Free «Constantine and the Cross» UK Essay Paper
Constantine and the Cross is a film of 1961 produced in Hungary and Italy. It depicts the story that happened in the Dominate period of the Roman Empire when the emperor Constantine the Great took his power and established Christianity. The film was shot in a quite realistic manner, despite the fact that in the 1960s the Hollywood historical films did not display a high quality. The paper includes analysis of the film Constantine and the Cross and identifies that proper depiction of historical facts and atmosphere makes this film belong to the epics historical drama genre.
The evidence that the film belongs to the epic historical drama genre contains at least two general facts that correlate. First, it is a technical arrangement of the film. According to Tim Dirks (n. p.), epics are “expensive and lavish to produce, because they require elaborate and panoramic settings, on-location filming, and authentic period costumes” (n. p.). Indeed, in the film the director uses many mass scenes where all the characters are dressed according to historical characteristics. Moreover, their weapon tools seem natural. Many notable details in the film represent the undoubtedly true image of Ancient Rome. It includes dishes (its form, size, and decoration), interior, clothes, jewelry (bracelet in the form of a snake for good luck), hairstyle of men and women, shoes, monuments, even colors of clothes. For example, when Constantine’s father dies, on the funeral his face is covered with the copper mask. Traditionally, the privileged class wore cloth of dark blue and red colors decorated with golden embroidery of smooth lush forms, while the rest of the mass could afford only white colors. Significantly, the key events and decisions, such as parades, marriage, or victory, are significant for the coloristic elements. However, the exception is Fausta who is weirdly dressed in pink.
The second fact is that the “epics often rewrite history, suffering from inauthenticity, fictitious recreations, excessive religiosity, hard-to-follow details and characters” (Dirks, n. d., n. p.).In the film, the main characters are romantic and in some scenes too innocent, particularly Constantine, Elena, Centurion, and Livia. The director even included the legend about Constantine’s providence of cross. The history professor David Potter (2013) speaks about this legend: “The vision of the cross in the sky, which Eusebius says was witnessed by the entire army, is simply delivering to Constantine a sign [cross] that will win him a battle” (p. 156). The enemies embody evil that contrasts with the bright side of Romans giving more value for Constantine. For instance, Maxentius is a selfish cruel man sacrificing his family in order to gain power. When his father dies, he calls him a “fool man” and confesses: “All I needed was his death to make the Senate believe this war was justified” (Feliciony, 1961, n. p.). Further evidece requires a comparative analysis of the film and certain historical facts.
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According to both historical facts and to the film, in the early period of 4th century A. D., the Roman Empire was divided between four emperors: two of them were Augustus (the older ones) and the other two – Caesars (the younger ones). Two of them ruled the Western part of the Empire while other two controlled the East. The reason for this division was hidden in the area of the Roman Empire that became so large as never before: “Three centuries after the Birth of Christ, the Roman Empire sprawled across Europe from Britain to the middle East…So vast was the empire that its rulership was divided” (Feliciony, 1961, n. p.). Both history and film prove that Constantine was proclaimed as the Emperor of Gaul in 303 A. D. With the reference for the chosen genre, the director makes Constantine’s private life romantic and naive, when the historical fact is less emotional. In the history, it is simply noted that “in 306 A. D., Constantine, the Caesar and successor to the western Augustus, Maximian, was crowned Augustus. […]. Constantine, in order to consolidate his position, married Fausta, the daughter of Maximian, the former western Augustus” (Magdalene, 2004, p. 34). Furthermore, it is known that Constantine’s reign is dated from 306 until 337 A.D. However, the film covers the period only until the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D., after which Constantine took full control over the entire Roman Empire (Christenson, 2012, n. p.). This episode is known as the final battle between Constantine and his competitor Maxentius who ruled a separate tetrarchy. In the film, excessive violence and terrible sufferings of people are depicted. Constantine is the central figure only for a small part of the film because the director focuses primarily on the farewell story between Centurion and Livia. In addition, the film does not mark it specifically, but historically, Constantine joins that war with all his tetrarchs, Alamanni and Franks actively support him between 306 and 308 A.D.
Eventually, Maxentius was caught out from the Tiber river, he was decapitated, and the commander was marching with his head along the streets of Rome. Later, the head was sent to Carthage to warn people there not to resist again. Among other graphics and effects frequently used in the film is a vivid representation of physical violation of the Christians which includes beating, feeding them to the lion, execution, and torturing. Showing these cruel details, the director wanted to underline the cruelty and the power of intolerance of the pagan Romans to Christians making the last ones almost the saints. One of the brightest examples of intolerable actions is the image of Livia, a beautiful Christian girl who falls in love with a Roman soldier. She keeps her feelings until the death. In the final episode of her life, when Centurion asks her whether she still loves her murders, she replies, “Yes, I do…I love them too” (Feliciony, 1961, n. p.). Livia is an unreal character, but director creates her as the embodiment of perfect woman with the noble qualities that make a strong contrast with the Roman society before the conversion to Christianity.
Although the film is a historical drama, there is an omission of proper greeting between the notable people. Traditionally, they put their right hand tied into a fist on the heart and chimed the name of the emperor. Another episode of Constantine’s life was not mentioned. Before the moment of victory over Maxentius, the emperor already had a son, “Licinius had taken Nicomedia and defeated Maximin, the way was finally open for a family reunion between Constantine and his mother and son… in summer of 313” (Odahl, 2004, p. 108). Constantine’s entrance to Rome is portrayed as a great and pompous event. His possession ended at the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which is historically known as the place of bringing the sacrifice to ancient gods. Constantine turned the temple for the home of Christian beliefs. However, Constantine does not kill all of Maxentius supporters despite it was the part of the Roman tradition. In this case, he demonstrates his humanity and Christian principle.
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Another aspect depicted in the film is dedicated to the gender relations and the image of a woman. In Christianity, a woman is always inferior. Her actions are not so ambitious as the men’s. Elena, Livia, and Fausta are all different by religion, age, origin, and life story, but they have the same values. The director clearly demonstrates that the conflicts around religion are artificial if people can coexist well even having different ranks and believes. However, this issue could not be supported with the historical facts as there is no clear evidence about Fausta and Elena. Elena is only known for the power she received from her son and the expeditions to the Holy Land. Naturally, Elena was not silent, but strong and ambitious woman. In the film, she does not possess these qualities. As a result, the viewer does not believe that she has the ability to make a pilgrimage.
Finally, the film Constantine and the Cross represents the best Hollywood traditions of the decade in technical and emotional aspects that depict historical events about the establishment of Christianity across one of the largest empires in the world. The film accords with the general demands of the historical genre. Firstly, there are necessary panoramic settings, location filming, decorations, and costumes. Secondly, there are some romantic and consciously contrasted characters with vivid noble or miserable feelings. Their behavior underlines the historical image in the modern interpretation. Taking into consideration every detail and an overall depiction of the facts, definitely, the film Constantine and the Cross belongs to epic historical drama genre.
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