The human reaction to pain in a natural one, we feel a physical reaction to things that we cannot control. Throughout history society has slowly changed from a place where the action of crying was a natural reaction to the things that cause us unhappiness, to a place where any hint of true reaction to what goes on in our lives is an overreaction. In Ancient Greece expressing ones feelings was an encouraged activity, letting go of pent up energy, focusing on something painful that one is not directly influenced by but can observe and react. The genre of tragedy came about to give the spectators of ancient Greece somewhere to capture their attention, to shock and grasp natural human reaction. Going to see a tragic play displaying a rollercoaster of events that triggers empathy within the onlooker was a natural way of experiencing the heartbreak of looking family, the shock of seeing deception at its highest form and watching the tower of natural order crumble upon the stage before their very eyes. Characters like Maximus from the film ‘Gladiator’ directed by Ridley Scott clearly show the ways in which the genre of tragedy works in conjunction with our humanity. Set in 180AD Rome, reigning Caesar is at the peak of the Roman empire, we experience Maximus’s fall from grace as he once was the most powerful general to now being so low in the natural order, he now lives in a world where his life is valued less than those of animals.
Lions Tigers and bears, caught in cages, bought into a world of vanity. Even animals had rights in ancient Rome, placed on a high pedestal of value, higher than that of men. In 180AD the world had its own set of values, those that placed all living beings within a list of order that dictated your rights and respect received from society. Maximus was among the highest rungs of the ladder of natural order, a noble and extremely decorated General of the Caesars army but as tragedy demands, even the most noble must fall. For audiences in ancient Rome the story of a tragic hero was one that blew minds, it challenged normality in ways that they couldn’t dream of. In one specific scene in the film, the slave collection, where Maximus awakens upon a wooden cart that is flying through the desert on route to a city of thieves, we see him in his new place in the world, hundreds of rungs below where he once was. Sounds of thunder echo throughout the succession of fast paced camera shots of his visions to a scene seen at the beginning of the film, his hands lightly touching reeds as his arms are clad in armour. The echo of children’s laughter can be heard mixed with the sounds of caged animals in distress as their cries are being heard in non-digetic sound. The mixture of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds bombard the viewer with ideas of how confused and disoriented Maximus must be in his situation. To remember his deceased family as only a faint memory of happiness, and the hope that he will be reunited with them in the afterlife. The visions push our reaction to Maximus’s fate, for a fate that is greater than the tragic hero deserves is one of the famous philosophers Aristotle’s six steps to a successful tragedy. Tragedy fulfils its purpose when it evokes feeling from its audience, Ridley Scott deliberately places these visions in the middle of the scene where the viewer is experiencing some kind of stress due to Maximus’s position of vulnerability after just loosing his family, the one thing above honouring Rome that holds importance in his life. By incorporating the love and hope that Maximus has for his family with his direct fall from grace, the director is influencing the audience to have certain pitiful reactions to the life of Maximus, therefore giving them a reason to have hope for his life and where it might lead.
We meet a new face, one that will become Maximus’s close friend who utters the only Digetic dialogue in the scene; “Don’t die, they will feed you to the lions, they’re worth more than we are” it is clear then that
What would a tragedy be without conflict between good and evil, a Perpetia inflicted upon the innocent caused by power hungry men. The anticipation of the implied conflict to come in Maximus’s first fight as a gladiator in the Colosseum as the viewer already knows that Commodus, the Caesar, has no knowledge of Maximus’s life as he expects him to be dead considering he was the one who demanded his death. In this scene Maximus is in the middle of his rise from the ashes, as the classical criteria for a successful tragedy indicates