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The Gladiator

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2149 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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An essay on The Gladiator based on Sobchack’s conceptualisation of genre movies and Singers’ notions of melodrama specifically about moral polarization.

Ridley Scott’s The Gladiator (2000) is about, Maximus (Russell Crowe) a respected honourable general, loyal to both his emperor and Rome. He leads his troops into battle, and emerges victorious from all of them. The one battle he is unable to win is that he is unable to save his family from being condemned by the new emperor of Rome, Commodus (Joachim Phoenix). Maximus goes through numerous gladiator battles and finally comes back to Rome to take revenge on Commodus. Maximus eventually gets a chance at revenge for his family, when he is put against Commodus in the ring. After a long struggle, he succeeds in killing Commodus, and restores the power of the Roman senate. This Hollywood movie is a good example of a sensational melodrama and, as such, it illustrates many of Singer’s notions of melodrama. This film is also a good example of an adventure film or swashbuckler and as such illustrates well Sobchack’s conceptualisation of genre movies.

According to Singer, melodrama “as it generally is used today refers to a set of subgenres that remain close to the heart and hearth and emphasize a register of heightened emotionalism and sentimentality” (page127). In other words, Singer defines melodrama several main concepts: excess, situation, moral polarization, non-classical narrative structure, pathos and finally sensationalism.

Excess is the element perhaps most often associated with melodrama; according to Singer, it’s a certain “overwrought” or “exaggerated” quality. But also portrays emotional excess in the villain’s expressions of hatred, envy, jealousy, spite, or malice. For example, Maximus symbolizes all admirable qualities, and has a heart of gold. He is, however, opposed by the jealousy, obsessive and power-hungry Commodus who abuses his position of authority, as Caesar. This being said the viewers’ sympathy goes towards Maximus. On the other hand we feel distant from the emperor Commodus since we feel anger and hatred towards him. Melodrama also activates various kinds of excess in the spectator’s visceral responses. A good Hollywood melodrama is one that makes you cry, or one that arouses strong sentiment, particularly powerful feelings.

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Situation is another concept which merits consideration as a core feature of melodrama. Situation is a rather difficult to narrow down, but it could be defined as” a striking and exciting incident that momentarily arrests narrative action while the characters encounter a powerful new circumstance and the audience relishes the heightened dramatic tension”.(p128) In other words we are presented with a situation often entails a starting reversal or twist of events that creates a dramatic impasse, a momentary paralysis stemming from a deadlock. Situation involves a considerable amount of suspense: Suspense about how the deadlock will be broken. Illustrations of such suspense can be either about; how the hero will win a fight or how the “good guy” will escape from captivity. An example of a deadlock in the movie is noticed when Maximus had just killed Commodus and then just stands alone dreaming of opening the gates of heaven without any noise being heard. The deadlock is later on broken when Quintus had repeated Maximus’s name twice, in order to get him out of his dreams and Maximus replies with “release my men”.

What brings most viewers to watch movies like “The Gladiator” is one of its themes of hero vs. villain or “good guy” vs. “bad guy “, which according to Singer is called moral polarization. This aspect of melodrama, where the formula of good vs. evil is used, expresses a realistic effect on the viewer. Maximus is a character to be that of a “common man,” one who had the virtues of wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance. But on the other side we have Commodus a man full of hatred because of his father’s choice of the next ruler. He has no merci and will kill all those who come in his path to glory. People enjoy watching and experiencing the, thrill, adventures, violence, love, gore etc… of the constant action and suspense that plays throughout the movie. This is called Sensationalism. It is used by making ordinary people live through extraordinary things (played out by actors). This causes the viewers personal emotions to awaken with intense feelings of pathos.. A situation in the movie when we see how good vs. evil always finish is when the camera is on Maximus’s face as he tells Quintus “release my men”, this phrase shows that that the evil is being killed and the good is being released and by doing this Rome could now flourish.

According to Sobchack, genre film is a film which belongs to a particular group of films that are extremely similar in their subject matter. The Gladiator is defined to be a melodrama which according to Sobchak, “even though we know that the protagonist will triumph in the end or that a satisfactory solution will be found to the central conflict, we also know that the dangers which threaten the protagonist are life-and-death matters.” (192)Sobchack defines genre film in terms of the concepts of formula and iconography.

Formula is when “The basic conflict of the story is familiar, and we know from past viewing experiences none or less how the story will be resolved”. In other words, the “usual” happenings of a plot, like the conflict between good and evil, always end ups by having the good triumph. Most of the time, the hero is given some sort of power. With which he is designated to take on the mission of saving the society and bring back peace. In the movie the power which best suits Maximus is the loyalty which Maximus has. This loyalty appears many times throughout the movie and becomes evident, since each of his fellow gladiators, as well as his masters, is willing to die for him.

