Today I watched Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960)
Spartacus, as the title implies, tells the story of the historical figure of the same name. Spartacus was born a slave at the height of the Roman Republic, raised in chains and put to work in the mines of Syria. He is a petulant slave though and the violence with which he responds to his masters condemns him to death. That is until he is purchased by the owner of a gladiatorial school in Italy, where they plan to make a murderous entertainer out of him. Eventually all this training backfires as Spartacus uses his skill at arms to overthrow the school’s leaders along with the rest of the gladiators. With his newfound freedom Spartacus, always the philosopher at heart, decides to lead a grand slave revolt as they push south in the hopes of escaping across the Mediterranean.
Continuing the genre study of Kubrick, this film is obviously of the old Hollywood historical epic flavour. They really don’t make movies like this any more, inspired as it is by the Wagnerian ideal of a complete work of art. This type of film attempts to offer everything, grand spectacle, horrific violence, wondrous romance, action, pathos, the whole nine yards. I can see why they don’t make them like this anymore though, they just aren’t very focused experiences and modern films seem to prefer focusing on, and mastering fewer, handpicked elements. I mean who really has the time and patience for this kind of presentation any more anyways? Furthermore some elements really do feel needless, like the romance, I came to see the story of a slave revolt, not Spartacus’ domestic affairs. I just prefer films to be tighter in construction, not big for the sake of it, and every film of this genre, even this one, is guilty of having size for size’s sake.
Aside from that I think this film has at least a very good beginning and ending and the bloat of it’s epic framework drags the middle down significantly. The political subtext is certainly very apparent and thought provoking, especially considering the film’s relation to the red scare in Hollywood. Again though, as an epic it has a tendency to force extra content and overlong exposition onto the narrative, which is more a fault with it being dated than it being poorly made. Still, the finale of this film, and the journey leading up to it, has become iconic and the ‘I’m Spartacus’ scene is truly important viewing, so definitely check it out when you have the time to set aside. 4/5