* For this week, I am going to share my “takeaway” from Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic historical drama film, Gladiator, which we covered for the 6th episode of our podcast. You can check it out if you would like to hear more about the movie itself and any plot points that you’re curious about or if you would like to hear our conversation that develops a variety of themes throughout. I hope you enjoy thinking critically about the content! Feel free to comment, share any thoughts, or leave information on whatever movies you would like to hear about in the future!
Plot summary: “Set in Roman times, the story of a once-powerful general forced to become a common gladiator. The emperor’s son is enraged when he is passed over as heir in favor of his father’s favorite general. He kills his father and arranges the murder of the general’s family, and the general is sold into slavery to be trained as a gladiator – but his subsequent popularity in the arena threatens the throne.”
If you have not yet watched this film, I would suggest that it might be worth your time. Of course, there’s a lot to be said about this genre of film and many won’t find historical content or the themes held within to be “entertaining.” I would not blame anyone if that were their position. However, I think there’s a lot that we can engage within its story. After all, I don’t believe that the way we view and portray history, like they did in this film, is immune to messages that God might communicate to us. If humanity has been involved in the project, we will be able to see ways in which our hearts long for Him and His presence! Where does that show up in this film then? I found it in the various leadership qualities that the two main characters held.
Russell Crowe portrays the general Maximus, who is our positive model. He shows tremendous bravery, courage, and honor in the face of incredible injustice. Even as his wife and child are murdered by a jealous Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the unstable son of the emperor, he continues to fight for betterment and flourishing of the people of Rome, even as he pushes back his simple but nearly overwhelming desire for revenge. And we find our negative model in Commodus who represents all the pride that draws humanity away from God.
Generally, when I think of pride, I do of course think of humanity as a whole and the problems that come along with this trait. However, more specifically, my mind always rushes back to Genesis 3. In this, one of the earliest and most fundamental teachings of the Scriptures, we see the fall of humanity as introduced by Adam and Eve’s sin. This whole moment in time and the pain that comes is encapsulated by the problem of pride. And I believe that all sins thereafter come attached to the sin of pride as well.
To walk contrary to God’s will is to favor one’s own views on the world or priorities over those of God. It turns out that pride and the idolatry of self underlies all of our heart issues. Where God builds us for flourishing within the system that He creates for us, humanity seeks instead to be god.
And I should say that this is the basic human condition. No one should read this and believe that they’re being picked on or singled out for their life choices. I am a pastor of a church and make decisions daily that aren’t what God would have me choose. This belief, according to Scripture, doesn’t state that you are unredeemable or lesser than anyone else, whether inside or outside of the Church. It simply states that you are human and can’t make your way to God on your own. Human beings can’t help but follow in the footsteps of those building the Tower of Babel. We want to make a name for ourselves. We want to make ourselves great. And without some major intervention in our hearts by God, we can’t help but to engage the world in this way.
So, I believe that this movie is – in a way – a testimony to our flaws and sinful pride that leads us away from godly flourishing. In a symbolic sense, it displays our predisposition toward the kind of domination that Jesus referred to when He said that the people of the world lord their power over one another. That is Commodus. That is Rome. Unless, of course, we watch this movie and believe that Rome really wanted to make the Germanic barbarians flourish or see the gladiators that they put to death be elevated. That was not their priority at all. And that is worldly power –
– until a Savior steps in to save us. Even though Commodus told his people that they were his “children,” it is clear that he was his only priority and their flourishing wasn’t a priority at all unless it ultimately benefitted him. He was no savior of Rome. Maximus, however, steps into this role and becomes a kind of Christ-figure who is willing to sacrifice himself for the flourishing of others. He is willing to lay down his life if it means bringing a truer sense of freedom to the people he aims to deliver from bondage.
Commodus, like Satan, becomes a father of lies to those he calls children, even though he has no care for them. Maximus, like Christ, dies to bring His children freedom. And we might refer back to Genesis 3 once again because that chapter of God’s Word presents a prophecy. In that prophecy, God tells Adam and Eve that she will have a child who will receive a wound on his heel and the serpent will receive a wound to his head. In other words, Satan would injure Jesus, but through that sacrifice, Jesus would crush His enemies and overcome. This theme is found in the movie as Maximus ultimately had victory by toppling Commodus’s rule and the terrible things he stood for but it came at a cost – though one that was still better for Maximus in the long run.
This is yet another example of how storytelling in the hands of humanity can’t help to point back to God. The stories that we believe to be worth telling or those issues that we can’t stop thinking about are all able to point back to God and He meets us there. So continue to keep your eyes open for the truths that God presents to us as you engage with the silver screen!
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Love you all,