Plan: Introduction: what the film is, explaining the film and the genre and how they interact
use of symbolism motif: weather, scene 1 and slave scene
The Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott is the modern cinematic example of a classic formulaic tragedy. Its main character Maximus is the picture of an archetypal tragic hero. Following the main plot points of a Greek Tragedy, the film portrays Maximus’ original state of power and prestige and then his sudden fall from fortune. His hamartia (fatal flaw) is the cause of this fall and exhibits itself in his inability to set aside his rigid morality in order to save his own life. This leads to the murder of his family and the loss of his title and power. This is followed by the rise and then by a moment of catharsis where the hero’s suffering is met with a satisfying end. Maximus sits comfortably alongside a number of historical fictional, Greek heroes that originally figure headed the genre. There is a clear emphasis on the archetype and the formulaic build of a tragedy that was laid out by the philosopher Aristotle. This makes the piece a heavily character-driven film that works within genre conventions. Scott employs a wide range of cinematic techniques in order to create a masterful piece of tragic drama that accurately conveys the conventions of the genre itself as it was in ancient times, as well as adding newer aspects to make it more impactful to a modern audience. Two scenes that, when compared are excellent representations of the fall of the tragic hero, are the first where Maximus is rallying his troops before a major battle which he is confident they will win and one that occurs after his family has been murdered and he has been wounded and collected by slavers and taken across the desert. Each scene’s composition is crafted in order to portray this dramatic shift in fortunes.
The first scene in the film is the set up of Maximus’ role as the tragic hero. It is an essential moment in time for his character and the moment where the audience is shown his initial good fortune and high social status. A key component to this is the symbolism used within it in order to begin ideas and motifs which are carried throughout the film. One of these symbols is the imagery of animals. After a close-up shot a Maximus’ worried face, the director cuts to a shot of a European Robin perched on a twig. A close-up shot shows Maximus’ face clearing as he watches the Robin and he even smiles slightly as it flies away. The Robin has been known as a spirit animal for thousands of years, it is also seen as a symbol of divine sacrifice. The director draws focus to it as there are connections between the Robin and Maximus’ family later on. It is foreshadowing their fate if they had not died Maximus would not have risen to free Rome from Commodus thus making their deaths divine sacrifices. The director focusses on Maximus’ reaction to the bird using close-ups because it illustrates the fact that he is comforted by his family. They calm him and bring out the gentleness in his personality, even on the brink of battle. The close up shot immediately after the bird has flown away is also purposeful as it shows Maximus being lifted from his revelry and woken to reality. The following shot is of a wasteland battlefield where trees have been burnt to stumps and the air is grey with smoke. This represents the idea that later in the film, when his family is taken from him, Maximus is forced to face the reality that is a burning Roman Empire. Also in this scene is multiple shots of a dog, it is filmed alongside the men who Maximus is riding past as he rallies them. This dog runs alongside Maximus and breaks away from his chains to follow him. Dogs represent loyalty, brotherhood and pack mentality. Maximus is a good leader and is looked up to by his men, the dog
Costumes are an extremely important aspect of this film. The ever-changing garb of Maximus is representative of his journey as a tragic hero. In the first scene, Maximus is dressed in armour, this represents his prestige at the time. Armour, especially the adorned kind he wears is indicative of a certain place within society. Being a general means he has the power of his status, the strength and respect of his men, victories under his belt and the trust of an emperor. It is a metaphorical protection as well as a physical one. He also has furs. Animal imagery, as aforementioned, is an important aspect of both scenes being examined. In this scene, he is accompanied by his loyal dog also representing his men. His fur skin cloke, possibly a wolf’s, is a physical show of this protection and relationship. In addition, there is the emblem of a wold or dog embossed on the front of his breastplate which further draws links between the dog and the position of general. The tunics Maximus and his men wear under their armour are a dark red or crimson. This was common of Roman-era military uniforms, the colour was associated with war due to the mythological idea that it was the colour of the Roman war god, Mars. In order to have this stand out in the scene, the general tone and lighting are grey and sombre, making the red of Maximus’ more relevant and notable. colour has also been known to be a symbol of determination, strength, power, with connotations of fire and blood as well as with passion, love and desire. This may show the duality of Maximus as not only a strong and successful leader but also as a passionate man of the people who possesses an emotive influence on those around him. This is a powerful theme in this scene and in the film as a whole.
Costume in the other scene is also extremely telling, in the scene where he is being taken away by the slavers, Maximus is dressed in a raggedy tunic. It is grey and extremely worn, covering very little of him. He comes to be wearing this when he is taken prisoner by the evil son of the assassinated emperor, Commodus. This removal of his previous clothing represents being stripped of his status by the sudden turn of events. He has his armour and thereby his power, his men and his place in society, taken away from him. This is his sudden turn of fortune; he has been reduced to nothing but a slave, and this is represented in his costume. Unlike his armour the tunic is thin and leaves much of his skin bare, leaving him vulnerable and unprotected. He only gains this protection back when he builds himself up as a gladiator later on in the film, where costume once again reflects his rise as a hero. Where before there was red in his costume, it is now grey. Grey is a colour connotes with nothing, it has no strong or passionate emotions attached to it other than defeat or sadness. As opposed to the last scene where Maximus was dressed in colours that were in contrast with the grey lighting and camera filter, this time Maximus’ is grey in contrast to the warm, yellow-orange filter of the desert. This represents that at this moment, Maximus has somewhat given up. However, a last physical remnant of his former bravery and power is in his wound. It is red, just as his uniform was and it represents his latest attempt at survival. It is the last remains of his spirit as a general and is a metaphor for his will to live.