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Are you not entertained?

Jason Gurley
Jason Gurley
2 min read

The books I choose to read at any given moment are often thematically linked; when I enjoy a terrific epistolary novel, I look for another epistolary novel next. A great nonfiction book about politics will often guide me to another related political subject.

Lately my movie-watching has taken an unexpected turn. On a lark, I rewatched Gladiator, a movie I haven't seen since the year it was released. I remembered liking it well enough then, but not so much that I'd revisited it. Sword-and-sandals movies are entertaining, but not usually what I go to when I'm in a movie mood.

Chalk it up—like every other anomaly these last 18 months?—to the pandemic, perhaps, and the general malaise or abject panic it's thrust us all into, but this time around Gladiator really landed for me. Is it a pandemic movie? Maximus, the general-turned-slave, is often in isolation; his mind carries him away to happier times, better places. For much of the film, he has little power or control over his circumstances. Maybe this is why the movie clicked this time: It's a story of wringing meaning from tragedy. Or maybe I'm reaching, and it's enough to say I enjoyed it.

All epic movies are, aren't they? Maybe this explains why, following Gladiator, I've fallen down a rabbit hole of epics. I followed that movie with Master & Commander, then Kingdom of Heaven; afterward, In the Heart of the Sea, then The Eagle, then The King and Outlaw King. (I enjoyed all of these, with the exception of The Eagle; I was distracted by how contemporary the dialogue seemed, and how its delivery would've been equally at home in a modern buddy-cop movie.)

For my purposes, I'm limiting these epics to sword/sandal movies and, apparently, sea battles. (No modern war movies, though some early American stories, like The New World or The Revenant are possibly up for grabs.) For now, I'm not sure what epic I'll tackle next. Perhaps Silence, or I may revisit Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. I loved those when they came out, and haven't seen them in years.

There's no telling when I'll burn myself out on a theme. There are only two possibilities: I get tired, or I exhaust the list of options. With movies like these, it'll have to be the former. There are simply hundreds of them, and there's no way I'll make it that far. Hopefully I'll be done long before I get to outliers like The Three Stooges Meet Hercules.

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