26 February 2018
Some people today look at past conceptions of manhood, see flaws such as violence and aggression, and cry out for a need to replace it altogether. While aspects of manhood should be updated to meet the realities of the times, our stories teach us that many of the traditional ideals of manhood haven’t gotten old or less useful.
Many men and a surprising amount of women love the movie Gladiator. They love it because it tells a compelling story about the kind of man men want to be, and women want to be with—the ideal man. Gladiator is about how the ideal man acts and grounds himself in a chaotic and complex world.
The name of the ideal man in Gladiator is Maximus. That’s a fitting name because he’s man at the maximum. He’s not just one of the classical archetypes of manhood—such as the king, the warrior, the magician or the lover—he is a very satisfying combination of all the manly archetypes.
In the opening act of the movie, we’re presented with what happens to a man who lives life properly. We find Maximus on the tide of a great battle, and even more impressive than the ordered and capable army he commands is the moving way in which his men respect him.
It’s clear he has won his position through his competence. He’s not just a technician expert that gives orders on the sidelines. Maximus plays the game at the highest level and rides at the head of his men into the arena.
Maximus is the epitome of a gentleman. You cannot be a gentle-man without being a man first, someone who can rip off heads in power and fury. But a gentle-man then restrains that power to gentleness in order to respect his elders, women, children and society.
What Maximus touches turns to gold. The battle is won, and Maximus is the great man. And the more we look, the more we find we he’s the great man because the way he lives is great.
He doesn’t want to be on the battlefield shedding blood. Yet he is on the battlefield because he believes in higher ideals. And he lives a life of sacrifice to those ideals.
He sacrifices to the political ideal, even in a world where the political ideal has been corrupted in reality. He sacrifices to the ideal of the home and the family. He sacrifices to the transcendent—the higher and yet uncomprehended forces at play in the world, that he has the humility to honor.
What he does, he does in service and duty to these ideals. And he lets everything else fall as it may. He is not interested in manipulating the world to his preferred outcome. He sacrifices the present to what is right, and lets the future consequences follow, with the faith that the future will be the best it can possibly be if he partners with, and sacrifices to, life in this way. And onto this kind of man spills the favor of existence.
Men want to be this kind of man. Women want to be with this kind of man.
When the emperor, the God of the Roman Empire needs a successor who will turn a corrupted state back to its ideal he turns to Maximus.
Gladiator is a fictional story, but its character Maximus is a true character because he’s an amalgamation of the ideal manly characteristics that have proved themselves valuable in the crucible of history.
But not everyone strives to uphold the ideal. In the next episode, we’ll continue our analysis of Gladiator by looking at the story through the lens of the biblical story of the hostile brothers Cain and Abel.