A Gladiators Vengeance

In the grandeur film of the Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott, revenge was one of the key thematic factors that drove various characters motives. This movie is based on the Roman Empire and is set around the 180 A.D. period when Rome stood at the peak of its power. In numerous situations many characters had to set aside their morals and values to seek revenge against those who had ultimately caused them misfortune and pain. The revenge of these characters had no remorse and no limitations. Until these characters reached their goals there was no hindering their actions. Several characters were all seeking vengeance in this film for diverse amounts of reasons but the focus of this blog will be on Maximus, Commodus, and Lucilla. All of these characters had interrelated issues that lead to revenge amongst each other.

Maximus, the protagonist, was ironically blessed and cursed with Marcus Aurelius’s honor for him to be his successor as Rome’s Emperor. Maximus questioned the decision but the Caesar explains that his son “Commodus is not a moral man” and the Caesar wanted to keep Rome in responsible hands. This conversation was a confidential decision between only these two characters.

While Commodus was fantasizing about taking the throne of Rome, his father approached him with dreadful news; he transitioned from miserable to livid in only seconds. Through this rage he committed an act that was not suspected, he murdered his own father as well as the emperor of Rome. Immediately after his father proposed the idea of Maximus serving as Caesar Commodus was emotionally wounded. This devastating pain led him on a path of vengeance against his own blood Marcus Aurelius. Moreover, the immature Commodus now wanted to seek vengeance against Maximus because he felt that his father respected him more and did not love him as much as he did Maximus. Commodus was intimidated by the presence and character of Maximus, this is evident in many scenes between the two opposing characters. Maximus posed a threat to Commodus and his new throne and therefore Commodus felt, through jealousy and revenge, the need to kill him and his family. Commodus attempts to have Maximus killed but he escapes this death trap and returns home to find his family slain and hanging by nooses.

(Time Stamp 32:40)

Within this close up shot of Commodus and a statue of a previous Caesar right behind him, the audience can see in his watery eyes, clinched jaws, and tight mouth the burning passion for revenge against his father, Marcus Aurelius. This is Commodus’s initial reaction to the breaking news that his father reveals to him. The fact that his father would rather pass his powers of emperor to Maximus rather than himself after his death crushes him instantly. The envy is written amongst his face and thoughts of revenge are now spreading throughout his unmoral mind.

Maximus’s heart was enthralled by the death of his family and he fainted at their feet. When he woke up he had been captured by some slave traders and was being auctioned off to a character named Proximus. Maximus was forced to be a gladiator under the terms of his new master and he turned out to be the best gladiator anybody had seen in years. Maximus used the love and revenge of his beloved family to find Commodus and return the favor by slaughtering him. This motivation from his dead family was enough to keep him going through impossible odds. Maximus states in the film that he is “Father of a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife and I shall have my vengeance in this life or the next”. This line demonstrates his dedication for payback towards Commodus and it seemed no obstacle would stop him, not even death.

(Time Stamp 2:22:34)

Here is an image of Maximus (left of screen shot) finally obtaining revenge against Commodus (right of screenshot), who made him a slave and killed his family. Maximus had fought and killed many man just to get a hold of Commodus and when he did, he had no remorse. Ironically, Maximus is stabbing Commodus through the throat with the same blade that he stabbed Maximus with in his back with while he was chained up and could not retaliate.

Another major character whose motives were driven by revenge was Commodus’s sister, Princess Lucilla. Throughout the film the Princess served as a voice of reason for Commodus after he gained control of the empire. She was the only person that he could trust in times of crisis and he depended on her opinion to assist in running the empire. Although, he depended on her words of wisdom he also took advantage of her by using her for his sexual escapades. Combined with the frustration of being sexually abused and the knowledge that Commodus killed their father, Lucilla had enough wrath built up in her to turn against her brother. She would help free Maximus in order for him to execute his plan of bringing down Commodus for good.

In this movie the act of revenge is more powerful than family ties, love and friendship. Each character had no remorse when they were seeking vengeance against their friend or foe. Each characters vengeance was interrelated because one lead to another. It commenced with the envy of Commodus of Maximus which lead him to kill his father. This betrayal demonstrated how Commodus lacked love and respect for his country and family. His irrational actions motivated Maximus and Princess Lucilla on a journey of vengeance against Commodus and those ultimately came back to haunt him.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “A Gladiators Vengeance

  1. towarnic

    This post is sufficient in emphasizing that three of the main characters in Gladiator all sought vengeance for personal reasons. I believe that the central and motivating factor guiding Maximus’ vengeance was the death of his family at the hand of Commodus. However, the viewer sees in the beginning of this film that Maximus and Marcus Aurelius’ had a slightly familial relationship. Marcus Aurelius thought of Maximus as a son, and even named him his successor as the Emperor of Rome. Yet after Commodus had killed his father, I believe that Maximus was strongly motivated to seek vengeance as a result of Marcus Aurelius’ death as well.

  2. While I agree that Maximus was primarily motivated in his conflict with Commodus through his desire for revenge, I am not certain the same works in reverse. Commodus’s killing of Maximus’s family, and attempt to remove Maximus, was the removal of a rival motivated through pragmatic reasons. It is only later, when Maximus begins to become more popular and beloved than Commodus despite being only a gladiator that the latter begins to thirst for a personal vengeance.

  3. While much of this post was a synopsis of the interrelated drama that occurred throughout the film, I think your thesis is on to something. I think the important part to emphasize is that the director does a good job of actually showing the other side of the story. The film focuses on Maximus, but the director makes sure that the audience is aware of the other characters motives for acting and taking revenge in some way. I appreciate that you tried to characterize each characters vengeance.

  4. It is very intriguing and I admire how you show these characters’ reasons for vengeance. They each indeed had their own personal reasons. I also find it very ironic how in the beginning when Commodus kills his father in order to become emperor, he is ultimately stabbing Maximus in the back. He does this even further when he initiates his men to kill Maximus then he kills Maximus’ family. Commodus literally stabs Maximus in the back when he is chained up as you pointed out. I thought this was a very interesting. Great synopsis of the motives for the characters’ vengeance!

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