Gladiator, the Movie - History Film Guide
In teaching history at the university level, I have found it useful to use historically based films in upper level (junior / senior) courses. Over the years I have experienced substantial disapproval and resistance from some of my colleagues.
The typical assumption is that showing a feature film in class is a waste of valuable class time and will only result in "dumbing down" the course content.
I strongly disagree. Each film I use is preceded by a lecture addressing the society, location, time period, events, culture, and politics covered in the film.
Students are instructed about the “differences” between written history and historically based or connected film, as well as the meaning of bias, agenda, propaganda, motivation, and many other important terms which can be used to evaluate film, public events, political speeches and so forth.
The day before I screen the film, student’s are given a study guide and expected to read it carefully in preparation for the film. Based on the study guide question, they are expected to take notes during the film.
When the film is over we have a class discussion largely directed by student comments and questions. Then…then, they must write a five page esay about the film based on the questions provided.
So, to my mind the “lost” two hours of course time are more than made up for by the 2-4 hours they will spend crafting a grammatically correct, illogically sound, well-written essay about historical events and how they are portrayed in modern cinema.
In most upper-level courses, students end up writing 20 to 30 pages of film essays for me, perhaps equaling 25% of their grade.
Using films builds and maintains student interest, requiring the essays strengthens their analytical, composition, and grammar skills, as well as their understanding of historical events and periods.
Below I have included the study guide I use with the film GLADIATOR and a brief synopsis of the film, courtesy of IMDB.
GLADIATOR - Essay Guidelines
Director – Ridley Scott
Music – Hans Zimmer/Lisa Gerard
Background: The Roman Republic endured from 509-264bc. Beginning in 264bc, the Romans conquered most of the Mediterranean world and built an immense empire. At its height the Roman Empire consisted of 3.5 million square miles and ruled one quarter of the world’s population (50 million people).
They regularly maintained an army of 400,000 men and built over 50,000 miles of quality roads. The capital city Rome had a population that at times topped 1,000,000 and the Coliseum, built as an arena for entertainments, could seat 50,000 spectators.
Characters: Marcus Aurelius – (161-180ad) one of the “Five Good Emperors” (Richard Harris); Commodus – emperor’s son, next in line of succession (Joaquin Phoenix); Lucillus – emperor’s politically savvy daughter (her son, Lucius)
Maximus Decimus Meridius – general of the Roman army of the north, greatly beloved by the emperor and by his soldiers, from Spain (Russell Crowe); Quintus – second-in-command to General Maximus ; Cicero – personal servant to General Maximus
Proximo – owner/manager of a troop of slave/gladiators (Oliver Reed); Juba – slave/gladiator who becomes Maximus fighting partner (Djimon Hounsou)
Directions: Compose a coherent essay in which you answer the following questions. Your essay should be 5 to 6 pages, typed, double-spaced and it must be carefully proofread and spell checked (at least five times).
Additional reading or research is not necessary, rely on your own intelligence and the “content” of the film. After addressing the questions, you are welcome to comment on other aspects of the film that are of interest to you.
1) By using the comments and actions of the various characters, what conclusions can you draw about the nature of religious belief in this time period?
What religious practices, rituals, or traditions are depicted in the film?
Discuss the similarities or the differences you see between religion as demonstrated in the film and contemporary Christianity.
2) What social classes can you distinguish among the Roman people?
Describe the differences in lifestyle, experience, and privilege between the classes. What conclusions can you draw about the nature of Roman slavery?
Do you see examples of social mobility or movement from one class to another.
3) What political structure does Rome possess? Who has power and authority?
What efforts are being made to change the political structure and by whom?
What did Marcus Aurelius hope would happen? What is the role of the army in the Roman Empire?
4) What does General Maximus value? What does he believe in? How does the film establish these values and beliefs?
5) What “literary” themes, motifs, or symbols are woven throughout the film? Think broadly and in terms of your high school classes where you were asked to think about themes, motifs, symbols.
IMDB Synopsis: In Gladiator, victorious general Maximus Decimus Meridias has been named keeper of Rome and its empire by dying emperor Marcus Aurelius, so that rule might pass from the Caesars back to the people and Senate. Marcus' neglected and power-hungry son, Commodus, has other ideas, however. Escaping an ordered execution, Maximus hurries back to his home in Spain, too late to save his wife and son from the same order.
Taken into slavery and trained as a gladiator by Proximo, Maximus lives only that he might someday take his revenge and fulfill the dying wish of his emperor. The time soon comes when Proximo's troupe is called to Rome to participate in a marathon of gladiator games held at the behest of the new emperor, Commodus.
Once in Rome, Maximus wastes no time in making his presence known, and is soon involved in a plot to overthrow the emperor with his former-love Lucilla, Commodus' sister, after whom he lusts, and also the widowed mother of Lucius, heir to the empire after his uncle, and democratic-minded senator, Gracchus. Written by Thalya -- IMDB
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