In the film Gladiator, the director Ridley Scott describes sets out the plot in a way which enhances Aristotle’s theory of tragedy. Within the storyline, the scenes in which help to deepen our understanding of Aristotle’s theory are the Reunion of Maximus & Commodus, and the attempted escape of Maximus. The film techniques of music and shot types display the plot to follow Aristotle’s concept of tragedy.
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and scientist that wrote many manuscripts and poems in regards to his own beliefs and ideology. His manuscripts explored the concept of story making and retell us what he believed a tragic plot looked like. Within these poetics, Aristotle regarded to tragedy as “An action that is serious and of great magnitude complete in itself, in a dramatic form with incidents arousing pity and fear to accomplish a catharsis”. This quote meant the use of a turning point to engage the audience with the character. The Climax and the final moment of suspense within the film are the two main scenes I focus on within the film Gladiator. The plot is built through the use of film conventions that each portray and build the drama within the film. I think that music and the shot types that Scott uses are both film conventions that are used to portray the genre of tragedy.
In short, the plot can be described as a series of main events within a play that are presented by a writer in an interrelated sequence. Scott’s use of plot to create pity and fear lead us to associate his use of film conventions with Aristotle’s theory of tragedy. Aristotle says a film should “arouse the audience’s emotions”. But in order to engage the audience’s empathy, there must be a turning point of climax that needs to be intense, exciting and of great importance. The reunion of Maximus and Commodus is the key turning point in the film Gladiator. The reveal of the Spaniard’s true identity in the Colosseum is what initially engages us to stand to feel the emotions as if we were standing alongside the characters. Scott does this very well with the use of music and shot types. The low angle shots of the antagonist (Commodus) in the film portrays his power and authority. This enhances our understanding of the hierarchy in the film because we see Commodus through Maximus’s eyes. The music changes a lot through the scene to create pity and empathy for the audience. the fast pace and loud background music build the suspense of the scene leading us to fear for Maximus’s life. By creating a scary moment for the audience, the idea of tragedy is introduced and we can connect Scott’s use of techniques with Aristotle’s theory of tragedy. By fast tempo music, Scott intended on enhancing the climactic part of the film. He wanted to get the audience on the edge of their seats, even tho we know what the inevitable is, he wants us to sympathize with the characters as if we are truly witnessing the reality. The music also builds a Catharsis for the audience, this being parts of the film that “satisfy our appetite for emotional indulgence” as Aristotle describes it. By enhancing the audience’s emotions and allowing them to sympathize with the with Maximus and the film as a whole, show us that Scott used the film conventions to develop the conventions of tragedy.
In the scene where Maximus’s planned escape fails, the music and shot types develop the idea of a tragic plot. This escape scene features Maximus trying to escape his death and get out of the walls within the slave quarters. These scenes give us the last glimmer of hope for Maximus because we anticipate that he will escape from Rome. This scene also makes his audience feel insecure and worried about the life of Maximus. Scott uses the shot types to give us a new perspective that we wouldn’t generally see to show the action and excitement that is occurring behind the scenes. The camera shot is positioned as if we were in the battle experiencing the raw emotions and realistic sounds. Scott does this to engage his audience within the scene and enhance our idea around the genre of tragedy. This idea being the feelings we share with the characters and how it enhances our sympathy with the film. While Maximus travels through the tunnels to his escape the director uses quick cutting shots back to the battle where his fellow gladiators are fighting for there freedom, but ironically just distracting them. At the beginning of the fight scene, the Gladiators look like they have the upper and the diversion is working. but this all changes when the gladiators start to fall. Our hope turns into fear for Maximus when we know the inevitable could happen. As an audience, our indulgence for fear and pity grow. The use of music in this scene also enhances our understanding of the tragedy. This scene is accompanied by fast tempo music to build the excitement. although the battle scene is violent and messy the longer the music lasts the less fear and more time Maximus has to escape. Scott’s use of music and shot types feed our cravings for empathy and reinforce the tragic plot within the gladiator.
For the tragedy to be present in the film Gladiator, there had to be a certain order of incidents and actions the interrelate. All the parts are so closely connected that if there was a withdrawal of any one that is would muck up and dislodge the tragic plot as a whole. the two scenes i choose were the main two incidents in the film that i felt used the film techniques to portray the conventions of a tragic plot best. My first scene was the reunion of the protagonist and antagonist of which occurred in the middle of the film, and my second scene was the attempted escape of Maximus which occurred at the end of the film. By creating a climatic incident in the middle, a clear turning point could be recognised for the audience. This turning point would not only change things for Maximus but would hinder the film as a whole and change the audiences perceptions of the storyline. My second which was the final moment of suspence where there could have been one last hope for Maximus. This final moment being at the end of the film was intended by Scott to give the audience one last feeling of hope right at the end of the text. This was a way that Aristotle intended to end a tragedy with a last glimmer of hope. The hope being that Maximus wouldn’t die and would become great again. But as every tragedy is, Maximus gets the fate that he doesn’t deserve; death. All-though these were the most important parts of the film, without all the connections incidents in-between, a tragic plot could not be carried out.
The order of incidents within the film feed and entertained the emotions of the audience. Scott’s film techniques also enhanced his audience’s understanding of a tragic storyline. Ridley Scott deliberately used Aristotle’s theory of tragedy and the tragic plot to portray his storyline in a way in which the audience could connect and interrelate with the scenes. In conclusion, i believe visual techniques of my chosen scenes portray and enhance the traditional conventions of a tragedy.