Friday, December 31, 2010

Gladiator: No one told it that it was just a dick flick

Some other titles I considered for this post were: "Gladiator: As Boring As I Remember"; "Gladiator: Best Picture? Seriously?"; and "Gladiator: I Think 300 Was Better."

And I do think the movie would have been a lot better if it HAD been more like 300. The fighting wasn't bad, despite the crappy CGI, and I like the idea of a gladiator with dueling death wish and vengeance complexes. Even the "Daddy loved you better than me!" angle wasn't the worst part. The worst part were the interminable conversations about feelings and politics and the interminable shots of wheat and weather. Talk about pathetic fallacy. Emphasis on pathetic. The movie really forces these grandiose statements about democracy and the mob and violence and blah blah blah. Which seem totally out of place (and horribly written) in a movie like this, but also fatally flawed. Better directors than you, Ridley Scott, have wrestled with how to make a movie critiquing celebrations of violence as cool and entertaining that also, cinematically, make violence look really, well, cool and entertaining. But even more than that, you can't have a movie that makes the smug point that the gladiatorial games were the mark of Rome's corruption and barbarism while, AT THE SAME TIME, making those very games the vehicle for the hero's vengeance and redemption. Oops.

So what do you think, Nat? Is this on the list because it explicitly states (rather than demonstrates or explores) a facile and easy political point ala Crash? Is it the academy's love affair with epics? The acting wasn't bad--Joaquin in particular was MUCH better than his character was written--but why do people love this movie?


  1. HA! It's problem IS that no one told it it's just a dick flick! It's like Phillip Roth's books that everyone thinks are serious literature but are just about dicks. If it were about vaginas, it would be consigned to chick flick territory immediately, long important speeches or no.

    But, yeah, I think it's on the list because it beats the viewers over the head with VERYIMPORTANTISSUES!! ala Crash and it does so epically so it's a win-win. And I think a lot of people love it for the same reasons they love Crash--and why it was super easy to teach Crash to 18 year olds--it makes them feel smart. What I can't figure out is the question you asked on my post--why otherwise smart men love this film. Maybe J can explain to me and I'll get back :)

  2. So, here's what J says (paraphrased):

    This film is pure man film as opposed to man films that are marketed to and inclusive of women, like 300. He admitted to liking Gladiator less as he re-watches but says there is a general toughness of mind and body to Crowe's character that no one can get to--a general protected core--and the continued existence of that toughness exposes vulnerabilities in him. An example of that being that if the toughness were extrapolated to an extreme, the deaths of the wife and kids wouldn't matter at all but, instead, those deaths matter deeply--a vulnerability in that toughness that he must cover and deal with while maintaining the toughness. While it is a revenge plot (and everyone loves a revenge plot) it's also a more nuanced idea of toughness. Instead of being like Marv in Sin City where the character breaks when the toughness breaks, the characters in Gladiator keep running up against their toughness and have to process their vulnerabilities but they don't break. This is the daily struggle for men. They have to process daily assaults against their toughness but not break so as to remain men.

    Additionally, it seems to be a Rome story with real meat and martial authenticity. But, cinema/tv has caught up since then with shows like Rome.

    And Scott makes things beautiful, like the wheat. And there is a great supporting cast. The emperor's scenes seem authentic as does the father/son relationship. Those stories of regret course through the film.

    Finally, the line "are you not entertained" works to critique the film itself, entertainment in general, as well as power.


    So there, that's why a smart guy likes Gladiator. I don't know that I agree with all of it--especially that last part just because I don't think the film introspective enough to critique itself. But I guess the "toughness" stuff makes sense.

    But, I'll only be happy/ok with this film being on the list when we have a comparable film for a strictly female audience. I do not like that this film was so praised just because it reaches the audience with most of the power in these matters.

  3. I can see what he's saying about the way strength works in the movie, but I think just about any hardboiled detective character does it so much better. And with a much better story, usually.

    I'm really trying to think of a movie exclusively marketed to women that speaks to the experience of femininity in that way. And I'm coming up with nothing. Maybe TV shows? I mean, dudes still have the power, like you said, so maybe it's something like The Good Wife (which I haven't seen) but that has a real investigation of femininity, but isn't taken as seriously/understood by men?

  4. Yep. I agree with you. On both points--I'm not coming up with anything that is THAT exclusively feminine. I've not seen The Good Wife either.

    Last night he added:

    The character arc relates to capacity strictly. It's purely physical—will the tank run out of gas before accomplishing what he wants. He knows how tough he is and never under or over estimates his strength. There is no "finding himself."