The hero of a story must reach into the reader's heart and soul, making he/her believe in that character's reality, must make them want to cheer them on, must ache when they hurt, cringe when they are embarrassed, fear when they are threatened, and cry if they die. But what makes a hero? How do we as writer's reach that conclusion? How do we perceive the essence that will bring about the desired results and have a man say, oh yeah, I'd following him and face the hordes of hell, or a woman yearn to be safe in his arms. We obsess over finding just the right blend of traits and we believe we have touched on one in particular. Russell Crowe… Best Actor. Works for me. Gladiator… Best Film… a study in heroes. Their hero-dom arose from their leadership qualities.
I’d like to exam Russell Crowe in Gladiator and specifically only the first five minutes of the movie. In my view it was these five minutes that set this movie and this character out to be something special. He breathed humanity into the armor clad Maximus. A time when his struggle through life was far from what we’d think humane yet he was strong as well as compassionate.
I saw a portrait of passion coupled with honor. Maximus was magnanimous. Your first vision of him shows an unkempt bearded clear-eyed man. Set poised in the snow flurries of a winter day focused on the moment. Unaffected by the climate. His proud walk amidst his troops reflected an honest connection. His version of high fives, fist to fist, depicted a sharing of strength and a man willing to touch his charges. A man not at arms length but approachable. It was obvious he stood shoulder to shoulder with them during battles. It was the image of a man’s man. A man who’d take the back of his brother-in-arms. Additionally, qualities of one whom was a leader. Not an order giver… but a man in the trenches and showing the way.
He described his army as “…lean and hungry.” Simplistic yet speaks volumes. Their physical shape. Fat free… Un-contented. Focused on a goal. Everything an athlete wishes to be prior to any contest. Everything any businessperson wishes to be prior to any deal. These three words connected to the deep-seated competitor found in most.
When Maximus’ second in command reacted to the Horde’s refusal to surrender with, “They don’t know when they are conquered,” Maximus stoically replied, “Would you… would I?” He honored his foe… his second in command… and himself with respecting the never quit… never give in… never say die attitude. Tenacity toward attaining a goal is a powerful belief, which is held high in the view of most.
His personal preparation for the moment of truth, the battle, was that he stooped, took dirt into his hands and rubs them with it. This unpretentious moment of focus showed a simple man. The dirt absorbing the sweat of his hands, hands that would be his tools in the fight. An act of readiness, a point of demarcation, the line between General and Warrior was seen in this private moment.
His look at his dog, a powerful dog, which showed a man who was complex enough to have such a loyal cur. Historically, an image of a dog as a man’s friend helps show a character deep, confident and human.
Maximus’ salutation to his second in command was “Strength and honor.” Pure genius. Strength…force… power… might… energy… intensity… vigor… brawn… virility. Honor…integrity… honesty… morality… regard… dignity… rectitude. A balance between power and integrity.
Maximus’ final order was “At my signal… unleash Hell!” If you never fought you might not understand. If we fight we must fight to win. I believe this. If we choose to do something, do it as well as we can. Half-fast is half-assed. I respect the pureness of this attitude because it respects the mission of the moment.
A leader emerged before my eyes. Maximus joined his cavalry, the force with which he would be riding into battle. It was at this point in time he showed himself to be a man of vision. Explore the quote, “Imagine where you will be and it will be so…” Visionaries can make great leaders. Their visions capture their followers. But a visionary without substance, i.e., an idea man, does not a leader make. A vision coupled with a willingness to do what’s imagined is the purest form of leadership.
The five minutes ends with this statement by Maximus, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” The essence of the dream/desire that we want to make a difference on time. We matter. Not just our time but all time. We want to be remembered. We want a legacy. We understand we’re fragile creatures whose fate in life is that we die. So between birth and death what we do must matter. If we can’t buy into to that then we question our purpose to exist at all. We sense our soul will have a life-after thought that is intangible but that tangible life-after is reflected in the monuments we build to ourselves, and these are usually in the forms of accomplishments, people that we have truly affected and our children.
Maximus rises out of these five minutes as a man’s man leader, an unpretentious visionary with a grasp of the magnitude of the moment, a man with an eye on the goal and a passion to do what is essential to achieve it. Powerful stuff.
This is a great man’s flick. However, this was not a chick flick but Maximus is also the personification of a woman's hero.
I share this because it helps define the rare qualities of a real man with character and strength and when we word picture heroes we have to start with an essence. I wrote this many years ago and maybe out-dated but the concept of hero is never.
So why share the aforementioned point of view? As caretakers of the genesis of the characters in our stories, we hold a responsibility to every reader to grabble with imagery and respect the iconic ideals, such as heroism.
In closing, we try to take these and similar traits into the embodiment of our heroes. Though they may be uniquely different in personality, they have that similar underlying core of values, strength, and determination. The sort of man that will cut himself fairly badly but will finish what he is doing before tending to that wound. The sort of man who a woman will feel safe with even when she feels quite capable of protecting herself. The sort of man who will climb into your world, and will stay a part of it, forever.
At least that is what we hope to bring to our heroes. If you read our stories, you'll have to let us know if you agree.
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Angelica Hart and Zi ~ Vixen Bright and Zachary Zane
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