Iconography refers to “certain costumes, objects, landscapes and performers to signify by their presence elements of plot yet to come…” This means that when a viewer sees those icons, they immediately associate a theme or plot direction for the narrative. Colors, lights and costumes were frequently used. We see a clear usage of light in “the Gladiator” when towards the end; the light is directly aimed at Maximus and Commodus while all the other characters are in the dark, making these two main characters the “premier plan” of the movie.

For the color, we see Commodus dressed all in white in order to represent himself as being pure good and the rightful emperor that Rome needs to control everything, At the very end of the movie, before the final battle, we see Maximus a slave in white, and who is differently dressed compared to the other slave, whom they on the other hand are dressed in dark colour to keep them separated from this specific slave.

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The kinds of shots were very present carefully done throughout the movie. The shots are here to make the viewers feel either they are the character or the people around the main character. For example, after the war with the German tribe, Maximus converses with Marcus Aurelius, the camera is focused on Marcus, which in turn makes us feel like we are Maximus himself. Through these camera shots we are able to feel these emotions, of being confused and not really comfortable with the offer.

The theatrical genre of melodrama uses theme-music to control the spectator’s emotional response and to represent character types. In other words, the suspense music is used throughout the film in order to heighten the tension of the film and to keep the viewers at the edge of their seats. A movie soundtrack is used to praise the story being told on the screen

In fact, Gladiator in essence had very little to do with gladiators. It dealt with the tragic changing of power, deceit, and old alliances. Bringing up a so called SWASHBUCKLER as would Sobchack say. Who struggles against decadence in the Roman society and his efforts to give Rome back to the people while at the same time revenging his murdered family.

Movies like “The Gladiator” are usually

The Gladiator portrayed an adventure, being filled with blood, action and getaways with suspenseful plots. This movie primarily focuses on leadership, drama and politics. It’s a tale of betrayal, bravery and survival.’ As said earlier Maximus is trying to get back to Rome to get his freedom and revenge on Marcus Aurelius. This relates to Singer’s notion of melodrama because the movie is able to accomplish some sort of relationship with a vast audience and have many people relate and sympathize with Maximus. Singer mentions that melodrama is a distorted view on reality, where impossible situations occur constantly one after the other but with the realist effect.Excess is present during the battles of Maximus and Tigris of Graul. In this scene we are drawn into the action completely as if we were observers in the Coliseum itself. The constant roar of the crowds and their urging for death capture your ears and keep the adrenaline rushing; you become a Roman and are cheering for death yourself. Every clash of swords, every bang of metal on metal, and every cut, slash, puncture, punch and kick are all felt by the devastating realism of sound and camera angles. An awesome aspect of this scene is the fading in and out of the crowd while the fight surges. A favorite of mine, which caught my full attention, was the chains of the tigers running through the rings, symbolizing danger, as they were the only distinct sounds. The music draws you into the scene with its constant growth of intensity besides music, we see exaggeration in how the villain Commodus is very jealous of Maximus. Throughout the movie all battles in which Maximus takes place, bring up the notion of sensationalism since the viewers are excited to watch Maximus fight and triumph over his enemies. Finally, when Commodus is killed, there is a moment of suspense where everyone is wondering what will happen next this is a deadlock coming from the notion of situation Now looking at the movie from Sobchak’s point of view, we could see a presence of a melodrama genre. Since the hero, is going through obstacles which he can’t always find himself victorious. These obstacles are gladiator battles which put Maximus’ life in danger, but also death situations through time. The formula used in this movie is that the viewers know from the very beginning of the movie that Maximus will be able to overcome everything and anything which stands in his path to revenge. Sobchaks’ formal aspects, as defined earlier, are the colors, lights and costumes. A good scene, where the presence of all these aspects are found is when, Maximus is tied up and gazing upwards towards the heavens. This shows us that he has finally reached his goal and destination, which is to avenge his family and join them in the afterlife. Gracchus then comments, “who will help me carry him”, and many people step forward and an almost royal procession is made as he is carried out the arena. Commodus can be seen in the corner of the aerial shot in his robes ignored and forgotten. This again symbolizes that the evil has gone and the good prevails.

Singer and Sobchack both offer conceptualization of genre melodrama. Both accounts are relevant for the movie The Gladiator. This Ridley Scotts’ realization brings out the deep thought about greatness, principle, life and death through a great story about a simple but encompassing idea of a good vision, a vision of freedom: the general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, and the gladiator who defied the emperor. The story shows us what greatness means. That greatness is being true to your word, being truthful to yourself and doing a noble and generous deed. It is not about being rich or being poor nor being a king or slave – it is something in the character of the individual. No matter who or what he is. Maximus proves his worth as being a good man by being true to his promise to King Marcus Aurelious. The idea also shows us about freedom. That it can be won by staying together for a good cause and having true friends. Working together for a vision to attain a goal despite dangers. Greatness is an act that teaches men wisdom, wisdom to have strength and honor to the extent of risking one’s life. Maximus’ adventures appear to be in everyone’s everyday life. People might not be fighting in the same way; but at the end of the day, people always find themselves in their own battles throughout their lives which they must overcome in order to succeed.


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