Film / Spartacus

"I am Spartacus!"

A classic 1960 film by Stanley Kubrick starring Kirk Douglas in his most famous role, based on the 1951 novel by Howard Fast, with a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo. It was Inspired by... history, and a rather brutal Deconstruction of the Sword & Sandal movies that preceded it by showing just what a Crapsack World The Roman Republic was.

Spartacus is a slave from the last years of the Roman Republic. He escapes and becomes the leader of a slave army that nobly fights the Romans under the evil Roman aristocrat, Marcus Licinius Crassus...

This film was banned in some areas because of violence and sexual content. A re-release in 1967 cut a lot of the objectionable material, including a dialogue Crassus has with his servant about his liking both oysters and snails. It's especially noteworthy because the audio track for this scene was lost in the 1970s. When Spartacus was restored in 1991 the scene was recreated: Tony Curtis redubbed his lines at the age of 66. Laurence Olivier was dead, but his lines were dubbed by Anthony Hopkins. Definitely an Epic Movie. The filming went on for years - at the time a reporter asked Peter Ustinov's young daughter what he did for a living. She replied "Spartacus!" Ustinov not only played Batiatus, the owner of the gladitorial school from which Spartacus begins his slave revolt, he completely re-wrote all of Charles Laughton's scenes in the film after the latter threatened to quit the film over his displeasure with the script — or the weather — or the time of day (Laughton was about as unpredictable and moody as they come). The credited screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, failed to mention these re-writes when praise for the script, particularly the witty scenes between Ustinov and Laughton, began pouring in. Spartacus was a landmark movie for the fact that it, along with Exodus ended The Hollywood Blacklist.

As per the unspoken rules, no blacklisted screenwriter could officially work in Hollywood. In practise, these screenwriters were employed under front names. By publicly crediting Dalton Trumbo (who also wrote Exodus), Kirk Douglas ended the blacklist once and for all.

For the Starz series see: Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

Tropes used:

