Kinda recommended for it’s interesting take on an epic legend, but not really recommended because of its paganism. Trying to be a pagan Braveheart. Doesn’t work. Paganism simply does not provide the necessary preconditions of a world that gives things like courage, love, honor and nobility meangingfulness or validity. Okay, this was a cool concept of trying to “get to the true historical figure” behind the Arthur legends. The problem I have with it is that the actual historical information available is so scarce as to render this theory of Arthur as a 6th century Roman Briton named Artorius, to be basically a new legend replacing the conventional legend. Of course, I’m not against such speculation. It makes for interesting fodder and theory. The problem is that modernist storytellers like David Franzoni, the writer of this movie, are so awash in their own modernist “realist” mythology that they actually think their Demythology mythology is somehow the true and “objective” perspective of reality and history. Ahh, ignorance must be bliss. Couple that with the fact that so much of this story is actually made up that it is all quite dishonest to bill it as the real historical Arthur. These people must have no clue that they are in fact simply replacing one mythology for another. Modernist naturalistic realism for romantic idealism. One prejudice for another. Again, there may be some truth to it, but let us not fool ourselves into such prejudicial imperialism of history. One of the deliberate fabrications of this story is Arthur’s connection to the arch-heretic Pelagius. Very relevant that Franzoni picked this guy. Keep in mind, that Franzoni wrote Gladiator with the deliberate desire to downplay Christianity and exalt paganism, the opposite of what most sword and sandal epics used to do (and, I might add, the opposite of historical reality, as Christianity was one of the primary downfalls of the Roman Empire according to Gibbon, but alas, I digress). I quoted him saying as much in my book, Hollywood Worldviews. The guy knows what he is doing and he does it well. And this movie is no exception to Franzoni’s hate affair with Christianity. Unfortunately, since the movie takes place around the 5th century, when the Roman papacy was still not established, but getting there, then Franzoni is not merely criticizing Roman Catholicism, but Christianity itself. In this story, there are “uncivilized” pagans of the woods, who end up allying with Arthur and are good guys, and there are the barbaric Saxons, but the worst monsters are the Christians, who hold up torture chambers to torture people in the name of God like a Pre-Inquisition Inquisition. It always leads to Inquisition for these bigots of Hollywood. Rome is basically the center of the Faith and is described as “those who take what does not belong to them.” Well, the coagulation of Christianity with pagan Rome certainly did create monumental problems, but in this story, the “True” picture of Christianity is painted in the heretic Pelagius. Pelagius was the teacher who Augustine rightly condemned as negating the sovereign glory of God and elevating man’s autonomy to an idolatrous equality with God. Pelagius denied that man was born into sin and asserted that man’s will was entirely autonomous from God’s effect. Therefore, man, does, by his own autonomous power, do all that he does, both good and bad. Mankind has no sinful nature. Funny, but the Living God I worship says, “there is no one who is good, not even one,” (Romans 3) and that humans are by nature, evil (Ephesians 2:3; Matthew 7:11), and are slaves of sin (Romans 6:16-19), and that man is responsible for his actions, but is not free from the control of God in any way (Job 12:16-25; Ephesians 1:11; Acts 4:27-28). But IN THIS story, Pelagius is a hero championing individual rights, personal freedom and the like. Arthur believes in Pelagius’ teachings because he teaches that all men are free to choose their own destinies and are free by right from the control of others, such as the institutional church of course. It’s a very clever coupling with the theme of political and theological freedom that Franzoni creates, though ultimately philosophically invalid. Unfortunately, the freedom Pelagius espoused was humanistic self-idolatry, not true freedom. Man is the ultimate power in his own life, not God, man is the creator of his own destiny, or as Arthur chimes in, “The home we seek is not in some distant land (read: heaven) but in our hearts. As free men, we choose to make it so.” With the emphasis on WE CHOOSE TO MAKE IT SO. (Ahem – as in “not God” or anyone else) Okay, I can dig the whole free from the tyranny of other men thing, but so-called Free Will of man, which is actually the “autonomy of the human will from God” has lead only to the gulags and killing fields and cultural purges and gas chambers of the twentieth century. 100s of millions dead in the name of autonomous human will. And they complain about Inquisitions and Crusades? Sheesh. Religious intolerance is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the evils done in the name of man’s absolute freedom from God. Anyway, the whole point of the story is that Arthur begins as a loyal Christian man of integrity, who obeys his orders from the bishop in Rome, even when they are foolish. The Cardinal tells him to do one last quest before he and his knights are free from their Roman military duty. And that quest is a rather indulgent meaningless one, to rescue an important and utterly selfish Roman leader simply because his son is in line for leadership. But Arthur obeys authority. But the progress of the story step by step shows that this Christianity Arthur is committed to is cruel and despotic. It’s rulers are cowards, they throw away people and lands who have been loyal to them for years and years at a whim, when the Saxon’s invade. They leave those poor people to their deaths. But not Arthur, who tries to save a