It it only when people are stripped of their own power and authority that their intentions become clear. Ridley Scott’s ‘The Gladiator’ is based upon Roman Empire history that evidently represents character traits through loss and gain of fortune. Maximus is the general of the northern army in Rome who serves an emperor that is murdered by his own son, Commodus. Commodus becomes the new emperor and attempts to kill Maximus out of jealousy and hatred. Much of Ridley Scotts techniques focus on animal symbolism and dialogue to portray the idea of tragedy. A closer look at 2 very different scenes purposely reveal aspects of Maximus as a tragic hero, and what his role as a tragic hero proves to us as an audience.
A tragic hero is a literary character that makes a judgement of error which leads to their own destruction. A tragic hero will consist of many Aristotelian characteristics that show the idea of tragedy. Tragedy in a form of drama that is created to cause some sort of feeling within the audience. The role of a tragic hero in a tragedy is to evoke emotions based on the storyline. Generally, a tragedy film will induce catharsis in an audience which makes them feel a purification of emotions through change involving pity and fear that results in relief. Ridley Scott will have knowledge of Aristotle’s idea of tragedy because Maximus’s characteristic relate so closely to those of a tragic hero.
Scene 1 begins with a close up shot of a man running his hand on top of a wheat field, which then proves to be the protagonist of the film in the following close up shots of Maximus’s face. Maximus seems to appear at the beginning of the final battle between Rome and the barbarian tribes of Germania, and we soon learn that he is the general of the northern army. The scene then goes on to show the preparation of Maximus and his men for battle which signifies his image and place in the film as a general. The first animal used in the film serves to be a small bird which catches Maximus’s eye before he continues into battle. The colourful bird seems to look directly at Maximus and into the camera before quickly fluttering away, and we see a subtle smile forming on his lips as the bird does so. Not only does the bird represent having the freedom to fly away leaving Maximus longing to do the same, it portrays innocence to the indifference of nature to the senseless battles forgone by humans. The bird and nature shall feel none if not any effects of the of battle outcome, showing just how meaningless war is. Although, war does highlight the fact that men fight and continue to fight for their own pride. This is the hubris characteristic of Aristotle’s idea of a tragic hero that Maximus possesses by consistently succeeding in previous battles. Further on in the scene, we see Maximus riding his horse to prepare for battle closely followed by a dog which was shown staring intently at Maximus earlier on as he smelt the dirt in his hands. The dog and Maximus seem to have a connection showing that they quite possibly have fought many battles together already. The dog seems to signify Maximus’s close relationship with nature from the way the dog looks up to him as if Maximus is his own general. Through Maximus’s strong connection to the natural world, he appears to find power and strength which is highlighted from the dog serving as a link between the reality of battle and the peace of nature. Aristotle’s good fortune characteristic is represented as a trait of Maximus’s where he is well respected in his position not only among his men but among nature shown by the loyalty of the dog.
The dialogue in this scene enhances our understanding of who Maximus is. The first set of dialogue we experience shows the appraisal of men towards Maximus. Maximus is shown walking through a path full of men in battle wear, each nodding their heads and calling out to him as “general” and “sir”. Maximus goes on to greet his second in command, Quintis, by proudly saying, “lean and hungry”. Through the mens reaction to Maximus, we come to understand that he is a very well respected man who carries power and responsibility. The men seem to be in awe of Maximus who has most likely given them reasons to be grateful for their lives at war. Since the men tend to portray Maximus as their leader, we seem to see him as a leader too. Maximus’s reaction to the men show us that he knows that they are content and respectful despite the fact that they are about to face battle, which seems to be positive outcome of his leadership. Maximus tends to have a way of speaking that makes people want to listen and obey him, and his use of words show how knowledgable he is. “Three weeks from now I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so”. Maximus constantly reassures his men before battle and has gained their respect through his leadership strategies. His morals about “strength and honour” are induced into his men which may contribute to the success of the army. Maximus’s leadership may bring about hubris, which describes a characters excessive pride. Although Maximus is seen as a humble man, his pride may be directed towards his men as well as himself from past success. “People should know when they are conquered”. “Would you Quintis? Would I?”. Even though he knows he cannot win every battle, he still believes in himself to lead the men to success. We start to see Maximus as an optimistic leader who inspires others through his excessive pride and fearless manner.
