Tuesday, July 5, 2011


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The film “Gladiator” is not only a graphic depiction of the Roman Empire but a tremendous example of how films use formal expectations and motifs to tell a compelling tale. I will analyze how the film follows the ABA in both the small and large scale of things. I will also give some details as to how the film uses recurring images to manipulate the viewer’s emotions, which is why the ending of the film works so well.

Many films use the ABA form to tell a tale about a person who must leave home, then tries to get back home but is faced with many obstacles, then finally returns home in the end. We enjoy these films because our formal expectation that the person will eventually get home is met and we are satisfied. “Gladiator” follows this basic pattern but in an unconventional way.

Our first main character, Maximus, must be forced to leave home. Although we do not actually see this in the film, we come to the understanding that he had to leave home to serve his country in war. We fill this part of the story in because after the opening sequence, which is the final battle in the conquest of the Roman Empire, Maximus asks to be released to finally return home. This not only fills in the beginning part of the story but gives us the motivation for him to want to go home. This becomes a recurring theme throughout the film as we see many images and hear Maximus speak of his home and family. This also has an effect on the emotions of the viewer. Here we have a general that conquers lands and leads many people to kill, but the viewer is manipulated to see him as the caring father and husband, which gives us the desire to see him return home.

Now for the story to continue many problems must come in the way of Maximus’s journey home, and they do. First his family is murdered by a corrupt ruler, Comidus. Now it would appear that we just want Maximus to get revenge for their deaths, but in the back of our minds we would like to see him reunited with his family. So for us to accept the film both of these expectations must be met, and I will explain how this is done perfectly. His search for revenge drives much of the film as Maximus is traded as a slave and must fight to stay alive. This part of the story is seen in many other “hero” type films; the hero must overcome what appear to be impossible odds to get his vengeance.

You may be wondering how the film can satisfy the last part of the form, the hero returns home, if there is no family and home to return to. During the climax of the movie our hero sustains a lethal injury that he must overcome. As he battles the man that took his family away we see that he is obviously not going to survive that battle. Many people may be upset to see the hero die but that is where this movie uses recurring images to change our feeling about this.

Throughout the film we have seen daydreams of Maximus being with his family and walking through the fields of his home. We see these same images during the final battle between Maximus and Comidus. After Maximus defeats Comidus, satisfying the revenge expectation, Maximus begins to see the images of his family again but this time they are slightly different than before. He is told by one of the other characters to “go to them” just before he finally dies. We go back to the images of his family but now Maximus is there with them walking through his fields. In an unusual way, this satisfies the last part of the story, the hero returns home.

We can now enjoy the film because all of our formal expectations have been met. This is why the film was such a huge hit and why it won the academy award for best picture.

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