Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Movie Review: Gladiator

Finding Elysium

By Kyle Garza

Since its introduction to the big screen in the year 2000, Gladiator has met heavy-handed criticism from Christian film critics, largely because of its “gratuitous” violence. I argue, however, that the violence in Gladiator is always purposeful, serving the greater purpose of characterizing the virtues in its combatant protagonist, Maximus Decimus Meridius. Upon a first viewing, Maximus’s story seems to be yet another tale of vengeance and gore that encourages our desire to see wicked villains slain. With a little more reflection, though, we can discover that Gladiator has much more to say about love and service, and in fact uses Maximus to discourage bloodlust and carnage as mere means of entertainment.
    Throughout Gladiator, it is clear that Maximus takes no pleasure in killing. Even after his wife and son are ordered by the mad tyrant Commodus to be executed, Maximus neither seeks nor finds any solace in gladiatorial combat. He kills only because he must to survive, and in the midst of every battle, we see significant developments in his character. He unifies his fellow slaves in the arena, dignifying them with the same treatment he would any man in the Roman legions, whereas the mentality of most gladiators is “every man for himself.” He mercifully spares the life of one particularly formidable opponent, and the scene framed by Ridley Scott is nothing short of a beautifully transcendent moment.
All the while, his acceptance of violence as a necessary evil is contrasted starkly with the mad emperor’s sadistic enjoyment of the bloodshed in the arena.
    But all of these finer points of the film pale in comparison to the greater story being told about one man’s integrity in keeping his promise to a dying emperor, and another man’s plummet into depression and madness due to the failure of a father’s sincere love for his son. Marcus Aurelius names Maximus his successor because he knows Maximus is a man of noble virtue; he is the type of man who would not keep power for himself, but would rightfully hand his reign over to the Roman Senate, where a true Republic could be restored to Rome and the empire abolished.
    The sad fact of the matter is that Marcus Aurelius confesses his failure as a loving father to be the cause of Commodus’s squalid character, and thus the major conflict of the film is formed.
    In the end, Maximus’s revenge against Commodus lacks the glory and splendor of a film that exalts vengeance and violence. The crowd is awed into silence.

Commodus’s death parallels that of his father’s, and we are soberly reminded that fatherly love could have prevented all this pain.
    In a flurry of Christ-motifs, Maximus sets the captive gladiators free, re-instates the good Senator Gracchus, and fulfills his long-kept oath to his Caesar (whom he personally called Father), accomplishing his will in his last breaths before joining his wife and son in the paradise of Elysium, where he can at last rest in peace. Gladiator thus ought not be dismissed as having little redemptive value for Christian audiences. On the contrary, it delivers justice without relishing in bloodshed, and a virtuous hero without succumbing to sadism.

Copyright © 2016 by Kyle Garza


  1. Yes, very well done! Thanks, Kyle.

  2. Replies
    1. I've apologized to the reviewer for failing to suggest he include a spoiler alert, and I apologize to you, too, James, and to everyone else who hasn't seen Gladiator or has forgotten how it ended.