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Film / Spartacus

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"I am Spartacus!"
"No, I'm Spartacus!"

A classic 1960 film by Stanley Kubrick, starring Kirk Douglas in one of his most famous roles, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Jean Simmons, Peter Ustinov and Tony Curtis. It was based on the 1951 novel by Howard Fast, with a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo. It was Inspired by… the historical Third Servile War, and a rather subversive version of the Sword and Sandal movies that preceded it by depicting The Roman Republic as a Crapsack World. It's also notable for being Kubrick's longest film, clocking in at 3 hours and 17 minutes, just ten minutes longer than the runner-up, Barry Lyndon.

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 Roman forces, who are under the command of an evil aristocrat, Marcus Licinius Crassus.

The 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 by then, so his lines were dubbed by Anthony Hopkins, who received Special Thanks in the restored version's credits.

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, and 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, 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). When praised for the script, the credited screenwriter Dalton Trumbo didn't mention that these re-writes (particularly the witty scenes between Ustinov and Laughton) came pouring in.

Spartacus was also a landmark movie for the fact that, along with Exodus (1960), it ended The Hollywood Blacklist period. As per the unspoken rules, no blacklisted screenwriter could officially work in Hollywood, yet Trumbo was blacklisted (in practise, these screenwriters were employed under front names). By publicly crediting him, while he was also praised for Exodus, Kirk Douglas decisively helped in ending the blacklist, once and for all.

The film has a character sheet.

For the Starz series see Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

Tropes used:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Antoninus tricks Spartacus into cracking a real egg in his hand, splashing yolk onto his face. Once Spartacus is able to laugh at himself, everyone else joins in.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Especially when they are picking out slaves to fight to the death.
  • Artistic License – History: It's a little better than other Roman epics of the time, which isn't saying much, but still some facts need to be pointed out:
    • The Roman Senator Gracchus is an In Name Only composite of the famous Gracchi Brothers. This allusion is weird because the Gracchi were Tribune of the Plebes and not senators; furthermore, they preceded the events of the film by some 60-70 years. Likewise, the film paints Gracchus as a kind of cynical Knight in Sour Armour with some Pet the Dog moments mostly because he opposes the aristocrat Crassus. The real-life Gracchi were more or less wide-eyed idealists of mixed plebian-patrician stock, and their policies, while controversial in their lifetimes, informed later Roman politics and were at times supported by patricians, including Crassus himself (who aligned himself to the populares, albeit much after the events of the film).
    • Although Spartacus is notably secular compared to other Hollywood films, if mostly because it is set in the pre-Christian period of Rome, the opening narration states that slavery in Ancient Rome was part of pagan tyranny and would only be cleared when Christianity arrived. Now admittedly this might have been a Censor Decoy (The Hays Code was heavily Catholic-inspired) note , but it must be stated that slavery in the classical and medieval world continued even after Christianity became the organizing and dominant religion. In the Western Roman Empire, slavery was replaced by serfdom, which is not quite the same thing as slavery but certainly a form of Indentured Servitude. While some parts of Christianity curbed the abuses of slavery, and some Church fathers did criticize the practice, most of both didn't, and an explicitly abolitionist Christianity would not come into being until the 18th century.note  Furthermore, Spartacus and his fellow slaves were themselves pagans and there was no real "pagan tyranny" because there was no organized pagan belief enforcing common views.
    • The opening also says that Spartacus was born to an illiterate slave woman. However, while little is known of Spartacus's life prior to becoming a gladiator, it is currently believed that he was not born a slave. It is believed that he served in the Roman Army and was enslaved as punishment for desertion.
    • Varinia is said to be from Britannia. Not only was Britain not a part of Roman dominion (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 she might have been brought to Rome by trade with the Gauls, it would be quite of an unique history for the time.
    • Crassus, though as ruthless as most Roman higher-ups, was neither this psychotic nor was he in charge of Rome at this point. He is portrayed as the pre-eminent man in Rome who uses the slave revolt to launch a coup d'etat when he was really just one of many wealthy and ambitious aristocrats. In fact he was snubbed afterwards and not awarded a triumph for his victory, but only the lesser honor of an ovation (the Romans didn't consider slaves a Worthy Opponent). He didn't even become consul (a bit like prime minister, but more like chairman of the board, and the consulship was always shared with another consul) until after the war. 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Berserk Button: When Spartacus sees Varinia being taken away (with Marcellus taunting him about this), he snaps and drowns Marcellus in soup, then leads the gladiators' revolt.
  • 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 their son escape to freedom. Crassus is also most likely going to be humiliated by losing Varinia, and if we go by Real Life, is going to be defeated and die a gruesome death.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Not how the trope usually plays out, but it happens in something of a Heroic Sacrifice that incites the gladiator revolt. Draba, the sole African gladiator, defeats Spartacus, but instead of killing him, he tries to kill Crassus instead. He gets killed for it. When his body is displayed as a warning to the others, it helps enrage the gladiators so much that they revolt on the next day.
  • Bowdlerize:
    • The opening narration references Christianity and that it contributed to Rome's fall. That was forced by The Hays Code to make the movie look conservative, but they weren't fooling anybody. Note that the argument that Christianity caused the fall of Rome has traditionally been used as an argument against Christianity. Indeed, Christian leaders of The Low Middle Ages spent some time convincing people that the collapse of the Western Roman Empire had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Rome had abandoned its traditional pagan gods, with Christian monks and scholars even being the reason a number of pieces of pagan-era Roman knowledge survived the collapse by being preserved by the Church.
    • Older prints of the film removed all closeups of a dying, crucified Spartacus at the film's end. The Criterion DVD includes this alternate ending as a special feature, with speculation over whether this was done for censorship (to avoid Christian parallels) or artistic reasons (since Kubrick preferred only to show Kirk Douglas in longshot at the end).
  • Composite Character: 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.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: An Artistic License, but justified, given the historical setting. Captured rebel slaves being crucified is Truth in Television, but Spartacus himself, contrary to the film's depiction, was not crucified, as they Never Found the Body.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Draba 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, in this discussion ladened with sexual innuendo:
    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. *beat* My taste includes both snails and oysters.
    • This is drastically toned down from Fast's novel, wherein Crassus both seduces his male cousin, then rapes his fiancée when she refuses to sleep with him.
  • Determinator: The Romans. Discussed by Spartacus:
    Spartacus: No matter how many times we beat them they just come back with another army.
  • 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 for slaves they find attractive and request that the slaves be scantily clad.
  • Exact Words: Upon learning that all the surviving slaves are to be crucified, Batiatus reminds Crassus of the latter's earlier promise that he could act as agent in their sale. Crassus retorts:
    I promised you the sale of the survivors and there will be none!
  • A Father to His Men: Spartacus, to the extent that they will all say "I Am Spartacus" and accept crucifixion rather than betray him to the Romans.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on Howard Fast's novel of the same title. It's a fairly loose adaptation, as Fast doesn't actually depict Spartacus directly but through the eyes of other characters who knew, befriended or fought against him.
  • Finish Him!: The order is given after Spartacus loses his duel with Draba when they are forced to fight each other.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Especially for the original audience.

