Spartacus was one of those movies I compared to eating fresh spinach- good for you, but not enjoyable. So it languished on the bottom of my Netflix pile. It took me not getting the punchline of the Diet Pepsi commercial to convince me that it was finally time to see this movie classic.
What was I waiting for? Amazing acting, sensitive plot, historical accuracy. Who knew that we could so closely relate to the times in pagan Rome?
Spartacus is an elegant study on the meaning of human freedom. There were scenes that could be directly linked to John Paul II ideas. There is one speech, where our former pope basically quotes "Freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want. It is the ability to live out our life in an authentic relationship with God."
Spartacus is a slave who is originally trained as a gladiator. To encourage his training, he's given a slave woman as a reward. At first, Spartacus spies the pretty lead with lust. Then he is horrified to see that his owners have drilled a hole in the roof of his cell, and wish to watch him "mate" as a sort of early form of pornography. Spartacus then grabs the bars on the window and howls "I AM NOT AN ANIMAL." To this the girl softly replies, "I'm not an animal either." Then an ashamed Spartacus hands the girl her clothes back, clothing her nakedness. She's removed from his cell. However, the conditions have changed so that an actual relationship based on mutual love can now begin between them.
I thought this scene so perfectly illustrated the complex teachings of "Theology of the Body." Men can look at women with lust, and denigrate sex into an animalistic mating. Or, a man can treat a woman with modesty, as an being with equal dignity to himself. That is the only way for true love to develop when a woman is a person and not a thing.
In the movie, freedom is defined as respect for others, including women, children and the elderly. Freedom is work with dignity, the ability to do humble tasks such as spinning and hunting, for a noble task- to free all slaves in Rome. Freedom is also the ability to raise a family.
Freedom is not, the ability to have your own "unique" set of goals, your ability to return evil for evil (such as when the former slaves wish their former masters to fight in gladiator like duels), or tolerance for alternative opinions when they condone acts of injustice. Freedom involves self-sacrifice and is the necessary ingredient for living a life of truth.
I love finding hidden spiritual gems like this movie, because while the director may not have been Catholic, his faithfulness to "truth" makes his art the perfect Catholic catechism.