The film Gladiator provokes a flood of emotion which many people cannot handle. The audience is left feeling sad, angry, happy and wanting more. This catharsis of emotions is what Aristotle wanted from a tragedy and exactly what Ridley Scott achieved which is why Gladiator is such a good film. The conventions of a tragedy as set by Aristotle are strongly established during this film. Scott effectively uses visual language techniques to leave the audience feeling emotionally exhausted. Character development and the establishment of a tragic hero in an Aristotelian based tragedy is what encapsulates the audience but at what point do we hate Ridley Scott for leaving Maximus, the tragic hero in Gladiator, facing his undeserved fate.
The film Gladiator by Ridley Scott is a tragedy. A tragedy, as defined by Aristotle, is an imitation of an action that causes a feeling of catharsis for the viewer. The main protagonist in a tragedy is a tragic hero. In the film Gladiator, Maximus is an example of an Aristotle tragic hero. A tragic hero possesses five specific characteristics; hamartia, peripeteia, anagnorisis, hubris, and nemesis. At the beginning of the film, during the opening scene, Maximus is developed as a good man with what he is wearing and what he says. Maximus wears a large fur coat representing his leadership and power that he holds over his army and his army respects him by bowing their heads for him and obeying his orders. Wearing this important costume and having his army show respect towards him helps the audience develop him as a good man. This character development at the beginning of the film shows the characteristic of hubris, which is the protagonist’s excessive pride. It sets up the series of events that follow during the film because it is Maximus’s pride that eventually leads him to his final fate. Maximus also develops the specific characteristic of peripeteia and nemesis during the film. Peripeteia is a reversal of fortune of the character and nemesis is the characters fate is greater than deserved. Scott effectively develops Maximus as a tragic hero during the film specifically in two scenes: the opening scene and the slave collection scene. During these two scenes, Ridley Scott uses the techniques of dialogue and symbolism, specifically animals, to portray Maximus’s journey as a character to the audience. The dialogue used during the film shows his initial leadership and enhances his downfall and his reversal of fortune. Animals are used to also show this reversal of fortune as Maximus was once respected by animals he finds himself beneath them on the natural chain of being later on in the film. The traditional conventions of a tragedy are upheld through the use of these language features.
The first scene in the Gladiator that portrays the tragic hero character with the use of techniques is the opening scene. Scott effectively uses the techniques of dialogue and animal motifs to help portray the characteristics of a tragic hero that Maximus possesses. As the audience we can see that Maximus is a respected man with the value of his fur coat and the way his soldiers react to him, this is further emphasized by the use of dialogue. Ridley Scott purposefully minimizes the use of dialogue in this scene in order to portray the importance of each individual line said. As the tragic hero, Maximus speaks the majority of the lines in this scene. The authority Maximus has over his comrades is developed this way. He speaks with confidence and addresses everyone as a leader. As Maximus rides into the forest to address his men he sits up on his high horse and faces his army. They look upon him with respect and it is obvious that they are proud to fight with their leader as they are attentive and consider everything Maximus has to say. At the conclusion of his pre-battle speech, he says “Brothers! What we do in life, echoes an eternity”. This line of dialogue shows the connection Maximus has with his army as he addresses them as “brother”, by saying this they see Maximus as an equal and are honored to fight with him. This line also shows Maximum’s excessive pride as it is obvious that he takes pride in everything he does during his lifetime so he is viewed in a positive way once he has passed. This mindset on life means that he is proud of all of his actions and carries his decisions with pride; a common trait of a tragic hero. Not only does Ridley Scott use dialogue to portray Maximus as a tragic hero but also the motif of animals. In the opening scene, we see a bird sitting on the battlefield looking up at Maximus who looks back. This bird represents Maximus’s potential freedom. The bird that he is faced with has the ability to fly away and avoid the horror of war but Maximus can’t. He stays and fights for his country because of his excessive pride. It would be easy for him to turn around on his horse and return to his family who he misses, but instead, he leads his men into battle as their leader because that is his duty and he does not want to disappoint anyone. Another animal that the audience is faced with during the opening scene is the German Shepherd dog. This dog represents Maximus’s connection with the natural world and the protection he is given from animals. This dog refuses to leave his side throughout the battle and it shows that not only do his fellow men respect him but animals also have respect for Maximus. The respect he receives form animals shows that Maximus has a connection with the natural world. This connection that Maximus has is enhanced with the symbolism of him touching a handful of dirt before he begins a fight. By feeling the dirt before the battle he feels grounded and respects the natural forces that he might be faced with. The use of these two motifs simultaneously throughout not only the opening scene but many that follow enhances the idea of Maximus having a deep connection with the environment around him. Not only does this help develop his tragic hero characteristic of pride but also means he is more likable to the audience as he has a genuine connection with the environment we have a genuine connection with him. Ridley Scott effectively uses this opening scene and the techniques of dialogue and motifs to develop Maximus as a character and show his tragic hero characteristics, specifically his excessive pride. As the audience, we form a connection with this tragic hero enabling us to already develop emotions for the overall tragedy.