Scene 2 begins before Maximus wakes up, showing visions from his imagination. It is only when Maximus wakes that we discover that he has been captured by slaves surrounded by foreign people and caged animals. His deep wound is being tended to by man who only just seems to speak english, and foreign men stare at Maximus with utter carelessness. This scene seems to be of great significance by showing a complete flip in Maximus’s life. Scott Ridley has used the symbolism of many animals to show Maximus in his downfall and place of lost fortune. The first animal we are shown is a white horse running free in the wild, and then another white horse in distress having been tied up with ropes. Perhaps Ridley Scott has purposely shown us shown us these images to represent that Maximus was free and is now trapped by slaves against his will. We see an image of a monkey with rope tied around its neck which relates to how Maximus is being tied up like an animal. “Don’t die. They’ll feed you to the lions. They are worth more than we are”. The lion in the cage also represents how Maximus is being treated like a captured animal, and how little power he now has compared to when he was a general where the man and animals obeyed him. In the chain of being, lions are usually superior to any other animal. The lion locked up in a cage proves to be wrong in the chain of being, which shows that Maximus who used to be of power does not belong in his position of enslavement either. Further on in the scene we are shown goats and camels giving off the idea that Maximus is heading into a market where people trade and exchange goods/animals. We start to understand that since Maximus is being treated like an animal, he may be traded and exchanged like one too. During this scene, we see that Maximus has sustained a large wound on his arm near his SPQR tattoo which is a latin phrase for ‘the senate and the roman people’. The wound is clearly infected and full of maggots. However, these maggots actually symbolise an infestation on Maximus. The wound was made on Commodus’s orders, so Maximus has become infested by Commodus. Since the maggots have taken over the wound, they also represent that Maximus’s desire for revenge on Commodus has taken over his mind; he is infected by vengeance. It is a clear sign that Maximus’s loyalty to Rome has been jeopardised shown by the gash being made so close to his tattoo. It seems that he exiled himself from the Roman Empire he has served for a life time and is transitioning into an outsider as a slave. The animals in this scene help represent Maximus as a tragic hero through the characteristic of peripeteia. Maximus does not seem as connected to nature with these animals as they seem mistreated and captured just like him. He is not used to being treated like his life to other people and animals is meaningless, and that he is no longer in charge of the situation. Maximus’s fortune has been completely reversed due to a flaw in judgement he has made in previous scenes. It seems as though Maximus endured a huge loss of fortune; from losing his emperor, to his family, and now his freedom.
During this scene, Maximus does not say a word. Instead, we hear a fellow slave man deliberately talking to Maximus and other men speaking in foreign language. Maximus is clearly in a state of confusion, as is the audience, which could be why he does not speak. It seems that he is trying to figure out his situation, despite the fact that he has sustained a serious injury. The slave man talking to Maximus appears to be looking after him. Perhaps he sees greatness in Maximus. “Don’t die, you’ll meet them again. Not yet”. The mans respect for Maximus is shown through his attempt to heal his wound. Since Maximus’s fortune has been reversed, the man expresses kindness for him in a very different form; one that Maximus would never of expected. Again, Maximus is not used to being surrounded by foreign men who are oblivious to who he really is. Maximus’s silence in this scene could represent the reversal of fortune in a sense that he is no longer in charge like he used to be. His leadership in the past was highly respected and he always knew what to do when things went wrong. Now that he has lost most of his fortune, he may not know what to do anymore which is completely different to who he used to be.
The symbolism of animals and dialogue in this scene have purposely been used by Ridley Scott to show Maximus’s reversal of fortune. Both techniques have been used for the complete opposite reason that they were used for in scene 1. The animals now have no connection to Maximus, and most of the people surrounding him have no respect of who he is and what he’s done for Rome. His character at this point seems to have lost everything he ever fought for, and his morals have been clouded. Ridley’s portrayal of Maximus in the scene represents that he has made an error in judgement and his life has been flipped upside down because of it. The animal symbols and dialogue techniques are important to show because they don’t represent the same thing as they did in scene 1. We as an audience may feel disconnected to Maximus as he is disconnected from nature and people. This is from our confusion and sympathy as to why his fortune was completely reversed. We want to feel sorry for Maximus and hope that he becomes the great hero he once was. The chaos of the people and animals also make us feel slightly uncomfortable compared to the normality of them both in scene 1. We can only imagine how Maximus is feeling after his great loss. Maximus’s reversal of fortune characteristic contributes massively to becoming a tragic hero. We start to feel a sense of catharsis which is the key concept for an audience to feel in a tragedy. Maximus becomes very closely related to a tragic hero which is the protagonist in a tragedy. Because we as an audience start to feel distress for Maximus’s great suffering, his role as a tragic hero becomes evident. The tragic hero will always endure a reversal of fortune due to a flaw in error of judgement. Maximus’s misjudgement is being too nice in a sense that he has so much trust in people that he becomes easily manipulated. Although we do not witness this in both of the scenes, the outcome of his loss of fortune is revealed for us to make the connection. His reversal of fortune in this scene brings him closer to becoming a tragic hero which is essential for tragedy.
Throughout the 2 scenes in ‘Gladiator’, Ridley Scott has portrayed techniques of animals and dialogue to display Maximus’s traits as a tragic hero. In scene 1, we see Maximus as a general who beholds the tragedy characteristic of excessive pride. During scene 2, we experience Maximus in his lowest form of power from his reversal of fortune. The audience starts to feels signs of catharsis for Maximus, who we begin to pity and feel sorry for. We understand that Maximus was a great leader whose morals lead him to a loss in fortune. His aspects of a tragic hero make us admire and respect his actions and beliefs making him an extremely interesting character to follow.