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Post  Danny Mucci on Wed Feb 02, 2011 6:32 pm

Jungian Archetypal Analysis of Gladiator-Background Info and Storyline
The five time Academy Award winning film Gladiator follows the story of Maximus Decimus Meridius, a top Roman general. Soon after Maximus leads the Roman forces to a crucial victory, a dying Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome, offers him the power of emperor. Marcus’ intention is to bestow Maximus with this power temporarily until it can be returned to the senate and then to the people. Having heard this plan directly from Marcus, Commodus Aurelius murders his own father claiming the power he was heir to. With the knowledge of the intentional murder, Maximus disobeys a direct order from the new Caesar which results in a sentence to death. While Maximus manages to escape his own execution, his family is brutally murdered as a penalty for his disobedience. Maximus, now starved, injured, and psychologically broken is taken as a slave and is soon purchased to become a gladiator. He combats his way up the ranks fighting merely for survival until there is word of the gladiators being taken to the Colosseum to reenact famous battles. Maximus knows Commodus will be in attendance and visions of revenge begin to take hold of him. Since taking down Commodus will be no easy task, Maximus conspires with Lucilla, Commodus’ sister who once had feelings for him, to both kill Commodus and return the power to the senate. In the end, Maximus defeats Commodus in conflict and dies merely minutes later having first given his power to Senator Gracchus and commanded the slaves to be freed. Maximus in death becomes Rome’s savior.

Characters Used in Analysis
Maximus- Roman general turned Gladiator
Commodus- Heir to the emperor of Rome
Lucilla- Sister to Commodus
Marcus Aurelius- Previous Caesar

Symbolic Archetypes-Light vs. Darkness
There is an obvious polarity between Maximus and Commodus. On one hand, Maximus is a bringer of hope and of the renewal of Rome playing a heroic protagonist. On the other, Commodus, plays a juvenile antagonist ignorant to the needs of modern day Rome; ignorant to his father’s dying will. These two men fit the definition of light versus darkness perfectly. Both men display nearly polar opposite qualities and virtues and prove to be different in almost every way except one; each man is the only thing preventing the other from fully achieving their goal.

Situational Archetypes-The task, the fall, and the unhealable wound
From the start of the film, the main task is solely to restore power to the senate. In other words, save the kingdom. Marcus Aurelius bestows Maximus the task of restoring this power with the intention of using him as a surrogate to get the message to Rome; certain that he would succeed. Although the power returning to the senate will not just magically repair Rome, it is a key element necessary in achieving the final goal. It will complete the Quest.
The fall that a Maximus experiences is a descent farther than most characters ever return from never mind survive. He plunges from a top Roman general to a slave traded in a market in a matter of hours all due to a simple disobeyed order from Commodus Aurelius. Not only does he lose his rank but he loses all that he holds dear and everything that had real value to him; his house and his family.
The unhealable wound in this case takes the form of an unhealable emotional wound. The murder of his wife and son is something he will never truly recover from. The positive trade off to this wound is that it acts as a fuel, driving Maximus to defeat Commodus and end his dreadful reign. Without his family’s death it becomes questionable if Maximus would have ever pursued Commodus and fulfilled Marcus’ final wishes.

Character Archetypes-The Hero and the Damsel in Distress
Although Maximus becomes a hero of the people of Rome, the saving of Rome actually appears to be more a byproduct of the revenge he sought from Commodus. Maximus is not a traditional hero in the sense that his birth was not super natural at all. In fact, we are told nothing of Maximus’ child hood or parents. He appears to be normal man in addition to a charismatic leader and a talented warrior whose skills were honed from many battles. He is loved by all that serve him not because he is a messiah or gift from God but because he is honorable, faithful, and a brilliant commander. Maximus may appear to be superhuman subsequent to enduring the fights he did but I instead think of Maximus as being a low-mimetic hero after he loses his rank in the army. He relates to us on an emotional and spiritual level allowing us to connect on a deeper level.

Lucilla, the damsel in distress, is held captive by not only her brother, Commodus, but by her gender. The power of women is non-existent during the time period and with the addition of the emperor being her brother, Lucilla is incapable of doing practically anything. Lucilla looks to Maximus to be her Rome’s savior as well as her own and conspires to take down Commodus. Commodus suspects this and forces the plan out of her. This results in the death of all of Maximus’ men and in the end, the loss of Maximus’ life.

Gladiator is filled with a slew of traditional archetypal images which fit together snuggly making for an incredible film and with a great storyline. Although some of the hokey damsel in distress and spoiled rich kid characters are present, the acting and Roman setting puts an excellent twist on such traditional characters. The 103 million dollar budget helps too I guess…

Danny Mucci

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Post  Mr. C on Sun Feb 06, 2011 4:20 pm

Danny - a good analysis of Gladiator. I definitely agree with many of your choices. It is fine that you pointed out the symbolic polarity of Light vs. Darkness in the two characters, but you should also identify this symbolism in thematic (or technical) elements of the narrative. Very good observation that the restoration of Rome (if it is truly restored) is really a by-product of a revenge tragedy plot. Maximus's quest (as Hero) is to rejoin his wife and child. In the end he accomplishes his quest in the only place a Roman can reunite with his killed family - in Elysium, which of course hearkens to a Golden Age and an Eternal Home.
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