Action, Classics, English Movies

Spartacus directed by Stanley Kubrick

spartacus-DVDcoverFor me, the best Roman era epic to come out of Hollywood. For me, Spartacus beats hollow Ten Commandments and its ilk. For me, this is mainly because firstly this has a historical element to it (and I am fascinated by the history of slave rebellions – and the most famous name in that history always goes to Spartacus), which makes it real and believable. Secondly there is no preaching a la Moses et al which can make you cringe…

The story is about Spartacus (played by Kirk Douglas – the better of the two Douglas according to me!!!) and his doomed slave rebellion (the Third Servile war). It was the most successful slave rebellion in the history of the Roman empire, a rebellion which threatened Rome itself. It was a rebellion which had in its army some gladiators (Spartacus and his generals were all gladiators) while the majority were hastily trained slaves who seemed magically to destroy almost any legions that the Romans threw at them and which reached a point when Rome did not have legions to defend itself and had to recall legions fighting abroad to come to their rescue. It was a rebellion that took three whole veteran armies to destroy though by this point Spartacus’ army was very muchspartacus weakened.

Spartacus has been an inspiration to centuries of rebels fighting oppression, most notably Toussaint L’Ouverture (he was called the black Spartacus by the French). Indeed his legend has lived on through the centuries as a symbol of uncompromising and heroic defiance of tyranny (and Imperialism).

Of course since the movie is only three hours long, Hollywood simplified the whole rebellion, shortening it and making a linear structure to the whole process (when in fact there were many twists and turns in the actual rebellion). In the process, it also manufactured a somewhat fictionalized account of the life of Spartacus (Very little is known of Spartacus himself historically – his body was never found). But its a beautiful job done since the only the peripheral elements are changed to bring cohesiveness to the story. And Kirk Douglas is sublime as the leader of the rebels where he is projected as a freedom fighter who aims to free all the slaves in the empire and allow them to go back to their homes. Historians agree that his actions did aim for the freeing of the slaves (though not from all the empire – just whatever he could do).

The movie starts with Spartacus as a slave when he is bought by a Gladiator trainer for his Gladiator school. He falls in love with a slave girl, Varinia, there but there is little he can do about except steal glances and long for her silently. However a small rebellion starts when a show is put up for Crassus and his entourage where the four gladiators are spartacus_1960_reference forced to fight to death. Spartacus is defeated but his opponent Draba refuses to kill him, instead charging up the podium towards Crassus, being killed in the attempt. The mood turns ugly in the camp and the spark is lit when Spartacus sees Varinia being taken away to Rome where Crassus had bought her and kills the guard who jeers at him. The other gladiators join in and the rebellion starts…

The story of how the rebellion progresses and how from being dismissed off a gang on a small time rampage, the rebellion is slowly seen as a major threat by the Roman Senate whose armies are decimated systematically by the poorly equipped and semi-trained slave army…Along the way, the story develops Spartacus’ personality, his love for Varinia, his loyalty towards his men (refusing to save himself at the end) and more importantly his growth as a defender of the weak and the oppressed, giving them the strength to fight back, thus creating history.

The best scene in the whole movie is surely the “I am Spartacus” part (and a whole lot of fans of this movie would agree), when his men refused to give him up for a chance at liberty. This is of course not historical but I am sure the kind of man he supposedly was, it would have probably happened if the situation had actually occurred. This64.-I-am-Spartacus._imagelarge part is really the climax for me – the rebels defeated but unbowed. That really makes the movie perfect.

Another good part of the movie is the development of the personality of the main characters in the movie – other than Spartacus and his generals (especially Crixus), Crassus, Gracchus, Julius Caesar, the Gladiator school owner Lentulus Batiatus, Varinia and Antoninus. You understand what each man is fighting for and the movie also makes clear that there are no specific villains in the whole story, only heroes and victors. This, for me, is what makes the movie so compelling and moving.

Spartacus is a movie that should be watched by all…not only is it an epical tale well told but a tale that is told beautifully. It a movie whose scenes and dialogues stay with you for a very very long time…and you begin to understand the legend that is Spartacus…



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