The Journey of Faith

A man slowly walks through a wheat field as his hand lightly brushes the top of the tall blades. As he heads toward his wife and son, he can hear the sound of a child’s giggle in the background. He smiles whenever he remembers his peaceful life as a farmer. This tranquil scene instantly turns into a cold, battle scene in Germania as the man awakens from his vision. This man is General Maximus, played by Russell Crowe in Riley Scott’s 2000 film Gladiator. As soldiers line up for battle, Maximus walks along the ranks of the army, and they quickly rise one by one to greet and honor him. Maximus not only provides his soldiers with inspiration, but he also manages to humor them with his charismatic ways during a time of tremendous stress:

               Fratres..., three weeks from now I will be harvesting my crops, 
               imagine where you will be and it will be so. Hold the lines, stay 
               with me. If you find yourself alone riding in green fields with 
               the sun on your face, do not be troubled, for you are in Elysium 
               and you're already dead! 
               [The men laugh.]
                Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity.

Maximus’s last line is a foreshadowing of his own life, a life that takes a whole new path, far from the simple one he had always imagined. When he prays to his blessed mother that she comes to him with the god’s desire for his future, God grants his request. God appears to have bigger plans for him, so that he may perhaps realize his full potential—to become the grandest version of the greatest vision he ever had about himself (Walsch). One day, a young boy tells him about a story that he has heard, that Maximus, the Spaniard, is a giant that can crush a man’s skull with one hand. Although Maximus goes through a phase where he loses love, power, and faith, he amazingly gains it all back tenfold.  He then remembers who he truly is. McDonald states, “The scene where Crowe’s Maximus declares himself is one of the great epic moments:

Commodus: Slave! Who are you?

Maximus: I am Maximus Meridius, General of the Felix Division of the Roman Army and servant to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, father to a murdered son and husband to a murdered wife and landlord to a murdered world and I will have vengeance.”

As illustrated above, Maximus has the characteristics of both the oral and literate cultures. First of all, Maximus’s use of the oral expression above carries a load of epithets, which magnifies his presence. This expression is an example of an aggregative style used in the oral culture (Ong 38). He is also a heroic figure, one whose deeds are monumental and memorable (Ong 69) —“The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor.” Secondly, Maximus is a complex character who is aware of who he is, and the power he has to instill fear into the heart of the most powerful figure in Rome (Ong 174). This combination of these two characteristics deepens the portrayal of his character, an honorable and wise man who survives the worst situations that life hands him. His character parallels the main theme—perseverance.

Since there can be no appreciation for magnificent light if there is no darkness…enter Commodus, the complex, yet barbaric, antagonist played by Joaquin Phoenix. Commodus is conscious of the image he projects (Ong 174). When his father informs him that he is passing his powers on to Maximus, instead of him, he knows that Maximus is the one who possesses his father’s chief virtues. His feelings of worthlessness and jealousy drive him to murder his own father so that he can become the new emperor of Rome. Commodus is also aware of the power he has to project an image in others’ minds and manipulate it. In his inner circle of a literate culture, they use metaphors to communicate evil thoughts that are mainly for aesthetic purposes. Commodus further reveals his cunning, yet chilling, character through his use of the “Busy Little Bee” story that he shares with his nephew. He basically informs him that his mother’s been caught in a lie, and that there will be a price to pay. Later on, one of the senators tells Commodus a story about a sea snake, basically giving advice on how to strike one’s enemy in a clever manner. On the other hand, Commodus’s behavior shows characteristics of the oral culture. For him, physical violence is seen as a suitable strategy for dealing with differences, and his opponents receive verbal tongue-lashings (Ong 44).

Throughout the plot, the characteristics of orality and literacy interact productively to the extent that it builds the characters and the conflicts. The agonistic world of polar opposite events continuously occurs so that interesting, yet complex, characters can engage in direct, interpersonal struggle (Ong 44). Commodus supports tyranny and incest, while Maximus supports democracy and family values. Commodus’ ruthlessness is evident when he orders for soldiers to torture and burn Maximus’s family. Maximus shows mercy to his opponents which wins him the mob and gives him power. Felperin states, “Gladiator the movie is nonetheless implicitly critical of the present-day culture which. ..makes modern emperors of sportspeople and entertainers.” Although Commodus is an emperor, he fails to gain the respect of the people. In the end, good finally triumphs evil when Maximus is surrounded by Gladiators who honor and carry him out of the arena. Rushton explains, “Maximus’s death sees him delivered into an Arcadian promised land where he is reunited with his wife and son. His ‘beautiful death’ ensures that his deeds and fame will live in the memory of the people of Rome who, we must presume, will reclaim Rome as a Republic.” However, the gladiators and soldiers ignore Commodus’s corpse, which seems to symbolize that he will not live in the memory of the people. Maximus became the grandest version of the greatest vision he ever had about himself with his virtues of true love, unselfish power, and never ending faith.

Regardless of the cultural background one comes from, oral or literate, most human beings have a natural desire to experience the virtues of love, power, and faith. Since love is the most powerful human emotion, it is understandable why certain impressive or inconceivable acts are committed in the name of love. For instance, it is human to want to bring justice to loved ones who have been harmed by others. It is understandable, not excusable, why some people take desperate measures to feel loved by other human beings. One can empathize with a person who is shunned by others because they don’t meet certain standards of society.

Universally, people are attracted to powerful humans who authentically radiate greatness, especially true leaders who lead passionately by example. One can see why Marcus Aurelius chose to pass his powers on to Maximus; he saw in him a reflection of a great leader he himself wanted to be remembered as. Maximus, not only leads his soldiers in war, but also takes care of them. At the end of the film, even the soldiers who had betrayed him return to his side. Maximus also teaches the gladiators to fight as a team. It is also no surprise that he wins the mob during matches since he gives them an opportunity to be merciful/powerful as well.

The great Buddha once said, “On a long journey of human life, faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest property.” The contrast between Maximus and Commodus shows that people persevere in the worst struggles of life by having faith in true love, unselfish power, and a virtuous God. Having faith truly has its benefits. For instance, believing in a spiritual world gives one hope that one can reunite with their loved ones after they depart the physical world. Faith can be the driving force that helps one to overcome hardships throughout life, and thus build one’s character. In doing so, one can become great, so that in return, they can help others to become great. And last but not least, faith helps one to love unconditionally, knowing that there is an abundance of love created by a higher power. It appears as if this higher power knows every soul’s full potential; thus, challenges everyone to take the road less traveled. The question is, whether or not one chooses to accept and trust the journey of faith.

Works Cited

“Buddha.” Quotes.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2011. Web. 24 November. 2011.

Felperin, Leslie. “Decline and Brawl.” Sight and Sound 10.6 (June 2000): 34-35. Rpt. in

Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Tom Burns and Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 183.

Detroit: Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center. Web. 24 Nov. 2011.

Gladiator. Dir. Riley Scott. Perf. Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix and Connie Nielsen.

DreamWorks, 2000. DVD.

McDonald, Neil. “Tradition and Innovation.” Quadrant 44.6 (June 2000): 66. Rpt. in

Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 247. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Literature Resource

            Center. Web. 24 Nov. 2011

Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New York: Routledge,

2002. Print.

Rushton, Richard. “Narrative and Spectacle in Gladiator.” CineAction (2001): 34. Literature

            Resource Center. Web. 24 Nov. 2011.

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~ by Bobbie on December 16, 2011.

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