Unscene Is Believing: Gladiator

gladiator bts 2

There’s a lot to be said for cutting to the chase. A big, stirring speech is a powerful and moving moment before the climactic battle of Henry V, say. But David Franzoni’s first draft of Gladiator gives Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) the early limelight, with an extended speech to his troops that would have had audiences shuffling in their seats. It’s very well written, but, although the plot hinges on his fateful decision to favour Russell Crowe’s Maximus (Narcissus in the first draft), the audience needs to be invested in the hero from the off. Director Ridley Scott, script rewriters John Logan and William Nicholson  instead went for the calm before the storm, with farmer / reluctant warrior Maximus crumbling the earth between meaty hands and smiling at a bird, oblivious to the follies of man. A true leader in the field, his speech is short and sweet:

MAXIMUS: Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. Hold the line! Stay with me! If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you’re already dead!

[Cavalry laughs]

MAXIMUS: Brothers, what we do in life… echoes in eternity.

Here is David Franzoni’s original opening monologue by Marcus Aurelius.

 

 

  1. GERMAN FRONT – VINDOBONA – 182 A.D. – NIGHT

 

On the edge of a forest sixty year old EMPEROR MARCUS

AURELIUS stands in the back of an unharnessed supply wagon

surrounded by a dark so black it’s barely moved by blazing

 

A WOLF — living symbol of Rome — stand before the wagon

held on a leash by a battle-hardened SENIOR CENTURION:

 

Marcus wears the purple robe of imperial power over his

leather and copper segmented upper body armor (LORICA

SEGMENTATA).  His breath clouds in the bitter cold; the

man is tired to the bone.

 

OPPOSITE STANDS THE ROMAN ARMY

 

This is the mighty army of the Danube, yet it seems like

these men — buried in the shadows and as frozen and worn

as their leader — have come to the very edge of the world

to be swallowed by this wilderness.

 

NUMIDIAN ARCHERS, tall Africans, out of place in this

freezing land, stand behind their leader — JUBA — who

has the whip-like body of a dancer.  Each carries his

recurve bow as if it were a delicate musical instrument.

Quivers of brightly colored arrows hang from their backs.

 

Field commanders — CONTUBERNIUM — stand by each row of

  1. Less numerous, and above the Contubernium, are

the CENTURIONS, and at the front line of the mass of

cohorts are four TRIBUNES.

 

BEFORE THE ENTIRE ARMY

 

mounted on magnificent grey horses, are two LEGATE, the

overall commanding generals, wearing ornate lorica

  1. The first Legatus is QUINTUS CLARUS, Rome

Army General:  fair-haired, fit, forty.  He has the face

of a boy.

 

The second is NARCISSUS MERIDAS, General, Spanish Gemina

Felix VII Army:  dark hair, proud and though about

Quintus’ age his face is like a map of a soldiers’s hard life.

  1. Narcissus’ eyes are locked on Marcus like the eyes

of a long-suffering pilgrim on the icon of his single hope.

 

THE WAGON

 

Just before Marcus is about to speak, Commodus steps into

the wagon looking out of breath.  Surprised, Marcus

embraces him and then Commodus stands behind his father

wrapped tightly in his bearskin robe.  He’s trying to look

tough but unlike his father he’s not used to this rigorous life.

 

NARCISSUS & QUINTUS

 

swap looks as if Commodus were the last person they were

expecting…

 

MARCUS AURELIUS

Citizens!

 

Marcus’ voice booms out tough and firm as if defying the

cold and dark.

 

MARCUS AURELIUS

Today may be the last day in the

life of Rome… For nine hundred

years Rome has lived!  For nine

hundred years architects,

mathematicians, poets, and

philosophers have fled within her

arms sheltered from superstition,

prejudice, hate, and every form of

human cruelty.  We Romans have

become a light in the barbarian

night!

 

ON NARCISSUS

 

No trace of feeling, just his breath slowly clouding in

the frigid air.

 

AND MARCUS…

 

Seeming to look at each legionnaire as he speaks.

 

MARCUS AURELIUS

For nine hundred years this one

heart of humankind has been defended

by the likes of Pompeii, Mark

Anthony, Julius Caesar, The Divine

Augustus, Claudius, Trajan,

Hadrian, and my own father Antoninus

Pius.  Now, it has come down to us!

It has come down to this one day…

 

He leans forward on the rail of the wagon, a gesture that

seems to bring him closer to the men.

 

MARCUS AURELIUS

Five years we’ve lived together, you

and I, in a state of total war.  We

have shared cold, rain, heat,

bitterly watched the deaths of

beloved friends.  We are not alone.

Look around you!  Consuls and

Senators have forsworn the luxuries

of home and moved with us to the

front to ensure that the

administration of our government

radiates from the source of her

bravest citizens.

 

OUTSIDE A FIELD TENT

 

Stand SENATOR GAIUS and SENATOR FALCO wrapped to their

chins against the staggering cold.

 

Both men are in advanced middle age.  Gaius looks like a

stoic:  impassive, plainly dressed.  Falco wears an

expensive fur trimmed robe with gold and asbestos.

Flanking them are CONSULS and various OFFICIALS.  Lucilla

stands by Gaius and a very stately, attractive NUMIDIAN

WOMAN, MELA, Juba’s wife.

 

MARCUS AURELIUS (O.S.)

The link between us and Rome is a

solid chain of unbroken purpose!

For nine hundred years the Roman

Senate has stood one with the army

in dignity and resolve!

 

AND COMMODUS…

 

watching the troops, seeming to weigh any response with

the utmost calculation.

 

AND MARCUS

 

eyes dead-ahead on the troops.

 

MARCUS AURELIUS

But on this day I ask you to put

those nine centuries down — they’re

too heavy for us to carry into

battle again!  So, we’ll leave them

here for the Senators to guard for

us!

 

QUINTUS

 

allows himself a smile as the troops grin and laugh.  He

looks across at Narcissus who manages the faintest of

smiles — a very serious man…

 

MARCUS AURELIUS

This day I want you to fight for the

cold and the heat and the filth —

and for all those friends who will

never feel the sun on their faces

again!  I want you to fight for you!

For at the moment of battle you and

you alone are Rome!

 

THE SOLDIERS…

 

Rank after disciplined rank:  not one sideways look, not

one sound…

 

AND MARCUS…

 

As his eyes pass from cohort to cohort.

 

MARCUS AURELIUS

How quickly all things sordid and

perishable in the universe

disappear.  Yet throughout time the

remembrance of great deeds grows

only fresher bringing life again to

those who dare perform them…

(pause)

Legate Narcissus Meridas and Legate

Quintus Clarus, I must ask you and

your legions for one more day out of

nine centuries!  Will you give it to

me?

 

The troops HOWL their support.  Marcus pulls his sword and

half turns aiming it behind him.

 

MARCUS AURELIUS

There is the enemy of Rome!

 

Commodus steps forward to join his father and the uproar

 

NARCISSUS

 

removes his helmet as a sign of respect.  Now the stoic

veneer of his face cracks into a mixture of reverence and

perhaps even love for the emperor.

 

AND COMMODUS…

 

taking every single bit of this in.  He seems particularly

interested in Narcissus.

 

NARCISSUS & QUINTUS

 

Move their horses close and dismount.

 

QUINTUS

I see the emperor’s little boy has

finally caught up with the army.

 

NARCISSUS

Let’s hope he doesn’t start giving

orders.

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