Thursday, November 16, 2006


I recently had to review the movie, “Gladiator” (Russel Crowe) for my English Movie appreciation class. Early at the beginning of the movie we hear two powerful dialogues between Cesar, Marcus Aurelius and Maximus, the General of the Roman Army and another between Cesar, Marcus Aurelius and his son, Commodus. The dialogues dramatically bring out the difference between two powers: one, the dark and destructive power of ambition and the liberating and purifying power of genuine unconditional love and devotion.

The first dialogue between Cesar, Marcus Aurelius and Maximus reminds us
that there indeed is something more, and more beautiful than ambition:

Cesar, Marcus Aurelius: I want you to be Protector of Rome,
to bring the power back to the people. Rome has become dark,
consumed by corruption. Will you accept this great honor?
Maximus: With all my heart, no!
Cesar, Marcus Aurelius: That is why you should be the one!
Maximus: How about Commodus? (Cesar’s son)
Cesar, Marcus Aurelius: Commodus is not a moral man.
Commodus cannot rule, he must not rule.

The second dialogue is heavy and full of vile ending with the hideous
murder of a father (Cesar) by his son (Commodus)
consumed and blinded by ambition.
Cesar, Marcus Aurelius: Are you ready to do your duty to Rome?
You will not be Emperor of Rome. My power will pass to
Maximus to hold in trust until the Senate is ready to rule once more.
Rome is to become a Republic once more.

Commodus: (Angry with tears profusely flowing) You wrote to me once about
the four chief virtues: wisdom; justice; fortitude and temperance.
As I read the list, I knew I had none of them. But I have other virtues
father: Ambition that can be a virtue that drives us to excel;
resourcefulness, courage….perhaps not in the battle field but there are
many forms of courage: Devotion to my family….to you..but none of
my virtues were on your list….as if I were never your son….

After uttering these words, instead of a Judas kiss of betrayal Commodus embraces and strangles and murders his own father, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius of Rome.
In barely six months, elections for the representatives to the two houses of the Phililppine Congress will take place. A few days ago, Senator Lacson jumped the gun on the other contenders for Mayor of Manila, by announcing his decision not to run as Senator but as candidate for Mayor of Manila. The air already thick with toxic vehicular and industrial exhaust becomes even thicker with the ominous sooth of ambition. Even the opposition as early as now seem to gloat at the Republican’s defeat in both houses as though this were a foreboding of things to come in May. Some commentators call this over-confidence. At bottom, it is plain and simple ambition which sets blood curdling for vengeance and victory on both sides.

In the movie, Gladiator, Commodus’ ambition was deadly and totally depraved. Even a son is not spared the curse of ambition that led to both murder and death. Before he murders his own father, Commodus rationalizes and calls ambition a “virtue that drives him to excel”. Excellence here is a euphemism for the Machiavellian attitudes and ways of ambitious men and women in any field from politics to showbiz, business to religion. Wizened and wiser, the old Cesar defies tradition and decided that even his own son cannot and should not rule: “Commodus is not a moral man. Commodus cannot rule. He should not rule.”

I wonder how many of the ambitious Filipinos and Filipinas are not moral and
therefore cannot and should not rule?
Yet, in the end, Commodus still ruled Rome but first, he had to murder his own father. Ambitious men and women need not physically murder parents or anyone who stands in their way. Just as Commodus has learned how to rationalize his ambition by calling it virtue, they too know how to justify murder by calling it by many other names: All out war; War against terror; War against destabilizers; troublemakers; communists; leftists…etc.

The movie ends with Commodus, Emperor of Rome in a battle to the death with Maximus (weakened by imprisonment and torture and further weakened by a stab wound earlier inflicted by Commodus). Unable to have Maximus killed by superior arms and numbers, the Emperor finally buckles down and succumbs to his own hubris goaded by the crowd’s increasing fondness for Maximus. Hubris, jealousy and ambition have earlier already killed Commodus’ soul. I

In the arena, he dies in the hands of Maximus. Both men, mortally wounded lay waiting for death. In the horizon, Commodus only sees the darkness of his own ambition. Looking up to the clear skies, Maximus sees his murdered wife and son waiting for him and a glorious life of peace and infinite joy that awaits one who has lived a life of virtue.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
November 16, 2006


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