As I continue to try to understand Donald Trump’s assault on the country I love, I find myself exploring many sources. This blog and the next I will post are about moments in movies I have seen.
You can judge their relevance to today.
Gladiator was released in 2000. Directed by Ridley Scott, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year. Russell Crowe won Best Actor for his role as Maximus, a Roman General whose family was destroyed by the Emperor Commodus, a disruptive and demented figure.
The struggle in the Gladiator is for the soul of Rome, whether it will be governed by a Senate cleansed of corruption, as representatives of the people or by an emperor.
After killing his own father, the great Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, who has told him he does not have the qualities to rule Rome, Commodus, having just become Caesar speaks to his sister, Lucilla…
“The Senate. Who are they. They just talk. It should be just you and me [ruling]. Rome has changed. It takes an emperor to rule an empire.”
His sister says: “There has always been a Senate. Leave the people their…”
Commodus interrupts, “illusions.”
She concludes, “traditions.”
Lucilla continues: “The people care about the greatness of Rome.”
Commodus asks: “Well, what is that?”
Lucilla: “It’s an idea – greatness. Greatness is a vision.”
Commodus: “Exactly Do you not see, Lucilla. I will give people a vision of Rome and they will love me for it. And they’ll soon forget the sermonizing of a few dry old men. I will give the people the greatest vision of their lives.”
The scene shifts to two Senators outside the reinstituted Public Games. Commodious has just introduced 150 days of games designed to entertain – and, ultimately, control – the people under his single leadership.
Senator Gaius: “Games. 150 days of games…”
Senator Falco: “He’s cleverer than I thought!”
Senator Gaius: “The whole of Rome would be laughing at him if they weren’t so afraid of his Praetorians.”
Senator Falco: “Fear and wonder…a powerful combination.”
Senator Gaius: “You really think the people are going to be seduced by that?”
Senator Falco: “I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the Senate, it’s the sand of the Coliseum. He’ll bring them death, and they will love him for it.”
As our own struggle continues against a man who would destroy essential pillars of our nation’s greatness – a free press and an independent judiciary, for starters – I am encouraged to see there are people both inside and outside our government fighting back to hold on to the best of who we are.
At the Movies, Part 2: The Admiral – a Dutch historical film – is coming in the next few days.