Christmas is indeed the time for merriment, enjoying time with friends and family, and eating your body weight in mince pies. However, you must have come to a point where you thought – is there more to it than this? What gives this whole seasonal time meaning? For me, that meaning came in the form of binge-watching hours of films and realizing more of them are the same than you might ever believe. Reader, has it ever occurred to you that Shrek and Gladiator are in fact the same film? Of course not – it’s crazy. But get ready and let me explain to you this fantastic revelation because it might just change your life.
This came about during post-Christmas-dinner fatigue, in which there are two options. One: you let inane comedy sweep over you and you wash away the guilt of excess in mindless entertainment. Or two: you realize that you’ve actually lost it slightly and are starting to way overthink things that shouldn’t be thought about in depth. Either way, in our household we made the best of both worlds and turned a Christmas binge into an insane revelation about the nature of plotlines across different film genres. No, it’s not Christmas related, and no, it’s not even necessary, but here it is nevertheless, for your entertainment. (Naturally, there are spoilers ahead, but if you’ve not seen either film then we need to have a talk.)
First things first, Shrek and Maximus share core beliefs about their lifestyle. They both have their comfortable homes. They both respect privacy. They are men/ogres/creatures who have a soul that goes deeper than the ordinary, and they feel that nobody understands them, the result being a lonely and misunderstood existence. While Shrek is busy terrorizing locals who try to slaughter him, only for the sake of maintaining his peaceful solitary life in a pastoral idyll, Maximus is fighting both the barbarian horde and society’s (erm, Marcus Aurelius’) expectations of him to become the next leader of Rome so he can get back to his country home. No, he cannot take on that role: how can he, when it challenges all his fundamental beliefs? Both Shrek and Maximus are non-conformists who want comfort and solitude at their heart. Or at least – they think they do.
Secondly, in both instances, the hero is displaced by a series of events that shatter their peaceful existence. If you wanted to get technical we could talk about Todorov’s theory of equilibrium and how every hero goes through this in order to develop as a person, but you wouldn’t want that. You only came here for fun. In simple terms, both Shrek and Maximus lose their homes: Shrek to a greedy, monopolizing, dictator-tycoon who wants nothing but absolute power, and Maximus to – hey! a greedy, monopolizing, dictator-tycoon who wants nothing but absolute power. Lord Farquaad achieves his aim by dumping reject fairytale creatures onto Shrek’s land, while Commodus less ceremoniously decides to lay waste to Maximus’ home and brutally murder his wife and child. Of course, it’s horrible, but the point is that their peaceful lives are shattered and suddenly each hero finds himself (even more) alone in the world, and on a mission to recover what he’s lost.
For Shrek this is fairly simple. All he does is march into Duloc (which looks a tiny bit like a Roman dictatorship, to me) and reluctantly takes on a quest to fight for his land. Meanwhile, our boy Max is sold into slavery and forced to endure lethal gladiatorial combat. He and the rest of the gladiators are given a pep talk by Proximo, remarkably similar to Lord Farquaad’s: ‘Some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.’ If that’s not a clear-cut comparison (and a skewering of left-wing rich-exploiting-the-poor ideals) then I don’t know what is. Remarkable, as well, that the films came out within a year of each other – clearly something in the formula worked; whether or not Shrek was produced simply to satirize sword-and-sandal epic conventions is an argument for another day.
As a result of Shrek pulling off a stellar and noteworthy set of tricks in the gladiatorial ring, he is rewarded with the opportunity to save Princess Fiona. For Maximus, in a similar situation, he is able to grab the attention of an entire crowd by throwing weaponry at them and shouting, ‘Are you not entertained?’ In both cases, they are able to turn the situation to their advantage and win favor in order to move forward with their quest. Sure, they have their own ulterior motives, but they follow instructions and play by the rules in order to ultimately get what they want.
Things diverge a bit here, but in essence, they both go on a quest to discover who they are. Shrek – with the aid of Donkey – realizes that he needs other human/creature interaction, and Maximus – with the help of loyal Juba – realizes that he needs to fight for what he believes in. With Shrek defeating any number of baddies and Maximus turning into a stone-cold killer, it seems they have to keep their wits about them to survive, sometimes in deadly situations. But it’s not all bad! They make friends along the way! You might even go so far as to call them both buddy movies. And they learn to have hope for the future! As they come to their final ordeals they’re much more prepared than they were when they began.
Shrek’s big battle is to realize that he is valid as a person too, and he is able to sabotage Lord Farquaad’s wedding to keep Fiona for himself, celebrating harmony in his life and bringing together the human and creature worlds. Maximus’ ordeal comes in the form of taking on Commodus and letting him know (via a very lethal weapon) who’s really won the hearts and the minds of the Roman empire, proving that he really does get the status Marcus Aurelius wanted for him at the start. Shrek’s ultimately able to find himself a princess and save her from a power-crazed maniac, and yep, Maximus does just that as well. Okay, so Maximus dies and Shrek doesn’t (well, I suppose Fiona has a near-death scare of sorts) but that’s by the by. You see, in both films there are brilliant messages about being true to yourself, sticking to your core beliefs and opening up to other people in order to make yourself better as a person.
No, of course it’s not necessary, but don’t you feel better now you know the similarities between two of the greatest films to grace the big screen? If anything this whole ordeal is just proof that it pays to watch a hell of a lot of films in one go, and I fully endorse it. In fact, I could go on about every single film thought that occurred to me over the Christmas holidays, but we’d be here for days. Is this symptomatic of having way too much time on my hands during the festive season? Maybe it is. But for now, we can all live happily in the knowledge that Shrek and Gladiator are basically the same film, pour ourselves a drink and crack on with the celebrations. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!