The Gladiator is a Film set in 180 AD about a man called Maximus, It depicts Maximus’s fall from the protector of Rome to what can only be described as when your rock bottom has a trap door, as his family is brutally slaughtered, he himself is almost murdered. He somehow moves from this supposed hopeless position to a famous gladiator slave until his eventual sad end. The Film Gladiator can easily be considered a tragic drama. This is because it has many of the conventions that a tragic drama has, Plot, structure, character, ideas, diction and melody and spectacle. A big part, that will be explored in this essay is character specifically in Maximus, A tragic Drama must always have a tragic hero and Maximus somewhat fits the parameters of that role. A Tragic hero is a man that starts off in a high position and has a fall from his position due to his fatal flaw. That is almost always excessive pride, His inability to see his fate was self inflicted until to late leads him to a tragic end, With almost always everyone he loves and cares about paying a terrible price along with him. How the director portrays this using, dialogue and camera angles will be shown in this essay.
The first scene that will be looked at is at the beginning of the movie, right after Maximus helps win the war for the emperor. It is the moment when the emperor’s son reveals to Maximus that the emperor is dead. This scene is significant because it is the point in the movie where everything changes drastically, as well as where it is made clear, that Maximus’s fate can go in either directions depending entirely on the decision he makes. Not only that but it is also the point in the movie when Maximus’s fatal flaw first rears its ugly head in a way that no audience member can miss it.
Dialogue is used throughout the scene and makes clear where everyone stands as well as where the power lies. Camera angles high light the emotions each character is feeling and puts further understanding in if their dialogue is their truth or not. From the beginning of the scene before dialogue is even used camera angles show Maximus’s fatal flaw. When he enters the room a full body shot shows, that when made to be in the same vicinity as Commodus his expression as well as his body visibly show disgust. This is before he is aware of the Emperors death and that Commodus might have done something terribly wrong. This shows that Maximus has such a huge amount of pride he struggles to be nearby someone he deems unworthy.
When Commodus says to Maximus ”amend with me brother our great father is dead” using the word brother even though they are not related, shows that Commodus is trying to align himself with Maximus, it also shows a desperation for Maximus to be accepting of whatever truth Commodus wants him to be, Not only that but the close up of Commodus’s face when you look behind the tears that look a little to purposeful there is also a more sincere expression of nervousness. This put’s Maximus above Commodus in power because Maximus now has the power to refuse Commodus or accept him, Everything is relying on Maximus’s next bit of dialogue. The fact that Maximus does not speak another sentence furthers the tension. We are not sure what Maximus is going to do, These techniques also show the tragic hero aspect of the movie, as putting all the emphasis on what Maximus is about to say or do next means that the decisions he’s about to make next carries significant weight. This is important because the decision he makes next reveals his tragic hero fatal flaw.
The tension furthers by use of camera angles continually doing closeups on Maximus who isn’t hiding his suspicion of the kings’ death anymore. This further shows his fatal flaw since his reactions in this moment are entirely from emotion and little to do with thought, its compulsive behavior, this means that he’s acting from a base emotion that their and not intellect and the base emotion he is acting from is pride. When Maximus finally speaks and says ”how did he die?” it continues to further the tension as well as our own personal anger towards Commodus because it highlights the fact that Commodus is lying since we know full well that he killed his father, Since we saw him murder his father in the scene before. The fact that not many characters in this scene are fully aware of this creates dramatic irony. This is a tragic drama convention, and is another aspect of the scene that is adding tension.
The full body shot of Maximus kneeling over the kings’ body and Commodus standing over Maximus. Changes the position of power each character has, Giving it back to Commodus. There is a feeling that the scene has reached a turning point when Maximus calls the dead emperor ”father”, and we see a closeup of a quickly suppressed flash of anger dart across Commodus’s face. When Commodus says the dialogue ”your emperor is asking for your loyalty I’ll only offer you this hand once” we as the audience become aware of the fact, That Commodus now has a much higher status than Maximus and he’s had the power all along, since he is the emperor and has been since the scene has started. However, before he did not use his position to make it obvious of the power he had so it was hard to see him as anything else than an annoying brat. We become unsure about what’s going to happen next, Or even what the ramifications of this moment truly means. We are vaguely aware of the fact that Commodus is capable of murder due to the previous scene. The dialogue does also sound vaguely like a threat so were unsure about what Maximus’s well being will be like if he decides to refuse the emperor The extreme closeup of Maximus’s face portraying his pain at the concept of being in the room for a moment longer and a full body shot of him leaving the room. Releases the tension and leaves us to wonder what will happen next. It also furthers show the fact that he is acting out of pride and nothing else because the full body shot of him leaving the room shows the stereotypical physical representation of pride from the blown up chest and the head held high. This shot shows that hes acting out of nothing but pride because if it was anger, that was driving his final decision he would’ve done something physical and if it was grief for the death of his father figure his body language would be a lot more drooped. This scene fully embeds the concept of his fatal flaw and the way that it leads him to make bad decisions.
