer, Ken Weston, Scott Millan) and, of course, Best Leading Actor for Russell Crowe. On the screen, the actor becomes the living embodiment of an athletic hero with an impeccable soul, whose greatest qualities are love of family and country. Crowe’s every gesture, his facial expressions, his gaze, the way he speaks words, not to mention his demonstrative physical prowess make him – a perfect synthesis of a hero from the distant past and a character close to the modern viewer.

The visual side of “Gladiator” is almost a separate topic, extremely important in every Ridley Scott film. In all his works, this filmmaker proves that he thinks and feels with images, and here this ability was brought to perfection. The magnificent landscapes of Maximus’ hometown, like the mythical Champs Elysees emanating blissful tranquility, are contrasted with low-code shots of the battlefield in Germania or duels in the Colosseum arena shown from a frog’s perspective. The fairy-tale aesthetic reminiscent of comic books is matched here by a penchant for painterly, color-saturated frames, while the horror of the dark, subterranean world of slaves and drastic gladiatorial clashes brings to mind images of the depths of hell.

The world depicted in “Gladiator” visually splits into the space of heaven and hell, and in the story layer this duality is matched by the struggle between good and evil, Maximus and Commodus. The love theme is beautifully illustrated by shots of ears of grain, imbued with erotic symbolism, over which a man’s hand moves gently in a gesture of sensual caress – for the time of harvesting is a sign of nature’s fertility. The effect of these magnificent cinematography is elevated to heights by the beautiful Oscar-nominated music by Hans Zimmer.

Gladiator film analysis

“Gladiator” – man as a lonely fighting being

“Gladiator” above the plot layer builds a kind of philosophical parable. Its most important element seems to be the perception of man as a fighting being. It is the struggle against adversity that is the core of the human condition here. What’s more, as it happens in Ridley Scott’s cinema, the protagonist experiences loneliness, his fate is determined by his sudden ejection outside the social bracket. General Maximus – a man who enjoyed an impeccable reputation, the adoration of the ruler and his soldiers – is relegated to the position of a mere slave. And perhaps it is in this metamorphosis that the whole “clue” of the film is contained. For it quickly becomes apparent that on many levels in both seemingly completely distant worlds analogous rules apply.

Above all, what remains unchanged is the condition of man, who, wherever he comes to live, has to fight his own battles every day. Earthly existence is even reduced to a series of skirmishes, with the combatants distinguished from each other by their fidelity to moral principles more than by wealth and splendor. We can clearly see that both on the battlefield and in the arena of the Colosseum, people want to preserve their dignity and are able to defend it. The scene in which Maximus is greeted by a line of Roman soldiers after a victorious battle with the Germans is exactly repeated after the hero’s spectacular victory at the games. Gladiators then solemnly salute their comrade with a slogan familiar from war clashes: “strength and honor.” The choice we have, Scott seems to suggest, therefore, has nothing to do with the possibility of avoiding a fight, it is only an alternative between honor and dishonor. As Maximus says in his last conversation with the cowardly Commodus, we can only look into the eyes of our own death and greet it with a smile….

“Gladiator” – a story about the return to a lost paradise

Repetition (of scenes, images, sequences) is the most frequently used figure in the construction of “Gladiator.” In addition to the aforementioned parallel motif of Maximus’ life before and after the tragic events, the most prominent cinematic anaphora is the first and last scene of the film: a shot of a man’s hand moving his palm over the ears of grain. Obviously, we are dealing here with a buckle narrative, in which time comes full circle. It is also reinforced by the repetition of the image of the unconscious, captured protagonist being carried by someone to “another place.” In the finale, however, the two images have a completely different color scheme than at first. They are colors saturated with shades of blue, with a supernatural glow.

Gladiator film 2000

The earthly perspective is therefore changed to the land of eternal bliss, the mythical Elysian Fields, where Maximus will be able to reunite with his family. In this context, the protagonist’s entire journey can be interpreted as a Dantean journey through successive levels of metaphysical space, which is matched by the visual gradation – the road ascends continuously until the climactic scene of the duel between Maximus and Commodus. Furthermore, we have the hell of losing his wife and son (the symbolic image of the hero’s house fire), purgatory in the battle arena (the gladiators’ quest to redeem their freedom) and, finally, the hero’s fully deserved opening of the gates of eden. The warrior, who has not lost his honor to the end, returns to the lost paradise, proving that love is eternal and dignity never has a price.


M. Smoleń, „Ridley Scott – gladiator na arenie Hollywood”, [w:] “Mistrzowie kina amerykańskiego. Współczesność” , pod red. Ł. A Plesnara i R. Syski, Kraków 2010.