Critically analyse how traditional conventions of tragedy are manipulated through the use of visual and/or verbal features in the film Gladiator by Ridley Scott.
The film Gladiator directed by Ridley Scott uses visual and verbal features to manipulate the traditional conventions of tragedy. Two scenes which catch my attention around this topic is the initial opening scene that sets up the story and characters for us and the scene often called “My name is Maximus”. In this scene Maximus almost has the same sense of leadership that he had in the beginning. In The similarities in these scenes are not easily recognizable but once you get more depth on the subject you get a clear view on the twisted nature of these traditional conventions. Gladiator is not your traditional tragedy and it appears that Ridley Scott only seems to use certain aspects of what makes a tragedy. It is the same with the Tragic Hero. The two techniques that can be seen across both scenes is verbal techniques and cinematography. One that stands out to me in this scene is the medium shot on Maximus’s face in both scenes, these shots hold incredibly powerful messages and images which manipulate the traditional conventions of tragedy. The verbal aspect that stands out to me is certain lines that Maximus says and although worded very differently, have the same sense of pride in a different feeling. The sense of Tragic hero is manipulated here so that Maximus primarily shows off his hamartia a significant amount more than any of the other key traits of a Tragic Hero. Ridley has a twisted way of getting his ideas across to the audience and because they do not meet all of Horace and Aristotle’s requirements is this film really a tragedy displaying a Tragic Hero?
A tragedy is made up of the Tragic Hero. With the Tragic Hero’s Hamartia, Hubris, Anagnorsis, and Peripitia the audience is set up for a perfect tragedy. The Gladiator however is not a perfect tragedy, it is one molded by Ridley Scott to fit certain molds of what it takes to be called a tragic hero according to Aristotle. The Gladiator starts in the middle of Maximus’s story but we can still grasp who he is as a person. It breaks from normal structure because most movies like to start their striking text from the beginning of someone’s story or with . They do this so that the reader is captured straight away. The difference between these two key scenes is how the traditional conventions are manipulated through the use of language and verbal features differing between the scenes. In the first scene, Maximus is in an obvious position of power with low camera angles making him look bigger and trailing shots showing peoples reaction to him as he walks through a crowd. People even bow to him as he passes by. Each of these scenes hold Maximus in a different position of power and fate. The opening scene priorities itself as setting everything up for the audience, so Maximus’s position in power, state of mind, and where his priorities stand. The second scene, however is more of our final moment of hope as we, as an audience have hope for Maximus and that his fate will not be what it is destined to be as a tragic hero. Ridley molds the ideas of tragedy and tragic hero into various different camera angles and moments of dialogue which removes tragedy fro m it’s normal mold.
In the opening scene there is a peaceful aurora created by the tracking shot of Maximus’s handover the wheat field. This shot suggests serenity and that Maximus is in his happy place. The colors are warm and then in a sudden they turn cold as they take a medium shot of Maximus’s face. This is similar to the medium profile shot of Maximus in the alternative scene. His facial expressions are incredibly strong and Ridley wants the audience to be moved by it as he incorporates aspects of a tragic hero into the story line. Although Maximus is not a traditional tragic hero, he still has the fundamental aspects of one and these are incorporated in non-traditional ways by Ridley Scott to intrigue the audience. The traditional conventions of tragedy and the tragic hero is manipulated through this scene using both dialogue and camera angles. Already from this scene you can tell that Maximus has massive amounts of pride and this is his version of Hamartia in which he is blinded by doing the right thing which makes him and incredibly successful leader as well as follower. The Gladiator, however is not a perfect tragedy. Yes, it follows some of the ideas of Horace’s tragedy and some of the rules of Aristotle’s tragic hero but it is not in a traditional sense and already from the beginning of the film you can tell that Maximus is not our classic tragic hero and the conventions in this film are used to manipulate this traditional idea.
The “My name is Maximus” scene, the second scene I have chosen in comparison to the first is one in which Maximus once again demonstrates his natural-born leadership and Ridley once again manipulates the traditional idea of tragedy using specific visual and verbal features. In this scene Maximus has just finished and won one of his first Gladiator fights. During this fight he manages to get the other Gladiators to band together for a better chance of survival. This act demonstrated leadership and characteristics of a tragic hero. Maximus is blinded by his Hamartia. His pride. He primarily focus’s on doing the right thing no matter the consequences. In the medium profile shot on Maximus’s face as he reveals who he is to the Emperor is a powerful one representing his Hamartia. Ridley wants the audience to recognize the pride in his face. Maximus knew that he had to show his face to the emperor in order to continue fighting for what he thinks is right. Revenge. It takes Maximus’s pride to know what he wants and what he has to do in order to receive it. Another key similarity in these two scenes is to do with a symbol. A horse. In the first scene Maximus isn’t wearing, but is surrounded by horses and one even leads him into battle. Horses are obviously very trident characters built with class and elegance but also strength. Just before the revealing scene there is a scene in which Maximus explains that his horses on his Armour stand for his family, whim he will avenge. As you then get to the “My name is Maximus” scene you vividly see his hamartia, his excessive pride. He wants to avenge the emperor as much as he wants to avenge his father. Hamartia, as discussed is one of the most important characteristics of a Tragic hero because it leads to their ultimate downfall. Ridley Scott clearly uses symbolism here to manipulate the traditional conventions of tragedy and the tragic hero.
Ridley Scott uses dialogue, camera angles, and symbolism to manipulate the traditional conventions of tragedy. Traditionally, in Aristotle’s eyes a tragedy follows all of the molds of what a Tragic Hero is. Ridley, however manipulates these traits and chooses which ones he would like Gladiator to have. The primary characteristic that Maximus, our Tragic hero is his Hamartia also known as his excessive pride. Ridley Scott emphasizes Maximus’s hamartia more than anything else and it gives us enough, as an audience to see Maximus in the light of a tragic hero. From comparing just these two scenes in the film you can tell that his Hamartia is just something that makes itself known through the use of these techniques and Ridley Scott has done a brilliant job of portraying Maximus as a Tragic hero through the visualization of one characteristic. The traditional form of tragedy is manipulated by the director Ridley Scott but it makes The Gladiator a significantly more striking text and can still be named a tragedy.