  • Gladiator Games: An impromptu gladiator match at the school touches off the rebellion.
  • Gladiator Revolt: The gladiatorial slave Spartacus leads a violent revolt against the decadent Roman Republic.
  • 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 subversion of preceding Sword and Sandal movies occurs. Depicting the Roman state in a negative light was standard fare — but it was almost always the Roman Empire. What sets Spartacus apart was, quite simply, its assertion that the Republic was just as bad as, if not worse than, the Empire as shown in previous movies.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Batiatus late in the film, though he helps Varinia more out of spite towards Crassus than any noble motives.
  • I Am Spartacus: Trope Namer, though it's also deconstructed in that the Romans manage to identify Spartacus anyways and use survivors' declaration to justify crucifying them all. With that said, their willingness to identify themselves as all Spartacus rather than let one slave take the fall shows their loyalty to their leader and defiance against the state that enslaved them. Making this an Unbuilt Trope.
  • 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 Draba, as detailed above. A second one happens at the end of the film between Spartacus and Antoninus 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 Karmic Death at the hands of the Parthians.
  • Kubrick Stare: This is the least Kubrickian of Stanley'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. Crassus then does this while questioning Batiatus about Spartacus, and later during his "order and destiny" boast at Gracchus.
  • Manly Tears: Spartacus, during the famous "I Am Spartacus!" scene.
  • 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: Spartacus.
  • The Mutiny: Spartacus's slave revolt starts out as an impromptu mutiny at the gladiator school.
  • Never Learned to Read: Antoninus is one of the few slaves who can read due to one of his masters training him to be a singer. The pirates' envoy catches on when Spartacus passes their letter to him.
  • Never Mess with Granny: When Spartacus is recruiting and complains about getting too many women, an old lady, unaware of who he is, is not pleased:
    Old lady: I can handle a knife in the dark as well as anyone. I can cast spells and brew poisons. I have made the death shrouds for seven Roman masters in my time. Have you, you lout? I want to see Spartacus!
  • 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.
  • 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 Metapontum; we only see Spartacus's triumphant entry into the city.
  • One-Word Title: Only One Name Protagonist Title.
  • 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!
  • Remake Cameo: An inversion of this happens in the Japanese dub used for the HD home video release for Blu-ray: Julius Caesar is voiced by Rikiya Koyama in the movie. In the Japanese dub of Spartacus: Blood and Sand he voiced the titular Spartacus instead.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: In a sense it could be a rather extreme version.
  • 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). It 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.
  • Shoulders-Up Nudity: Varinia displays this after taking off her tunic, which is aided by it being in shadow which hides her breasts.
  • Skinnydipping: Jean Simmons as Varinia delivers some fanservice by doing this (without showing anything explicit).
  • Single Tear: From Spartacus at the end of the I Am Spartacus scene.
  • Slave Liberation: Spartacus and the other gladiators free themselves through revolt, then many more slaves. However, most are killed while fighting the Romans. Those who remain are crucified as they refuse to turn in Spartacus for their own lives, but still die free in their way.
  • Spiteful Spit: Spartacus spits Crassus in the face when he demands that he answer him when spoken to.
  • 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.
  • Training Montage: The training sequences at the gladiator school. And later when the escapees from said school are training their new recruits in warfare.
  • 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, was in fact an ex-soldier (more precisely, an auxiliary, which was a non-citizen soldier in the Roman army) who was sent to a gladiator school as a punishment for deserting from the army.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The only moment Crassus' composure cracks is when Spartacus' Defiant to the End silence makes Crassus scream wildly and slap him, gaining the Spiteful Spit.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Gracchus just disappears from the movie near the end, although the perceptive viewer will pick up the implication that he's going to commit suicide when, before disappearing, he wraps up his final bit of business and selects a small knife, commenting on its beauty. A lost scene showed him cutting his wrists in the bath, confirming the implication.


"I am Spartacus"

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