Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Movies for Lent, Spartacus

Over the last few years I have had interest in the story of Spartacus. Despite that interest I hadn't seen the Oscar winning film with Kirk Douglas until recently. This epic film follows the story of a slave named Spartacus until his death in 71 BC. Spartacus is taken as a slave at the age of 13, he later becomes a gladiator for Lentulus Batiatus played by Peter Ustinov who won an Oscar for supporting actor. Spartacus ends up leading a revolt against Rome. The movie, almost 55 years old still holds up, especially when considering the making of this film was done with real sets and special effects. Initially budgeted at 5 million dollars it ran over to 12 million dollars, all funded by Kirk Douglas. The film made millions, maintaining the highest grossing film for the studio for many years.

www.thevirtualpew.comWhat was done for 12 million dollars is astounding by today's standards. While the film is dated, the direction by Stanley Kubrick is brilliant, although the final print was something Kubrick was not so favorable of.  The all-star cast features the likes of Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas and Peter Ustinov as mentioned above along with Jean Simmons as Spartacus love interest Varinia and Laurence Olivier. I watched the 50th Anniversary edition on Blu-ray and was shocked and pleasantly surprised at the quality of transfer of picture and the quality of the sound. The transfer and restoration of the film was pushed and headed up by Steven Spielberg with the blessings of Kubrick. While over 3 1/2 hours in length, the movie flows nicely and the cinematography, which also won an Oscar, is stunning. While the film was initially blacklisted for political reasons, President John Kennedy crossed the picket lines to bring the film to national prevalence. 

The irony of this particular review is that it is a part of the Lenten Series Reviews for Hollywood Jesus. While looking at it's placement, during Holy Week, I couldn't help but notice the similarities to not only how the movie was made but the content and story of the movie in regards to the world situations that seem to constantly exist and the need of so many who feel oppressed, abused and used by a system who doesn't appreciate or take seriously the potential and importance of the people around them. It is likely one of the reasons the movie got into so much trouble when made. There were Communist threats and the world was in the middle of the Cold War. There were clear distinctions between the wealthy and clear evidence of the power of the political elite. The savior, for that system was Spartacus, based on a historical character who had gone from freedom to slavery to gladiator to attempted liberator. Spartacus realized, that when some profit off of the experiences of the least of these, including slavery or a form of servitude including the abuse of the poor for the gain of the wealthy and politically powerful, there is a problem.

www.thevirtualpew.comThe movie Spartacus had clear intent in its making to show the power of Christianity as well as the references to the cross and crucifixion, even going so far as in the opening voice over stating that Christianity would be the eventual fall of Rome. While we don't see the primary characters as adhering to any particular religious belief system, we do see them praying, recognizing not just the power of God's but of a God. We also see the conditions which made it right for the eventual coming and birth of Jesus. We also see a great deal of imagery that focuses on the willingness of one to live out their convictions, dedicated to not only serving the least of these, but also having the least of these become disciples of a leader. 

www.mosaicwichita.comSpartacus is not presented as a god, although many saw him as a god. We see him as a "simple man willing to serve thousands and the day he would die, thousands would not only be willing to die for him," many would die for him. In the oppression of Rome, Spartacus realizes, "death is the only freedom a slave knows and to die is gain."  We see Spartacus towards the conclusion of the film willing to give himself up on the cross to prevent a man many say in the book by Howard Fast and in subsequent other versions of the story was a gay man from enduring the pain of the cross. While the character, Antoninus,  played by Tony Curtis here only hints at his homosexuality, there is still a clear willingness for Spartacus, the Messiah Figure to offer his life to prevent the ongoing pain and agony of the cross for Antoninus. We also see that character, like so many others, willing to give their life for Spartacus because while he may not have liberated their bodies from Rome, he has liberated their souls. We see a concept presenting the power of hope when Spartacus says; "When one man says no, wrong begins to fear." There is power among the people especially those who have been hurt, abused and enslaved. We see that power towards the end of the film as Rome is seeking to single out and make an example of Spartacus. Rome has won the final battle against the rebel forces. The movies infamous line comes about as each of  Spartacus soldiers, stands up, one by one, yelling out as they have been asked by Rome for Spartacus to volunteer himself for certain crucifixion to save the lives of the rebels who will become slaves, "I am Spartacus!"  In their willingness to stand up, they are showing they are willing to give their lives up for this man, Spartacus. 

www.thevirtualpew.comAs I watched the dramatic presentation of Spartacus, during this Lenten season, I couldn't help but think of the obvious comparisons between the character of Spartacus, and the willingness of his followers to follow him, and my own willingness to follow Jesus. Am I willing to surrender all, even if need be, to the point of death? While the cross is not as pointed and brutal as we see in the movie of The Passion of the Christ, we still see the horror of the cross as it existed in the Roman Empire. People were executed by the thousands in what is thought by many to be the most brutal form of execution ever. Yet we still see the love Spartacus has for others in his willingness to take up the cross so those he loves doesn't have to suffer it. I was reminded of the Biblical concept, that no greater love has any of us than our own willingness to lay down our life for a friend. 

I really like the story of Spartacus, that said, this 3 1/2 hour epic really does little justice to the story and complexity of the character of Spartacus, the time he lived and the people around him. It, isn't to say this isn't a great movie, it deserves all of the acclaim it has garnished over its 50+ years, but the character and the story is much more complex than even a 3 1/2 hour film can present. While the 1960 film touches on much of the sexual oppression and abuse during the time, due to the time the film was made, the late 1950's, many things were glossed over. These things are a critical component in the times of the story and the environment it took place. Knowing these things adds to the power of the story and in its lead character we see a simple man, holding true to his values where others can glean from and follow in a sacrificial way. Spartacus is willing to sacrifice for the multitudes.

www.mosaicwichita.comAs we celebrate the Easter season, let's remember that a more complete and perfect sacrifice was offered that allows us to follow not just a simple man but a God who provides eternal life.  While on this earth Christ calls us to love our fellow human, to stand up for them, despite their sexuality, income, country of origin, color of their skin, whatever. We are called to love just like Christ loved, whosoever.  We can sacrificially display that true freedom comes from within, it is available to all people and comes through Christ. Spartacus is a wonderful reminder during Lent, the sacrifices are worth it. In those sacrifices we discover, real freedom despite our circumstances, a freedom that comes from a servant leader, whose life we celebrate that ended on the cross, Jesus.  Thankfully Jesus story doesn't end at the cross though, but through his resurrection. It is that resurrection that gives the eternal hope of a bright and glorious future.

To see the original trailer for the movie, click on the video below, if the video doesn't appear, click on the following link:

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