Follow TV Tropes


Film / Alexander

Go To
"Conquer your fear, and I promise you, you will conquer death."

Alexander is a 2004 epic biographical film directed by Oliver Stone about the life and death of 4th century BC Macedonian king and conqueror Alexander the Great. The film stars Colin Farrell in the title role, along with Angelina Jolie and Val Kilmer as his parents, and Jared Leto, Christopher Plummer, Rosario Dawson, Elliot Cowan and Anthony Hopkins in further supporting roles. Vangelis composed the soundtrack.

The son of Phillip II and his wife Olympias, Alexander, becomes king of Macedon after his father's murder, and throws himself into a series of conquests the scale of which the world has never seen before, starting with Greece and moving on to Persia, Egypt and India. Throughout the journey, Alexander has to struggle immensely with the logistics of his conquests, his limitless ambition, and his intimate turmoils.

The film is framed by the narration of one of Alexander's generals, Ptolemy, who became ruler of Egypt as Ptolemy I Soter after the Macedonian Succession Wars. He does so in 283 BC, 40 years after Alexander's death.

Tropes in the film:

  • Accent Adaptation:
    • Alexander the Great has an Irish accent as do many of his generals. The filmmakers did this on purpose, as Alexander was Macedonian, which at the time were considered much more rural and uncivilized than their Greek neighbors, and hypothesized that they sounded more like Celts, so they decided an Irish accent would be more realistic than anything else. (Or, according to the documentary about making of the film, Colin Farrell was unable to fully drop his Irish one, so instead everyone adopted it and then it went to the above described decision of Irish accent as Macedonian Greek.)
    • Angelina Jolie affects an "exotic foreigner" accent intended to be Albanian, which would fit her character's birthplace of Epirus, in modern-day Albania.
    • Some of the actors playing the Macedonian troops have strong Scots accents rather than Irish.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Alexander’s sister, Cleopatra of Macedon, with whom he had kept close contact his entire life. His half siblings, Thessalonica and Arrhidaeus, are also absent.
    • Callisthenes and Anaxarchus, two of Alexander's philosopher friends, who acted as a real life example of Good Angel, Bad Angel to him, are not present in the film. The latter's role is given to Hephaestion.
    • Cassander's father Antipater, regent to Macedon in Alexander's absence, is not present in the film despite the important role he'd play in the Wars of the Successors, although he does get mentioned by Olympias in his letter.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: Despite popular belief, no ancient sources state Alexander had homosexual relationships or that his relationship with Hephaestion was sexual.note  The only person specifically mentioned as Alex's eromenos was Bagoas, a eunuch who had been Darius' courtesan and "was afterwards loved by Alexander" according to historian Quintus Curtius.note  It is possible he was bisexual as he seems to have married Roxana out of love but other than Greek culture at the time there is nothing to say he was.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Alexander personally seizes a few people during the mutiny in the Hyphasis and orders them to be arrested. It's unclear whether he really had reasons to think they were culprits or, given how mentally deteriorated and paranoid he was by this point, was just grabbing random people from the crowd. Coenus seems to have My God, What Have I Done? all on his face when Alexander looks at him, implying he realized he might have attracted Alexander's wrath over innocent people.
  • Anachronic Order: The film starts with narration by Ptolemy, when he's at the end of his life. Then it keeps jumping through the events of Alexander's conquest and early years. Shorter scenes can be hard to follow with so many flashbacks within flashbacks.
  • Analogy Backfire: Alexander feels that Hephaistion is being less than optimistic over his plans.
    Alexander: Did Patroclus stare at Achilles when they stood side by side at the siege of Troy?
    Hephaestion: Patroclus died first.
    • This repeats itself, when in a flashback Aristotle is reminding everyone how selfish and egoistic Achilles was. Yet Alexander is styling himself as a second Achilles for his whole life, perhaps too hard...
  • Ancient Grome: Like many a retelling of the man's life, the Latin version of his name is used rather than the original Hellenic "Alexandros", though to the film's credit when referring to Heracles, they do not refer to him by his Roman name "Hercules."
  • And Then What?: Hephaistion at one point asks Alexander what he would do once he conquered his way all the way to his much sought "Outer Ocean". Without missing a beat, Alexander turns to his best friend, and moral center, and answers: "I turn around and conquer the other half!"
  • Animal Motifs: Alexander and the eagle, barring on Rule of Symbolism later on. Also, Olympias in her introduction scene is holding a snake, which tells you all — as should the fact that snakes are good guys in her native culture.
  • Artistic Licence – History: Has its own page.
  • Artistic License – Religion: Bizarrely, Philip tells Alexander that after completing his Twelve Labours, Heracles suffered a bout of madness that led him to kill his own children. In the original myth, he had this before the Labours, not after; the Labors were precisely a punishment for his actions under said madness. On additional note, Philip actually claimed descent from Heracles, so one would think he'd know his ancestor's tale quite well.
