“The slave Spartacus leads a violent revolt against the decadent Roman Republic.”
Okay. Truth time. It took me nearly a month to watch this film in its entirety. Not because it’s a bad film. No. In fact, it’s an amazing film. However, it is most definitely one of those films that is best viewed on a large screen, in a dark theater, with popcorn and candy at your disposal.
Spartacus was directed by Stanley Kubrick, which is odd when it looks and feels more like a David Lean film, with its wide sweeping landscape shots and its intricate score. Kubrick, as one can probably tell, did not have complete creative control over the film. It’s difficult to imagine what the film would have looked like had Kubrick been granted control.
The fun thing about watching films from different eras is that you can tell what was happening at that point in history based on certain themes and metaphors. Spartacus greatly alludes to the HUAC hearings that were occurring. Although released in 1960, this film was being made throughout a good chunk of the 1950s, at the same time as the Communism scare in America. The House on Un-American Activities Committee was on the search for anybody in Hollywood that was somehow connected to the Communist Party, ultimately resulting in the Hollywood blacklisting. Howard Fast, the author of the book Spartacus (1951) which the film is based on, and Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter for the film, were both blacklisted in their fields. This entire struggle is reflected in the film through the relationship between the slaves and the Romans. In particular, the famous “I am Spartacus” scene shows the solidarity of the slaves not to “name names”, and then them all being punished for it by (spoiler alert) being crucified on the road to Rome.
A large theme in the film is the theme of human freedom. From the very beginning of the film, the slaves are shown as if they are animals. And, although Spartacus, at one point, says “I am not an animal”, we are introduced to him at the beginning of the film with him literally biting a man. The slaves are constantly being looked at through cages and then purchased by the Romans. The slaves’ entire plight, led by Spartacus, is for freedom.
Speaking of the title character, Kirk Douglas’s performance in this film is remarkable. His chemistry with Jean Simmons, who played Varinia, is electric. His delivery of his lines, the emotions he portrays with facial expressions are all wonderful. The only problem I have is not with the performance of Kirk Douglas, but with the character of Spartacus. Does Spartacus have any flaws? I can’t think of one. Everything he does in the film is correct. Not once does he do anything selfish or cruel. He doesn’t seem to even make any mistakes. And, that’s a problem. How is anybody supposed to relate to the main character of this film, when the main character of this film has zero flaws?
Now, if I had to describe this film with one phrase and one phrase only, it would be “Holy homosexual undertones, Batman!” But, really, every scene with Crassus and another man.
Crassus says at one point “My taste includes snails and oysters”.
The dialogue stuck out to me. Lines that jumped out at me in particular are:
“As long as we live, we must stay true to ourselves.”
“It’s not just to kill Spartacus. It’s to kill the legend of Spartacus.”
“I want to know all about you. Every line, every curve.”
“You think by threatening to kill my child, you make me love you?”
“Here’s your victory. He’ll come back. He’ll come back and he’ll be millions.”