The second scene that will be explored is half way through the movie. Right after Maximus had reached his peak as a gladiator and had made it to Rome through the fame he had gathered.
The scene starts off when a soldier says to him ”the king wishes to see you” Maximus replies with ”I am at the emperors service” the camera angle portraying an over the shoulder shot, reveals that he has little to no obvious emotion portrayed on his face, even though he is wearing a mask we can still see his expression. This leaves us with no insight into his inner emotions which also means we are unsure about what will happen next. How quickly it transitions from an over the shoulder shot to a full body shot with Commodus walking over to meet Maximus, leaves us with a feeling of both foreboding because its normal to come to the conclusion that there will be some sort of big event about to happen from the two meeting.
The continuation of over the shoulder shots with many people blurry in the background as well as the gladiators standing behind Maximus and soldiers behind Commodus makes it look like there almost perfectly geared for some sort of battle. Which amps up the tension since were not sure if there will be one or not. When Maximus kneels and there are several closeups of his hand reaching for a weapon, there is a realization that Maximus does not have a plan. Since he’s getting resources that he has immediate access to, we realize, that he is again acting out of compulsiveness and we as the audience have a feeling of almost dread because it is reminding us again of the scene where everything went wrong. Especially because once again Maximus is entirely in control of how the interaction will go.
The continuation of closeups between the two, From Maximus’s serious expression which can still be shown even though he’s wearing a mask and Commodus whose expression seems excited and childlike.
Commodus’s next bits of dialogue are all complementary however it seems like the longer the interaction lasts the ruder and more abrupt maximus’s dialogue becomes. Including when Commodus says to Maximus ”what’s your name Spaniard” and Maximus says ”gladiator” and turns his back, This again like in the first scene described in this essay he’s acting purely from pride. If he had made up a name and played along he would not have had to deal with the emperor getting angry and forcing him to reveal himself through his dialogue ”reveal yourself”.
Also, if his aim had been to avenge his family through the death of the emperor he could have played along gotten close and then murdered him. He becomes encircles by the emperors soldiers shown through a birds eye view and once again Maximus is being cornered as a direct result of his actions. When he takes his mask off, and reveals that he is Maximus and through his dialogue talks about how he will avenge his family in this life or the next. His words feel hollow because he had, had the chance to avenge his family however he didn’t.
This leaves us the audience feeling like the decision he made to reveal himself wasn’t the right one because now he’s entirely under the Emperors control once again. It also leaves us with a weird feeling of disappointment since we’ve been gearing for this moment ever since Maximus escaped and his family were slaughtered. He had been working towards that confrontation for a long time. Yet he once again made the same mistakes that got him in the mess in the first place. What makes this ironic is the fact that when the king attempts to make his soldiers murder Maximus and the crowd starts shouting ”live, live, live” The close up on Maximus’s face which portrays not only exhaustion but also an expression of ”i did all i could’ shows us again that he hasn’t learned from his past mistakes or even learnt that they were mistakes at all. This shows us that he is destined to do the same thing once again if given a third chance. That he still seems to have a strange childlike belief in Rome, and justice, and how in not bowing down to something he doesn’t believe in, it is the same as being a morally correct person. It seems that, he’s still unaware of how bloated his own pride is, as well as the fact that if he truly cared about Rome more than his pride, he couldve swallowed his pride in the first scene discussed and made changes inside the system.
In conclusion the Director’s use of camera angles and dialogue in these two scenes beautifully portrayed Maximus’s tragic hero qualities from the typical greek theater in a modern day context. By using Camera angles the Director effectively portrayed the inner battle the main characters were experiencing and gave us the audience an inside view into the emotions they were feeling. The camera angles, establish the characters relationships, foreshadow possible directions the scene could go in as well as created tension. The dialogue showed us who was more dominant in the relationships, revealed who had knowledge of what, and established dominance from one character to another. These two conventions made it so Maximus could not be seen as anything but a tragic hero.