  • Anachronism Stew: This isn't as bad as the historical liberties mentioned in Very Loosely Based on a True Story below, but it is present. Varinia is said to be from Brittania. Not only was Britain not a part of the Roman Empire (and would not be for over a century after this time period), no Roman had ever been there, and would not until Julius Caesar landed there decades later.
    • While it is possible (if far-fetched) that there would be British slaves in the Republic through trade with the Gauls, there is no such excuse for Crassus being shown wearing boots in the scene where he kills Draba.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Especially when they are picking out slaves to fight to the death.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: Well, slaves, but they were on an even lower rung of society so the principle holds.
  • As You Know: When Crassus, Glabrus, and their companions arrive at Batiatus's school, he greets them by reeling off their names and accomplishments (or the accomplishments of their family members, in the case of the women). Since his guests already know who they are and he obviously knows it, too, it would seem that this is the purpose of the introduction. In-story, he's just sucking up to some extremely wealthy and influential guests.
  • Babies Ever After: The Love Interest escapes alive, with her (and Spartacus') son.
  • Band of Brothers: Spartacus and his army, as he tells them before marching off to face Crassus.
    Spartacus: I do know that we're brothers, and I know that we're free.
  • Black Best Friend: Draba to Spartacus; Draba sacrifices himself rather than kill Spartacus in the ring.
  • Black Guy Dies First: Not how the trope usually plays out, but it happens in something of a Heroic Sacrifice that incites the gladiator revolt.
  • Big Bad: Crassus becomes this in the final act.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Varinia gives birth to her baby in the middle of the corpse-strewn battlefield.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The slave revolt is crushed and Spartacus is crucified, but Varinia and the baby escape to freedom.
  • Broken Pedestal: Julius Caesar starts as Gracchus's protege and an idealistic Republican. But he's disgusted by Gracchus's lack of principals, seemingly putting ambition ahead of Rome's security, and defects to Crassus - helping precipitate Rome's slide towards Empire.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: An Artistic License, but justified, given the historical setting. Captured rebel slaves being crucified is Truth in Television.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Woody Strode is hung up in the gladiators' quarters to serve as a warning against rebellion. It has the opposite effect.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Gracchus and Batiatus.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Crassus
    Crassus: Do you eat oysters?
    Antoninus: When I have them, master.
    Crassus: Do you eat snails?
    Antoninus: No, master.
    Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral, and the eating of snails to be immoral?
    Antoninus: No, master.
    Crassus: Of course not. It is all a matter of taste, isn't it?
    Antoninus: Yes, master.
    Crassus: And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals, hmm?
    Antoninus: It could be argued so, master.
    Crassus: My robe, Antoninus. My taste includes both snails and oysters.
    • More explicit in the source novel, where Crassus both seduces his young male cousin and rapes the cousin's fiancee.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Spartacus. Right before the battle with Crassus, Spartacus, who seems to realize that they are probably going to lose, says that just by fighting they have won something.
  • Double Entendre: Crassus' infamous "Oysters and Snails" speech, above.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: The Roman ladies who pick Spartacus and the others out for their entertainment specifically ask that the slaves be scantily clad.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Crassus is infuriated by his inability to understand how Spartacus commands such loyalty and love in his followers, when his own power just brings him more distrust and unpopularity.
    Crassus: [mocking] What was he? Was he a god?
    Varinia: He wasn't a god. He was a simple man. A slave... I loved him.
    Crassus: He was an outlaw! A murderer! An enemy to everything fine and decent that Rome ever built! Damn you! You tell me — Why did you love him?
    Varinia: I can't tell you. I can't tell you things you can never understand.
    Crassus: But I want to understand. Don't you see? I must understand!
  • A Father to His Men: To the extent that they will say "I Am Spartacus" and accept crucifixion rather than betray him to the Romans.
  • Finish Him!: The order is given after Spartacus loses his duel with his Black Best Friend when they are forced to fight each other.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Especially for the original audience.
  • General Failure: Glabrus takes the garrison of Rome out to face Spartacus, but fails to take elementary security precautions when he makes camp. Spartacus ambushes and annihilates his army.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • Crassus' bisexuality, even in the censored version. Absolutely unambiguous in the restored version.
    • The other is the fact that Gracchus and other sympathetic characters seem to be nonbelievers, and Spartacus and his crew do not make any references to religion. As the only major Roman epic set before Jesus Christ, it also offered a rare, secular vision of the ancient world, which obviously slipped past The Hays Code.
  • Gladiator Games: An impromptu gladiator match at the school touches off the rebellion.
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: Averted. While Rome is shown to act like an empire overseas, conquering other countries and taking home slaves, this is during the days of the Roman Republic. It can be said that this is where a large part of the deconstruction of preceding Sword & Sandal movies occurs. Showing the Roman state as a crapsack realm of slavery tyrannical to other nations was standard fare (if usually not quite as... thoroughly shown in its brutality as in Spartacus) — but it was almost always the Roman Empire. What Spartacus did was, quite simply, to show that almost all that brutal tyranny you'd seen in previous movies (and details those movies couldn't show) in the Empire was there in the Republic as well, and not just aimed at Jews and Christians, either.
  • Hard Work Montage: The training sequences at the gladiator school. And later when the escapees from said school are training their new recruits in warfare.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Batiatus late in the film, though he helps Varinia more out of spite towards Crassus than any noble motives.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The real Crassus wasn't a saint. But he wasn't more ruthless than any other Roman politician of his time. And he wasn't the monstruous Depraved Bisexual portrayed in the movie, since that would have been seen as perfectly normal in this time. Crassus would in fact support the Populares against the Boni, and supported Casear's reform initiatives.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Gracchus states that privately he believes in none of the gods, but realistically in public of course he believes in all of them. He is not portrayed as worse for this, and in fact comes off better than most of the politicians by the end.
