Family Values in Gladiator

At the core of the movie Gladiator are the family values that the main character Maximus displays throughout the film. Each character has different motives for their actions. It is obvious that Maximus is motivated by honoring his family and his ancestors. While it is easy to see how Maximus is motivated by his son and his wife, it is obvious that Commodus, the corrupt Roman Emperor, is motivated by his own personal glory and jealousy.

We see a recurring image of Maximus praying and holding two figurines which represent his wife and son. The first time we see this image is when Maximus has just won the opening battle and hopes that he will be relieved of his duties and able to go home. Maximus even remembers how long it has been since he has been home, down to the day. Even in the face of battle the only thing that is important to Maximus is his family. Maximus says that “he only lives to see them again.” 

Time Stamp: 31:12 (Maximus praying for his family)

When offered the entire Roman Empire, he turns it down. Obviously his source of motivation is far different than Commodus’. Commodus is motivated by his desire for personal glorification and jealousy. Commodus will go to any length to seek his own glory. Commodus strangles his father when he learns that he will not be the next Emperor. Throughout the film, we see Commodus disregard his family in pursuit of his own glory. He manipulates his sister and other relatives in order to pursue his own power and success.

Time Stamp: 35:40 (Commodus killing his father)

Another recurring image that is seen throughout the film is Maximus dragging his hands through a wheat field. We see this image in the opening scene of the film right before the battle. While it is unknown to the audience at first, this image would eventually be used twice more as a symbol of Maximus being reunited with this family. This image appears again when Maximus is told that his wife and son were to be executed just as he would be. This imagery follows the death of Commodus’ father, the former Emperor of Rome. In the one of the final scenes of the film, following Maximus’s death in the area, this image occurs again and in the distance Maximus can see his wife and his son. This image demonstrates that Maximus achieved his final victory by being reunited with his family.

Time Stamp: 2:26:41 (Maximus is reunited with his family after he dies)

In the closing scenes of the film, Commodus realizes that Rome loves Maximus more than they love him. Commodus decides that the only way that in order to pursue his own glory he must challenge Maximus to a battle. Before doing this however, Commodus injures Maximus by stabbing him in the lungs making it almost impossible for Maximus to fight. This scene emphasizes the two very different values that motivate both of these characters. When Commodus asks Maximus why he does not fear, he responds “I knew a man who once said death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.” These were the words of Commodus’ own father unknown to him.

Time Stamp 2:17:45 (Commodus stabs Maximus)

The director’s use of these contrasting virtues emphasizes the importance of family in this film. This theme and the rivalry between selfish personal glory and strong family virtue are classic devices for these types of “sandal and sword” epics.





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4 responses to “Family Values in Gladiator

  1. towarnic

    I agree that family was an important aspect in Gladiator. Maximus’ actions were motivated throughout the entire film by his family. I had not noticed that the figurines, as displayed in the first image, represented Maximus’ wife and child. I had simply thought they were some type of spiritual idols used to honor and pray to the gods. At the end of the film, these figurines are buried in the Colosseum by Maximus’ friend, Juba. Therefore, Maximus will always be a part of the city he fought to protect and preserve.

  2. You are correct in stating the differences in motivation between Commudus and Maximus. Maximus’ struggle begins with the death of his family, and he does not give up his fight for vengeance throughout the film. Men like Commodus are so motivated by their pursuit of personal glory that they are willing to ruin perpetrate obscene acts against others. The simple reason that Commodus acts the way he does is jealousy; Maximus has achieved true happiness through his family, while Commodus can only take stabs in the dark looking for validation.

  3. michaeldepasquale

    Going along with the family theme. i thought it was interesting that even though these two characters were very different, all their actions stemmed from their relationships with their family. Maximus obviously fights for his family who he know and loves and they adore him. He has everything that Commudus wants, and this tears him apart. At the beginning of the movie its apparent that Commudus desperately seeks attention and approval from his father and family. While ironically his upbringing under royalty has left him disconnected from the common people. When his wise father realizes what Rome needs, it is not a person disconnected from the citizens, but one who can unite with them. All of Commudus’ strength stems from his family, but he expresses it in a much more desperate and unworthy way. His dad even admits it and he says that he has failed as a father, and this led Commudus to strangle him. He had been working his whole life to please his father and to show he was worthy, but all the while he had taken the wrong path. The rage or love that stemmed from the love for both characters families was the drive for the plot.

  4. Pingback: Good Grief | Jed Segovia's Major Studio 1 Final Blog

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