In Gladiator with Russell Crowe, what kind of world is depicted in the city of Rome?

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Rome is not depicted in a particularly pleasant way. This is shown through the dominance that the arena has on the life in the capital, and how important gladiators were as a form of entertainment. It is interesting that the novel contains both an African city, which is nothing more than a tiny settlement at the back end of the empire, and then moves to the far greater and more sophisticated city of Rome. In spite of the greater wealth, culture and sophistication, what unites both the basic common city in Africa and the centre of the Roman world is the complete bloodthirsty nature of the population, which stands in contrast to the supposed level of sophistication of the citizens of Rome. Note what Proximo says to the slaves he has just purchased who are going to be gladiators:

I am Proximo! I will be closer to you in these next few days, which will be the last days of your miserable lives, than that bitch of a mother who first brought you screaming into this world! I did not pay good money for your company, I paid it so I could profit from your deaths! And just as your mother was there at your beginning, so I shall be there at your end. And when you die — and die you shall — your transition will be to the sound of … [claps his hands] Gladiators, I salute you.

The arena was a place where money could be made and fame could be won, and freedom could be granted for those who are strong and successful enough. It was also a place of shameless exploitation, where people like Proximo were overtly seeking to profit through the suffering and misery of others. The fact that Rome as a city is shown to be built around this form of entertainment does not depict it in a particularly good light.