  • The Backwards Я and Foreign-Looking Font: The film had some advertising posters where the title was written as "ΛLΣXΛNDΣR", i.e. "LLSCHLNDSR".
  • Belly Dancer: A traditional female example with Roxana's dance, and a rare male example with Bagoas, the Persian dancer who performs for Alexander at one of the big banquets.
  • Berserk Button: Alexander initially gets content with arresting Cleitus for supposed treason, but when the latter insults Alexander's mother, the king grabs a spear and kills him.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: The Battle of Gaugamela towards the opening of the film.
  • Childhood Friends: Alexander and Hephaestion, along with many other of his courtiers and companions.
  • Creator Cameo: Oliver Stone appears as a soldier.
  • Cultural Posturing: Aristotle, while explaining to young Alexander and his future commanders why Greeks are a superior race over Persians.
  • Decapitated Army: Alexander's plan for winning Gaugamela requires going right for Darius and slaying him, which will destroy the Persian ranks almost instantly.
    Alexander: If I die, it's one Macedonian. But the Persians, they can't move without Darius' command.note 
  • Delayed Narrator Introduction: Ptolemy was one of Alexander's generals. The Framing Device of the movie is an elderly Ptolemy pre-abdication in favour of his son Ptolemy II telling the story to a scribe.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Macedonians and other Greeks in general look down on all non-Greeks as hedonistic barbarians. When Alexander says that he looks forward to the day when Greeks and non-Greeks will mix and be treated as equals, his generals look at him as if he's insane. And there is of course a heavy misogynistic theme on the Greek side, treating women as good only for childbearing and as slaves to passion, while only two men can create a true, perfect love.
    • It is also quite obvious that many of the Indian people disapprove of the Greeks' homosexual behavior, with dirty looks and whispered disapproval when Alexander kisses Bagoas at a banquet. Interestingly, the party has a much higher female presence than other cultures in the film, including both young girls and old women, which becomes doubly ironic given that the event also features Bagoas' definitely risqué dance.
    • For purely practical reasons (lack of enough medics and effective treatment), badly wounded soldiers are euthanized without anyone blinking an eye, considering it merciful instead.
    • Extremely sexist Greek views, especially when combined with homosexual subtext and text. It has more than a few subplots, making it all that more prominent.
    • Aristotle's Cultural Posturing, which is very much Truth in Television picked from his works.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Alexander suffers one when Hephaestion dies of typhus, ordering the doctor executed and insulting his wife. The despair occurred in Real Life as well.
  • Dissonant Serenity:
    • The Indian chieftain who sits next to Alexander during his fight with Cleitus. In contrast to the somber, offended or scared faces around them, he just waits it to pass, and when it doesn't, gets up calmly and exits.
    • The Indian ascetics in the extended cut, who are shown to be this when Alexander visits them.
  • Evil Matriarch: Olympias, who manipulates Alexander as she pleases.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Invoked by Olympias, while she shows young Alexander how to handle a snake.
  • A Father to His Men: Alexander, at least before the whole conquering the world goes over his head.
  • The Film of the Book: Much of the film is drawn from Mary Renault's heavily researched but uncritical and romanticized novels about Alexander's life. Fans of her work can recite the lines right along with the actors in a couple of scenes.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Roxana tries to stab Alexander while completely naked on their wedding night.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Did you know the conqueror of the Persian Empire was a sensitive dreamer with mommy and daddy issues?
  • Hope Spot: As Cleitus increasingly insults Alexander's boasts, the latter has a moment of realization that things are getting out of hand, and somberly warns Cleitus to leave before he gets him really angry... which then happens immediately after Cleitus presses on.
  • Horsing Around: When a horse trader presents Bucephalus to Philip and his court, we see Cleitus getting thrown off trying to ride it, and Philip passing on an attempt because the horse will not even let him go near it. To the surprise of everyone present, the very young Alexander volunteers to ride the horse, and to even greater surprise, he succeeds. The implication is that Alexander succeeds because in contrast to Philip, the horse trader, and the generals, he does not rely on force but insteads talks to Bucephalus to calm him and thus gains his trust. He has also been carefully observing Bucephalus and noted that he appears to be afraid of his own shadow.
  • Intermission: Featured in the Final Cut version. It was also a disc swap.
  • Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: The Macedonian phalanx, which incorporates shields.
  • Mama's Boy: Alexander is under constant influence of Olympias and seems to remain afraid of her till the very end, while in the same time trying to earn her approval.
  • Marital Rape License: Drunk Philip on Olympias. While young Alexander is watching. And it's alluded he doesn't need to be drunk for that.
