Part 1: Spartacus Cinematography and Philosophy Lessons from Stanley Kubrick

Spartacus: damn, I can’t believe I never saw this film before. Another masterpiece by Stanley Kubrick: for the moral message, the cinematography, love, and epicness:

So to start off, I want to share some philosophical takeaways I got from this film:

Spartacus Philosophy

1. One individual can change the world

death of Tod_des_Spartacus_by_Hermann_Vogel.jpg

The first takeaway: that even one individual can make a massive difference! True fact: Spartacus was actually a historical figure, and the movie runs quite true to the accounts given by Plutarch on Spartacus. Spartacus was indeed a slave of Thracian descent, who was a gladiator and did lead a slave rebellion against the mighty Roman Empire.

2. Love


Second, the film made me contemplate a lot about love, Cindy, and having a future child (hope).

The cinematography that shows love (phenomenal acting by Kirk Douglas) and Jean Simmons who played Virinia. Also the soundtrack (the love one) in the film is probably one of the most heart-touching soundtracks I have heard.

3. Start a movement // inspire the hearts of many

Third, the power of one individual to inspire millions! One of the most epic parts of the film is when all these slaves (trying to mask the identify of Spartacus) all say: “I am Spartacus!” Therefore, Spartacus becomes a symbol for something greater– a spirit of fighting for one’s freedom, magnanimity, and fighting for something greater than oneself.


10/10 film. Definitely watch it; and analyze the compositions and scenes. Tons of great action (especially the gladiator fighting scenes), great compositions, amazing acting, and a story that will embed itself into your heart.

So let’s move onto the cinematography:

1. Layers and depth


First of all, take a look at the great placement of all the subjects; especially the two ladies in the far left/background of the scene. Beautiful spacing of all the subjects:


Lesson: Place all your subjects equidistant from one another, with some negative space, and also don’t forget the subjects all the way in the background!

2. Opposition forces


In this epic scene, you have the gladiator school teacher/trainer (bad guy) looking eye-to-eye with Spartacus on the far right. Note how they are spaced to the left and right, and how facing one another– with all the guys in the background (heads all spaced evenly). And note the nice leading line on top of the trainer’s head:


3. Camera panning downwards, to surprise you with things you don’t expect!

A classic Kubrick technique: when he is panning the camera, he will reveal certain people/things you don’t expect; surprising you! It is almost like a magic trick.

For example, note in this scene how the camera pans from the top to the bottom floor, and the elegant spiral-like movement of the actors in the scene:

This part is part poignant: Spartacus looks at the Ethiopian man, and asks, “What is your name?” The Ethiopian then says, “We don’t tell each other names. I might have to kill you one day”. Ironically enough later in the film, the Ethiopian actually ends up sparing the life of Spartacus.

The next scene also does a similar downwards pan. What is happening: the gladiators are given other slave women to have sex with:

This scene is particularly interesting: note how when the women are being assigned to different men, they go in different directions, and different use of layers/depth! For example, some women are led to a room in the back scene, some in the left, and some in the extreme foreground. Analyze these frames:

Especially note this scene: look how dynamic the composition and movement is!


The ‘arabesque/curve composition‘ (rendered in 3D):


To be continued…

Part 2 to come!

Until then, check out my other Stanley Kubrick composition/cinema lessons:

Stanley Kubrick: Master Photographer and Film-Maker

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