“What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

Who said that? Bill Clinton? Not likely. It’s the central character in
the No. 1 box office hit from Hollywood. And it’s just one of the many
surprising moral messages resonating throughout the film.

Seldom do I recommend Hollywood movies to readers. Good ones are few and
far between.

is a good one — maybe even a great one.

If you thought this was just another action picture, you are mistaken. It’s a morality tale — and a good one at that. Now it is extremely violent. I would not recommend it for young kids. But the violence in this film, though graphic, is reminiscent of the kind we saw in Hollywood’s Golden Age — when bad guys were defeated and good guys won in the end.

“Gladiator” stars Russell Crowe, an intense actor, as Roman General Maximus, who leads his legions to victory on the battlefield. He dreams only of returning to his wife and son. But the dying emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), asks him to succeed him as Caesar — over his own flesh-and-blood son.

Aurelius tells Maximus that he’s the son the emperor should have had — a man of courage, patience, temperance, fortitude, dignity and, most of all, morality. His own son, Commodus, has none of these characteristics. In fact, as we see throughout the film, he is a thoroughly unseemly, evil person.

When informed of the decision by his father, Commodus explains that he does have other attributes — ambition and resourcefulness. His father doesn’t think that adds up to good leadership. So the son strangles his dying father and declares himself emperor.

Thus, the general, who was to become emperor instead is targeted for death by the new emperor. Though he survives, he is captured and sold into slavery and forced to become a gladiator.

I won’t give too much more away, except to say this movie is surprisingly good. It’s redemptive in a way Hollywood films seldom are any more.

I find it interesting that such a movie was made toward the end of the Clinton administration. Clinton has been compared to Caligula, and the fictional young Roman emperor in this film shares some of our president’s character flaws.

  • He intentionally avoided fighting in the empire’s wars.

  • He has strange sexual proclivities. (In this case, he lusts after his sister.)

  • He is defined as a leader only through personal ambition.

  • He comes to power with the idea of making sweeping changes in the life of Rome.

  • He has no respect for the power of the legislative branch of the republic.

  • He plays to the crowd and pays attention to the polls — in this case, the roaring sentiment of the Colosseum.

This emperor cheats, lies and gleefully sends other men to their deaths. Sound familiar? I couldn’t help but notice some striking similarities.

But this movie is, indeed, above all else, an action picture. The battle action in the beginning of the film is every bit as intense — in its own way — to the beach-landing scene in “Saving Private Ryan.” Director Ridley Scott has done a masterful job.

And, no, I’m not getting paid for this endorsement. Shame on you for thinking it. I know, I know. I’m carrying on too much about “Gladiator.” I should get on to more serious subjects. Why am I wasting time talking about the popular culture, again, some of you are saying.

You know what? Many of the problems we’re experiencing in this country are directly and indirectly attributable to the failing morality of the popular culture in the last 25 years. “Gladiator” is a throwback to the days when right was right and wrong was wrong.

America could use a dose of this. In fact, it could use much more than a dose of this kind of entertainment.

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