This is actually the movie that started me on the epic path that led to me also rewatching Troy and Alexander, but this is the last movie I’m writing about because it makes more sense chronologically (you’re getting a real glimpse at the complete lack of planning I undertake when I pick a movie to write about). Because of this, I actually have a lot less to say about Gladiator than the other two films. This is probably a good thing, though, as I tend to be long-winded with these articles, especially when I get on a philosophical kick. I just wanted to explain why my Gladiator article has the shortest Echoes in Eternity segment, even though the title of the series comes from this film.
Echoes in Eternity, Part III
If Troy and Alexander were partially about mythic and historical heroes slowly learning that glory doesn’t matter in the long run, then Gladiator is the logical conclusion because Maximus has no need for these lessons. Although there is little mention of the gods in Gladiator, it’s safe to assume that Maximus is aware of Achilles and Alexander. It’s possible that he learned from their tales and understands what is important in life.
Although Maximus spends most of this time away from his family, it is not for personal glory; he only wishes to serve Rome. He is dedicated to Marcus Aurelius, but he does not hold him above Rome itself. Because of this, Aurelius wisely chooses Maximus to become Protector of Rome upon his death, eventually returning the power of Rome over to the elected Senate.As with everything else in his life, Maximus reluctantly agrees out of a sense of duty.
For Maximus, a soldier’s life is about honor, not glory. He tells his soldiers at the beginning that, “What we do in life, echoes in eternity.” But he’s not telling these men that they will be remembered as Achilles and Alexander are. Instead, these men will simply play their part in events that will change the world. It is in the afterlife that they will find peace and happiness, but they must be brave and honorable to find that peace.
A religious promise of future reward might be as empty as the glory sought by Achilles and Alexander, but at least it’s a bit more reasonable and possible. Certainly, if you were a foot soldier, you would be more likely to believe in the reward of a peaceful afterlife than in the possibility that you would become so famous in battle that stories are told of your exploits for generations to come.
Gladiator is the more modern look at motivation during such times. It also leans more into nationalism than the other films do, which is more reminiscent of the modern era, as well. Serving in the military in today’s world is definitely more about serving your country than seeking personal glory. And religion plays a factor in most countries, as well, so the promise of a good afterlife due to your sacrifice for the greater good is still relevant.
That promise of the afterlife makes the “echoes in eternity” line make the most sense for this film. While Achilles offered “immortality” and Alexander claimed his men could “conquer death,” the eternity they both sought was not really infinite. They sought to be remembered, and eventually memory, even for the most famous of us, will fade. Maximus’s promise deals with the afterlife, which is supposed to be forever.
The ultimate goal of these three men, though, is the same: I want my men to fight for me with passion and hope. All of this talk of eternity is just motivation. The question is what is truly honorable.
We live in a time in which people can support the troops but disagree with their mission. This is something the men in these films had to grapple with, too. Why should Achilles or his men care about Troy? Why should Alexander’s men care about pushing further into the unknown? Why should Maximus’s men care about Germania? Maximus, after all, is from Spain, not Rome. So why does he care?
Gladiator makes it clear that he shouldn’t. Marcus Aurelius tells Maximus as much, but Maximus cannot accept it because he has led men to their death during these campaigns. After Aurelius is killed by Commodus, however, Maximus must accept that his service may not have been as important or honorable as he had hoped.
After his family is killed, Maximus is as disillusioned as a person can be. He eventually begins to fight out of necessity in the gladiator games, but his spirit returns to him with the promise of revenge. His stint as a simple gladiator is soulless. There is no honor in what he is doing, and he is sickened by it. Only when the possibility of revenge comes into play does he regain the sense of purpose he had at the beginning of the film. And if he can also save Rome along the way, well, why not?
Maximus comes full circle in the end, and it’s hinted that he reaches the afterlife he promised his men. He finds his peace by fighting the honorable fight. Maximus’s actions have a direct effect on the world he leaves behind, but they will echo for eternity in the afterlife he has earned.
Extended Cuts Are Not Director’s Cuts...and Should Not Exist.
Director’s cuts can change films in major ways, and no director has proven this more than Ridley Scott. Blade Runner is the famous example, but his director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven transformed that film from a mediocre historical epic into a truly great film. Any issue I had with the theatrical cut was addressed and fixed in his new cut. Because of this, I’m always on the lookout for new versions of Scott’s films. So when I saw the “Extended Cut” of Gladiator, I was intrigued. But I was tricked by the studio, and Scott even warned me about it.