whole village from the Saxons. This Faith tortures people in the name of God, abuses people’s freedom, basically CONTROLS people. And that is the metaphor for the film, CONTROL VERSUS FREEDOM. Arthur starts out thinking Rome Is where “the greatest minds in all the world come together in one place to help make mankind free.” But by the end of the story, concludes that “The home we seek is not in some distant land (read: heaven) but in our hearts. As free men, we choose to make it so.”And ends up giving up that Faith of his fathers to marry a pagan wench, okay, one of the hottest pagan wenches in movies ever, in a pagan ceremony in the midst of a mini-Stonehenge (another pagan reference to the Druids) Ah, shades of Spinal Tap—mini-Stonehenge. That is the power of subversive drama. Make the hero be a committed loyal member of the worldview you want to discredit, a worldview that many in this world believe, so that by the end of the story, when the hero reluctantly changes his view about the world, it gives the audience the affirming encouragement to do so as well. After all, the hero is the good guy, right? And we want to cheer on the good guy, right? So, before you know it, you are cheering on leaving the Christian faith because of how cruel it is – or rather how cruel it has been portrayed. Interesting, this Pelagianism. Pelagius considers each human born to be an entirely innocent and autonomously free chooser. They create their own destinies by their own choices. God has no control in their lives at all. Therefore, man ultimately saves himself by his own power of doing good over doing evil. People do not need Christ to redeem them, because it is all up to their own choices and power. This is salvation by works, not “free will.” That is why Pelagianism is heresy, because it damns those to hell who believe in it because they do not place faith in Christ, but in their own “free will.” It is all up to them. As a matter of fact, this “salvation by works” is really what every other religion and worldview reduces to EXCEPT Christianity. Which is no surprise why pagan Franzoni chose Pelagius as a hero. Because his own humanism negates God and places man’s destiny in his own hands. Man is his own god. [If you want to read more on this issue of Free Will and God’s Sovereignty, click here for my very long article: “Whatsoever Comes to Pass: A Personal Journey Toward the Sovereignty of God”] ALSO, here is some sweet irony: Arthur praises Pelagius’s theology of the absolute free will of man, and yet, he prays this mighty prayer to God to help him in this last task of duty. As if God can do anything according to this man’s theology? He posits that man is absolutely free and then asks God to do something when all the events of history are accomplished by free acts of autonomous men. Dude! You just preached that man is free from God’s control! What the heck are you asking God to do anything in history for? But then, heresy and false doctrine is never very consistent anyway. And neither is the secular humanism that Franzoni writes into his otherwise interesting historical epics. Here is what I wrote about his movie Gladiator in my book:
The 2000 Academy Award winner Gladiator marks an achievement of respectability for paganism in modern filmmaking. Writer David Franzoni has said that he deliberately wanted to offer a contrast with the sword-and-sandal epics of yesteryear:
The film is about a hero who has morality, but that morality is a secular morality that transcends conventional religious morality. In other words, I believe there is room in our mythology for a character who is deeply moral, but who’s not traditionally religious: I loved that he was a pagan, not Christian or any other traditional/established religion. All those Roman Empire movies from the ’50s and ’60s were religious morality plays, and had to maintain the Christian status quo, it’s all very conventional. You would never have been able to portray a pagan afterlife back then, either. Maximus is a man who will die for his family, and he will die for what’s right. (1)
Apparently, the contradiction of a “secular morality” derived from Roman paganism does not bother Franzoni. Maximus does “what is right” as his religion conventionally defines it for him. (2) So Franzoni has replaced the Christian convention of morality with another religious convention, that of Roman paganism, thinking that this somehow points to a secular morality that transcends them both. (3) Be that as it may, Maximus’s pagan heaven was depicted as real, which is extremely rare in a mainstream movie of such prominence, and it marks the cinematic postmodern openness to religiosity that is decidedly non-Christian.[(1)Quoted in John Soriano, “WGA.ORG’s Exclusive Interview with David Franzoni,” WGA
(2)There was nothing more conventional in Rome than the religious belief in Elysium and in strength and honor.
(3)“Transcendent secular morality” is an oxymoron. Secularity cannot be transcendent, because by definition it is immanent, that is, of the world rather than of the transcendent spiritual realm. From Aristotle to Wittgenstein, if there is one thing that the history of the secular philosophy of ethics illustrates, it is that when people reason “secularly” (from themselves), rather than from the transcendent God, they can only end in subjectivism (each person decides for himself or herself), and that is certainly not transcendent. Without a transcendent absolute standard, this secular moral relativity reduces to the will to power—whoever is in power (the majority) defines what is right and wrong for the rest (the minority). This will to power is the essence of Rome, and it is the same will to power that was embodied in the German Nazi state of the 1930s and 1940s. The director Ridley Scott understood this, and that is why he modeled the look of the Roman cult in Gladiator after the fascist imagery of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will.]