Commodus changes for the worse. He is innately devious and this is not resolved throughout Gladiator. He identifies his main adversary as Maximus, his father’s favourite, but in reality it is his own lack of moral fibre that is his greatest enemy. Maximus’s fallicious death triggers a surge towards a more confident, vehement Commodus, but when Maximus resurfaces there is a resumption of his initial personality. As any emergence any improvement retracts.
Maximus’s strengths are Commodus’s weakenesses. Commodus realises this and holds Maximus in contempt. Maximus is everything Commodus aspires to be. Whilst Maximus’s glass is full of orthodox qualities, Commodus’s is almost empty, apart from a few unvirtuous qualities he embodies. It is this emptiness that makes his lack of moral fibre so transparent. Marcus Aurelius sees through the glass and intends to deny Commodus succession by reverting Rome to a Republic. It is here in Commodus’s murder of his father that we see the true extent of his destructive capacity.
Maximus has the love of Lucilla, in which Commodus intensley desires. Maximus has the love of Aurelius, the kind of filial love Commodus has always longed for. Maximus has acceptance, the kind Commodus will never achieve because he is an effete. Maximus is loved, respected and is in commands of power, whereas Commodus is not. It is these intangible commodities that motivate Commodus to aspire to metaphorically become Maximus. He acknowledges Maximus’s charisma as an obstacle and sets out to eradicate Maximus accordingly. He is however, unsuccessful in his plight.
Commodus indicts others as the cause of his deficency. He fails to recognise that his greatest obstacle is his inner-self. If he had identified the key to success as self-discovery, then he may have acheived his goals. Commodus does not however; and makes no growth positive growth as a character. He remains immoral, fearful, ambitous, greedy, weak, and shrouded in consuming jealousy. These qualities are expressed in his actions and inter-relations with others. Thriving on death and blood, seen in the gladiatorial games, he mistakes violence for power. He is willing to cheat, threaten and murder to obtain it. He instigates himself as the protector of Rome, seen in his speech to the Senate: “I am the father of Rome and they are my children.” Attempting to appoint the adulation that comes with a virtuous hero upon himself, an unvirtuous tyrant.
The greatest hindrance to Commodus is his all consuming jealousy. It motivates corruption, disallowing Commodus the ability to recognise his own character and to also expand on it. Instead he is entangled in a perpetual reminder of what he is not. This is his pestilence. This jealousy is augmented when Maximus still comands adoration even as a gladiator, when it should be directed towards Commodus; the emperor. It is here that Commodus realizes the trickery he has employed to could his absence of virtues, to gain the love of Rome, has not prospered. The antithesis of virtue is denied admiration.
In an attempt to demonstrate power; Commodus challenges Maximus in the battle arena; which signifies his desperation. Maximus is a conquering general and a gladiatorial champion, whereas Commodus is a skillfull swordsman, but he is weak due to his cowardess, and they are unequally matched. This encounter could have been a growth point for Commodus, by way of conquering fear; but he utilizes his insidious qualities and inflicts a mortal wound before the battle begins; to give himself an unfair advantage. Victorious he is not, and death awaits Commodus.
Commodus could never find success with the detainment of vices. It would go against the definition of the conquering hero. Commodus as a hero would distort the structure of Gladiator. Commodus is the antagonist; the one in which unvirtuous qualities are shown; to enthrall a sense of moral code in the film and to also display the virtues that compile a hero; Maximus. From the moment Commodus murders his father, Aurelius, he is doomed not to discover success, unless he redeems himself from the wrong-doing he has committed. This redemption does not occur, and illustrates that Commodus is prepared to change for the worse. Commodus carries out more treacherous acts; such as ordering the murder of Maximus and his family. It is here in the killing of innocence that Commodus spirals out of control; and becomes the epitome of immorality.
Commodus faces great conflict and motivation to change his ways. He does change, he becomes worse. It is crucial to his role as the antagonist that he does not learn from his mistakes; otherwise; he would shift to being a protagonist. The tragic hero is one who faces much adversity; but after a journey of discovery finds redemption; and usually death. The negative growth of Commodus is essential to the plot line of Gladiator. Commodus offers a comparison by which Maximus can be measured; and the two share a symbiotic relationship in the way they need each other for the personality of the characters to be fully recognised. Commodus remains trapped in a downward spiral of unvirtue; disallowing himself from experiencing redemption; the redemption that would have made him a tragic hero. This entrapment in vice is however crucial to the narrative of Gladiator.