Gladiator Movie Meaning Analysis

Reality against illusions

The meaning of the film Gladiator is that reality is more important than illusory entertainment such as sport and movies. The film itself is a complaint against the focus placed on activities such as sports, computer games and even movies over real world problems. The protagonists in the film are protagonists because they focus on reality and solving real problems, whereas the primary antagonist Commodus offers illusion and fantasy.

Gladiator Movie Commodus and Gracchus in the Senate

Commodus’ Fantasy

Commodus leads Rome by offering distractions to real problems in the form of games. This is most clearly illustrated in his discussion with Gracchus at the first senate meeting. Commodus largely ignores the senate’s proposals and instead goes ahead with planning his gladiatorial games to honor his father. The honouring of his father with the gladitorial games is twice an illusion in that his father was responsible for closing down gladiatorial games in Rome and was also killed by Commodus.

Arena Battles

The battles in the various arenas are contrasted with the battle in Germania earlier in the film. Whereas those watching the battle in Germania are in grief over the loss of life, those watching the battles in the arenas are cheering. In this way Marcus Aurelius is contrasted with his son Commodus by showing that Aurelius is particularly mindful of the consequences of his actions. Also of note here is that Aurelius was the one that closed the arena battles down in the first place.


Lucilla’s role in the plot is to be on the border between reality and illusion. In essence, she is simultaneously living in the illusory world of Commodus and the real world of Maximus. Interestingly the discussions in the first part of the film in Germania reflect this in which Maximus criticizes Lucilla for being a liar and she responds by stating that she did so out of necessity. This is what separates her from Commodus: she understands that it is an illusory world. This sentiment is further reflected in the conversation with her father about the ‘pleasant fiction’ of their positive relationship.


The movie Gladiator is a strangely misunderstood movie in that it is actually an attack on the overvaluation of sport, movies, television and games rather than a celebration of it. The moral message of the film is to focus first and foremost on reality, fixing social problems, rather than illusions and entertainment.

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