  • Meaningful Background Event: Hephaestion's death scene: Alexander speaks with him, then goes to a window and makes a speech about his future conquests and their growing old together... meanwhile, in the background, very much out of focus, Hephaestion dies.
  • Mercy Kill: Glaucos, an Illyrian wounded by a spear under Gaugamela, is dying. The physician starts to unwrap a set for euthanasia while Alexander is comforting the soldier, and then...
  • Parental Incest: Alexander gives his mother a "Take That!" Kiss when getting very fired up in their discussion. She is not amused, though, and spits him back in the face.
  • Pride: Probably the biggest flaw of Alexander, first sending him on his world conquest and then being progressively less capable of realising he has to stop at some point.
  • Protagonist Title: Which leaves the "The Great" part of it out.
  • Rape and Revenge: The guard who assassinates Phillip is the boy he raped at his wedding party. It's made clearer in the director's cut. It cannot be called historically accurate as the only contemporary account, by Aristotle, states that the guard Pausanias had been offended (he doesn't say how) by the followers of Attalus, uncle to Philip's wife Cleopatra Eurydice. The first account to describe what you see in the film was written 50 years later by Cleitarchus. note There's more here, of course, and it's one of those things where we can't really be sure what happened.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Phillip's father sent him to battle and when he returned after killing someone for the first time, he said "Now you know".
  • Rearing Horse: Alexander's horse rears as it faces an enemy War Elephant which is also rearing. Then he falls off.
  • Rousing Speech: At the Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander rides before his phalanx, pointing out individual soldiers and reminding them of their past heroic deeds. Then he addresses the army as a whole.note 
    "Some of you, perhaps myself, will not live to see the sun set over these mountains today. But I tell you what every warrior has known since the beginning of time. Conquer your fear, and I promise you, you will conquer death!"
  • Royal Harem: One in Babylon. Which includes even androgynous boys (eunuchs) with makeup and long hair.
  • Royally Screwed Up: Alexander's whole family — drunk rapist father, possessive and treacherous mother, he himself lusting for everlasting glory as a conqueror, then Roxana playing her own games... Not to mention his male lovers that he treats as part of his family.
  • Sex Is Evil: Or at least sex as a result of blind lust, which the film keeps on reminding quite often. Alexander surely wasn't the best student of Aristotle, given his deeds.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Insane with grief, Alexander orders the doctor who proclaims Hephaestion's death to be executed, as the Real Life Alexander is said to have done.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Of the easiest kind by actually referring to Heracles by his Greek name instead of his Roman name Hercules.
    • Philip did indeed have one eye. It was surgically removed after it was injured in a battle during the Siege of Methone, which lasted from 355 to 354 BC. The socket was sewn shut after.
  • Spiked Wheels: Scythed chariots are shown charging into Macedonian phalanx during the beginning of Battle of Gaugamela scene.
  • Take That!: Averted. While there are many digs toward Achilles, it was no one's intention to take them as an insult toward Troy.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works:
    • At the Battle of the Hydaspes, Alexander throws his sword at King Poros in a futile attempt to kill him, only to miss. note 
    • In the Final Cut, during the Battle of Gaugamela, Antigonus (the one-eyed general) barely manages to protect himself with his shield from an arrow, and then counterattacks by tossing his sword at the Persian archer.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Ptolemy is played by Robert Earley (young), Elliot Cowan (adult) and Anthony Hopkins (elderly).
  • Translation Convention: Whenever writing is seen in letters or mosaics, it's always English instead of Greek.
  • Unstoppable Rage: The Battle of the Hydaspes is won after Alexander is shot with an arrow and falls from Bucephalus, causing his army to rampage into the Indian army to rescue him which drives the Indians to retreat. What they seem to have done is to combine this battle, which actually went fine, with the later incident in Mallia, where Alex took the arrow that almost killed him, and his army thinking him dead massacred everyone in the city.
  • War Is Glorious: What everyone firmly believes. With time however, more and more Macedonians are tired of never-ending conquest and witnessing the hell of war for so many years. They plead with him to take them home to their families (Truth in Television). In the end, Alexander is forced to do it, being the only one still lusting for more exploration.
  • War Is Hell: The scenes after the battles are not very subtle about this. So are the battles in extended cuts.
  • You No Take Candle: The Persians speak and are spoken to fairly and eloquently ("If only you were not a pale reflection of my mother's heart") while the Bactrian Roxane speaks in this manner: "Great man, Alexander? You I kill now." Potentially justified in showcasing that Roxane was not very fluent in the native language of the Greeks, which her father Oxyartes speaks perfectly fluently.
  • Young Conqueror: Alexander, who spends all of his 20s and early 30s on conquering the whole known world and then some.