Ridley Scott's Use of Mise-en-Scene to Convey Atmosphere in the Opening Sequence of the Film, Gladiator

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“There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.”

The film ‘Gladiator’ was released in 2000. A thrilling action film, it was a huge success, scooping five Oscars and earning over $427 million dollars. Sir Ridley Scott- who directed the film-already had many great films to his name, such as ‘Alien’, ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘American Gangster’, so it was no surprise when this film became one of the highest earners of the year 2000.

The mise-en-scene used throughout was, perhaps, behind the genius that made this film as much of a success today as it was nine years ago.

An example of this in the opening sequence is the music. Beginning calm and gently, the music then progresses to give the impression that the seemingly peaceful atmosphere is about to change. The scene is simplistic but this only adds effect as it offers contrast to what is about to come. The main character in the film, Maximus, is walking through a field running his hand among the long grasses. This could be perceived as a portrayal of the Roman Afterlife, or Elysium, an implication that the character is now dead. There are many small, detailed examples of mise-en-scene that aren’t perhaps noticeable at first. One is the laughter of small children in the background and the other is the wedding ring on Maximus’ finger. These are possibly representatives of the family of Maximus that during the film are murdered. This again adds to the idea that the setting is Elysium. Another theme that runs throughout is the use of the colour gold. This signifier is only seen briefly in the opening sequence in the form of Maximus’ gold wedding ring, but becomes more conspicuous throughout the rest of...

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...son of the two armies. Whereas the Roman army are ordered and dressed respectively, the Barbarians appear, almost feral and do not even speak the same language. The use of a language barrier to keep the two armies even further apart, is another example of how Ridley Scott’s direction creates intense atmospheres. This sequence is substantial in helping the viewer to understand what is going on and what is about to happen.

Overall, the use of mise-en-scene helped Ridley Scott to create beginning sequences that have you hooked on the film from the moment you start watching. He combines settings and sounds, both diegetic and non-diegetic to produce and convey an atmosphere that was both suited to the film and also extremely effective. The colour gold acted as a signifier throughout and this has also contributed to making ‘Gladiator’ a film that will be remembered.

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