by Mak Faene
The following article contains discourse about the Ridley Scott motion picture "Gladiator". If, like myself, you do not like having aspects of movies divulged to you before you see the film, you may want to see "Gladiator" before reading on. If it makes any difference, I do not discuss much of the story line and do not mention the end.
On a plot of land that I once frequented on my BMX dirt-bike clone with childhood friends there now stands a pastel coloured cylindrical building. A few months ago the gigantoplex cinema opened up charging suckers a whopping ten dollars a pop for movies a Hollywood exec wiped off his shoe and smeared on a screen. The building calls itself the Colosseum.
The Colosseum's novelty eventually wore off and the suckers realized that ten bucks for a ninety three minute distraction accompanied by fifty cents worth of corn kernels and watered down cola syrup on a 5 000% mark-up was bullshit.
Now the Colosseum offers half price Tuesdays.
It wasn't until I was at the ticket counter that I was struck by the irony of making my first trip to the Colosseum to see the film "Gladiator". Boredom and the desire to let my brain mellow for a while drove me to the outing with now adulthood friends (no dirt bikes this time around). I was only vaguely looking forward to the film. Russel Crowe's visible contempt for his surroundings at this years Academy Awards made me curious about him and I wanted to see what he was up to. I don't watch previews, look at movie posters or read reviews so I didn't know who else was featured in the film making Joaquin Phoenix's appearance a pleasant surprise.
The film was obscenely violent. None the less, there was something justifiable about this violence. It wasn't gratuitous but it wasn't Speilberg-type veiled gratuitous either. Heads rolled, living bodies were cut square in two and amputations were everywhere. I was horrified but I couldn't figure out why.
Profuse screen violence doesn't phase me anymore. I have seen it all. I nearly fell asleep watching the opening sequence to "Saving Private Ryan". But here in the Colosseum, watching Russell Crowe in "Gladiator" I began to feel ill. Another slaughter and the crowd represented on the screen became an amplifier for the enthusiasm of the crowd around me in the plush "stadium" seating. This building, this theatre named for the Colosseum that two thousand years ago in Rome hosted horrific mortal battles between men for the amusement of the masses was living up to it's name.
This is was made me ill.
"To win your freedom you must first win the audience," was a sentiment that reoccurred continuously through out the film. A philosophy that teamed with the mindless mob mentality of the crowd at once points out the immaturity of the masses while giving them controlling leverage over everything. A frightening thought - that though the public holds the power to sway socio-political outcomes, it neither understands this power nor uses it for good.
Blood gushed across the screen and we cheered in our minds and murmured satisfyingly in the dark theatre. We are ancient Romans. We are Karl Marx's populace to the letter but entertainment is now our religion and thus our opium.
We left the Colosseum with visions floating around our minds, clouding everything else. Maybe we subconsciously are thankful that we have it so good. To be in our more hospitable little lives than forced to take life in a pit surrounded by tigers and men with axes and swords. It makes us content that we are where we are, who we are, doing what we do. It keeps us happy. Like the Romans of Scott's film who are content with their lives however awful the state of Rome so long as they can remain distracted.
That's what bothers me. This film, as literally as it could, spelled the message out to its audience and all we exited the Colosseum thinking about was how far special effects have come in the last fifty years and how lucky we are.