When you choose to watch the extended cut, you can also watch an intro from Scott. He looks annoyed to be giving the intro in the first place, which is a bad sign, and he goes on to tell you that this extended cut is NOT his director’s cut. I should have stopped there.
Basically, an extended cut is just the theatrical cut of a movie with deleted scenes inserted back in. But, as anyone who has watched the deleted scenes on any DVD, those scenes were cut for a reason. You can look up all the differences here, but I wanted to point out my issues with the most noticeable changes:
*The German dude talks about how a gladiator can gain his freedom (how many fights and whatnot). The wormy guy who eventually pisses himself talks about how he can’t do that.
My issue here is that we don’t need to know the specifics of gaining freedom. In fact, it’s better if we think these guys have to do this indefinitely. It adds to the plight of their situation. As for the wormy guy, I think the pissing scene in the theatrical makes it clear that this guy doesn’t have what it takes. We don’t need him to flat out tell us this.
*Proximo lectures Maximus about how he needs to entertain the audience rather than just win the match. This happens right before the famous “Are you not entertained?” scene.
This completely takes away from that moment. Instead of Maximus coming to the realization that the audience is getting bored with his skill on his own, he is now directly responding to Proximo. I find that much weaker. There’s already enough tension with Maximus and Proximo. I liked Maximus acknowledging the shitty audience, since the “mob” of Rome is referred to so often in the film. It’s further evidence that the commoners are simple and just want to see blood, and they need someone more than just an entertainer to lead them, which makes Maximus’s quest to unseat Commodus that much more powerful.
*There are multiple scenes in which the selling of grain reserves is discussed.
I’m all for a film acknowledging the realism of ruling an empire, but the goal here is to show that Commodus is a shitty ruler, and I think we understand he’s a bad person when he murders his father in one of his first scenes. Plus, talks of grain reserves reminds me of all the trade blockade stuff from The Phantom Menace (I actually love that movie, but I don’t give a fuck if Naboo is under a blockade).
*Commodus takes a sword to a bust of his father, then breaks down crying and hugs it.
Once again, the murder scene at the beginning already established that Commodus has...um...complex feelings towards his dad.
*The men who helped Maximus escape are rounded up and executed on Commodus’s order.
First off, I assumed this happened anyway. Secondly, we don’t need yet another example of Commodus being a brutal, shitty leader. It’s been well established at this point.
None of these scenes are bad. They are just unnecessary and mess with the flow of the film. They would be fine as deleted scenes, which is exactly what they are. It’s bad enough that the studios lure me in with director’s cuts, but these extended cuts are straight up bullshit. At least I know now...but I’ll still buy shit like this. At least the theatrical cut is still an option on the blu-ray.
Why Do I Own This?
I love epics, and this is the movie that led to movies like Troy and Alexander getting greenlit. It’s so fucking good. I’ve watched it at least a dozen times, and I revisit it every couple of years. I’ll just be staying away from that extended cut.
This section is shorter than usual because most of the notes I had concerned the extended cut additions. Plus, it’s an awesome movie, and I lost myself in it.
Ridley Scott gives an incredibly unenthusiastic introduction to the extended cut on the blu-ray. It’s the rare instance in which Scott approves of the theatrical cut.
Nice establishing scene showing Commodus is a badass with a sword while also generally being a sniveling pussy man who spends most of the movie trying to fuck his sister.
I like how Maximus just cucks Commodus in every aspect of his life. Commodus wants his father to love him, but his father loves Maximus more. Commodus wants to bang his sister, but she wants to bang Maximus. Commodus wants to rule Rome, but his father wants Maximus to take over. Commodus wants Lucius to see him as a father figure, but Lucius idolizes Maximus. Commodus wants the love of the mob, but they love Maximus. Can you blame Commodus for wanting to kill Maximus? Don’t get me wrong, he still sucks. But I get why he wants Maximus gone.
Omid Djalili was the go-to wormy Middle Eastern guy for a couple years with this and The Mummy.
I still love Maximus's speech to Commodus. It’s an all-time badass moment for Russell Crowe.