  • I Am Spartacus: Trope Namer.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: The major motivation of Spartacus and his army. They send this as their only demand to Rome after their first victory.
  • Inspired by...: As noted elsewhere on this page, a very loose adaptation of history.
  • Involuntary Battle to the Death: Spartacus and his Black Best Friend, as detailed above. A second one happens at the end of the film between Spartacus and The Lancer to see which of them will receive a swift death at his friend's hands and which will survive to be crucified.
  • Karma Houdini: Crassus. Though in Real Life, he had a very fitting Karmic Death at the hands of the Parthians.
  • Kubrick Stare: This is the least Kubrickian of Stanley Kubrick's films-he was a hired gun here-but he still got this in. Spartacus gives one of these to the Roman ladies as they are picking out contestants.
  • La Résistance: The army of ex-slaves that Spartacus leads.
  • Manly Tears: Spartacus, during the famous "I Am Spartacus!" scene.
  • Man on Fire: Seen when Spartacus torches Glabrus's camp.
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: Crassus nominally wins, but doesn't feel any satisfaction from it. If anything, succeeding makes him desperately aware of his own vulnerability.
  • Mind Rape: To Spartacus, more than once, most dramatically when Crassus tells him that his wife and son are slaves in Crassus's house.
  • Mononymous Biopic Title
  • More Hero Than Thou: When Crassus has Spartacus and Antoninus fight to the death at the end, Spartacus orders Antoninus to let Spartacus kill him quickly, thus leaving Spartacus for the slow death of crucifixion. Antoninus refuses, and fights Spartacus. Spartacus wins anyway.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Push-up bras and well-coiffed hair in ancient Rome for Jean Simmons.
  • The Mutiny: Spartacus's slave revolt starts out as an impromptu mutiny at the gladiator school.
  • No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: When Varinia asks her current master why he doesn't just have his way with her, he tells her he wants her to give herself to him.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Crassus. He does finish off an already mortally-wounded Draba, but otherwise delegates violence to his henchmen and soldiers.
  • Non-Action Guy: Antoninus, a slave with no combat ability or labor skills, he is instead "a singer of songs" and had worked mainly as a caretaker and tutor for his master's children. At first, the gladiator-soldiers mock him, but when Spartacus asks for one of his songs, they are all moved by the beauty and emotion it invokes, reminding them why it is worth fighting to be free.
  • Not Afraid to Die: After Tigranes Levantus of the Silician pirates tells Spartacus that his army of former slaves will surely lose, he asks him if he is still going to fight Rome. Spartacus retorts that to the slaves, death equals freedom so they don't fear it, which gives them edge in the battlefield.
  • Off Screen Moment Of Awesome: Spartacus's defeat of Glabrus; we only see its aftermath, with Glabrus's force already destroyed. Ditto the Battle of Metapontnum; we only see Spartacus's triumphant entry into the city.
  • Order Versus Chaos: How Crassus justifies his dictatorship, though it's obviously a front for his megalomania.
  • The Queen's Latin: A typical instance of this trope, with the Romans all played by Brits and the slaves all played by Americans, except for Jean Simmons, which is why Varinia is said to be from Britain.
  • Rated M for Manly: Gladiators! War!
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Gracchus, with his plebeian sensibilities, is somewhat sympathetic towards the rebels, if only with the ultimate goal of upstaging Crassus.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: In a sense it could be a rather extreme version
  • Scary Black Man: Draba, for the Roman nobles after the arena fight.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: How the visiting nobles get a fight to death arranged at the gladiator training camp. It's explicitly against their policy (because it would be terrible for morale). Backfires spectacularly when the gladiators start rioting in outrage after the fight, kicking off the slave revolt that makes up the main plot.
  • Sex Slave: Varinia and the other girls at the gladiator school are this. Besides doing the domestic chores, they are given to the gladiators as rewards.
  • Skinnydipping: Still more Fanservice from Jean Simmons.
  • Single Tear: From Spartacus at the end of the I Am Spartacus scene.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Varinia gives birth to her and Spartacus' son just before he gets crucified. At least she and their son are free.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Varinia drops her robe when she's sent to Spartacus's cell as a reward. Later we see her get out of a river she'd been bathing in the same way.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The real Spartacus and his rebellion wasn't nearly this idealistic.
    • The biggest difference being that Spartacus, instead of being a slave from birth sold into gladiator school, in reality was an ex-Roman soldier (more precisely, an auxiliary, which was a non-citizen soldier) who was sold to a gladiator school as a punishment for deserting from the army.
    • Also Crassus, though as ruthless as most Roman higher-ups, was neither this psychotic nor was he in charge of Rome at this point. He didn't even become consul (a bit like prime minister, but more like chairman of the board) until after the war. Oh, and Spartacus' men were not crucified because they refused to hand him in, the Romans always planned to kill them all as a very clear example (this was standard to deter further revolts).
    • The movie prior to the I Am Spartacus speech is loosely based on a true story and the moment that word is uttered (in the movie only, not in actual history books)... Spartacus died in the battle. Yeah, anything after the speech never happened.
    • The entire character of Gracchus is made up. There were two brothers named Gracchus who were important figures in Roman history, but they were tribunes, not senators, and died more than 50 years before the Spartacus revolt.
    • In reality, Spartacus's chief lieutenant Crixus broke from Spartacus and led a large faction of his army on a desultory march against Rome. Dalton Trumbo's original script depicted this, but either Douglas or Kubrick removed it from the final film, where Crixus is a loyal follower.
  • Young Future Famous People: A twenty-year-old Julius Caesar has a few brief scenes in which he does almost nothing. In Real Life Caesar was an officer in the legions at this time though it is unknown if he directly participated in the Great Slave War (as the Romans called Spartacus' rebellion).