Critically analyse how the traditional conventions of tragedy are upheld through the use of visual and/or verbal features in the film Gladiator by Ridley Scott.
The genre of Tragedy is complex and diverse. Gladiator directed by Ridley Scott is an example of a Tragedy and Maximus the main character is an example of a tragic hero. Maximus, an army general falls to the deeps of slavery after refusing to honour Commodus as the new emperor. He fights his way from slave to the saviour of Rome ending with an epic battle against the emperor himself. Maximus is a tragic hero because he displays the five characteristics laid out by Aristotle. The soundscape and costume combination enhance this and tell us the story of his fall from general to a slave, and then rise to the saviour of Rome.
Gladiator is not a perfect tragedy but has many parts that make up a tragedy. A tragedy needs six components, character being one of them. Gladiator has Maximus, a Roman General, he holds the traits which make up a tragic hero. Maximus faces a reversal of fortune (Peripetia). Reversal of fortune is important in tragedy because the character must suffer. In Maximus’s case, he falls from the Roman General to slave. Maximus loses his family, his freedom and then his life. The techniques∧1 of soundscape and costume will help show the tragic hero character traits possessed by Maximus. Visual texts focus on the senses to portray their message. Gladiator is no different. The sound is prominent throughout all scenes of the film and it adds another dimension to the depth of understanding, helping us to identify Maximus’s character traits. The soundscape is also used to direct the mood and feelings of the audience.
The first scene allows us to see how Gladiator features a tragic hero. This scene begins with Maximus racing back to his home on his horse, suddenly music starts and intensifies. When he finally reaches his home and sees everything burnt his horse stops, throwing him off into the ashes. The music changes to soft guitar picking, it then holds a singular note, and a voice of sorrow and despair sounds as Maximus cries. He stares at his dead family, the music becomes more intense and develops more sadness. His costume is rags and sackcloth, covered in ashes. The sounds of flies are also prominent, representing death even before we see the shot of his family’s dead, blackened feet. The character traits present are the reversal of fortune and a fate greater than deserved. The soundscape echoes his loss, his crying while sad is not what evokes emotion but the intense sadness within the music, it amplifying his loss far greater than the visuals. The previous scenes the sounds have been cheers, and upbeat. He has fallen from a well-respected general to a man with nothing. His family were his world outside of the army, he has lost both. Maximus’s costume has also changed vastly from the previous scenes. He was dressed in uniform, fur coats, and now is rags and sackcloth. This increases the idea of the reversal of fortune by combining visual and audible stimuli to contrast between the scenes. The rags and sackcloth were commonly worn by those poor and those in morning. Maximus morns the loss of his family, the director uses these two ideas to make his fall very obvious and position the audience on Maximus side, we too feel his pain and realise that he did not deserve it. Maximus receives his fate very early on in the film. His error in judgement resulted in the death of his family. The director highlights this by dramatising Maximus’s fall. The soundscape and costume combine to influence our thoughts about Maximus, they shift our perception of Maximus and those in higher powers such as Commodus. The convention of tragedy is upheld as we at first stood strong with Maximus as he won the battle and was well respected by his men, now we cry alongside him in sorrow. The traits of a tragic hero have been well communicated by Scott and uphold the conventions of tragedy.
The second scene the which we can see these traits is when he is picked up by the slave traders. He is dehydrated and injured on his shoulder. His vision blurs in and out, unsure of where he is. He is on a cart being pulled along by donkeys. The sound is sharp with an eery feel, it flashes between him, his family, and the environment, all occurring in his head. His costume has gone from sackcloth and rags to almost nothing. He is also covered with blood, representing the blood of his family who died as a result of his error of judgement. In this scene, the convention of tragedy is upheld by the reversal of fortune, the sounds of his family in his visions and with the sounds of animals he is surrounded by highlight this. The sounds of his family show us that he has lost everything that was important to him. The animals add to this as in the chain of being animals are below humans. Now animals ride behind the donkey while the slaves walk, showing that he has hit the bottom, he has no freedom, no rights and nothing to live for. A fate greater than deserved is also prominent, his family were everything to him, he has lost he them and his status. Again the director is trying to evidently show us his fall, and provide depth to it by using soundscape and costume to do so. Scott’s intention is to use Maximus as an example of what happens when you disobey authority, but also to show a contest between good and evil∧2. Maximus faces these trails, yet he remains strong and soon realises he must finish what he started. The audience’s perception of Maximus is influenced by this scene and we see he has fallen deeper than in the previous. Now not only has he lost his family but he has also become a slave and lost his freedom, showing us his tragic fall.
The film Gladiator upholds the convention of tragedy and specifically character. Maximus holds the traits of a tragic hero which are displayed by the techniques of costume and soundscape. The director uses these techniques to show us Maximus’s fall and how it all came at the cost of him and his family. These techniques are also used to position the audience on Maximus’s side and sympathise with him in his loss. Scott’s intention with Maximus is to explore good versus evil, and that even though Maximus faced setbacks, his good nature and righteous prevailed and in the end beat evil by killing the Emperor and giving Rome back to the people, ending the corruption. The character conventions are upheld by soundscape and costume and help us the see the purpose of Gladiator.