Spartacus Parent Review
The Douglas Dynasty (that grew to include Kirk’s sons Michael, Eric, Joel and Peter) was already well established when Kirk Douglas was given Howard Fast’s novel Spartacus by one of the vice presidents of his film company, Bryna Productions. Douglas optioned the book and Universal eventually agreed to finance the film. It became the studio’s highest grossing film until the release of the 1970 movie Airport. The production also received six Academy Award nominations and won four Oscars including one for Peter Ustinov as a best supporting actor.
The story focuses on the central historical character of Spartacus (played by Kirk Douglas), a Thracian gladiator who, along with other escapees, helps sparks the Third Servile War in the Roman Empire.
Despite living in the salt mines since he was a boy, Spartacus has a sense of morality that seems out of place in his circumstances. Later, after being forced to become a gladiator under the tutorage of Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov), the young man learns fighting skills that he uses when the gladiators at the school stage an uprising.
At first he and the fugitives are considered to be a mere annoyance. But bit-by-bit they gain more support as they cross the country pillaging Roman estates and freeing slaves. Spartacus becomes the leader and slowly his fame—or infamy—spreads across the Italian Peninsula.
As the Roman Senate becomes increasingly concerned with the insurgents, they send out their armies to quell the rebellion. However, the political maneuvering for control in the capitol proves to be almost as fatal to the empire as the slave uprising.
The film sports an impressive cast of Hollywood heavyweights of the time. Along with Douglas and Ustinov, Laurence Olivia stars as the Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus who tries to seduce his young male slave played by Tony Curtis. The scene was deleted when the film’s first released, but has since been restored. John Gavin stars as Julius Caesar and British actress Jean Simmons plays Spartacus’s lover Varinia.
The epic saga, directed by Stanley Kubrick (who went on to direct films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shinning and Eyes Wide Shut), offers a bloody look at the brutality of the Romans with depictions of battles, stabbings and decapitation. In one scene a limb is hacked off, and numerous other gory injuries and weapons are shown.
While the film depicts the internal conflict that eventually contributes to the overthrow of the Roman Empire, it doesn’t conclude with the seemingly obligatory happy ending. Rather the movie raises questions to be discussed about social classes, entertainment (gladiators fighting to the death for the amusement of the rich) and the universal human desire for freedom.Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons. Running time: 197 minutes. Theatrical release October 7, 1960. Updated October 6, 2015
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Spartacus here.
Spartacus Parents Guide
How does Spartacus feel about his lack of education, especially when it comes to his role as leader of the uprising? What things does he admire about the young poet that joins their band? Why does he say there is value in singing as well as fighting? How can education help prepare you for the future? Do you think it is important to study a wide variety of subjects?
Why are the Romans as concerned about killing the legend of Spartacus as they are the man? How do martyrs give strength to their cause?
Why is the bond between the slaves so strong in this story? What common goal do they share? What sacrifices do they make for one another? How does the slave brotherhood strengthen their resolve? How can strong bonds in a family, workplace or team help contribute to the success of the group?
How is the decadence of the Romans portrayed? What does this film say about the disparity between the classes? Can that message be applied to our society today? What signs of uprising do we see today?