Monday, March 16, 2009

The 'History' of Caligula: An essay for class

The 'History' of Caligula

Robert M. Barga

For a full version of my Movie Review please go here:


Caligula is one of the most mature, and most pornographic, 'main stream' movies ever to be released. The movie, which was released in 1979, contains the acting of some of the best actors of the era, interjected with the hard core sex of some of the worst actors of the era. Controversy has surrounded the film since it showed up, usually regarding the mature nature of the film, the blatant interjection of porn, and the blind side that the producers pulled on the actor. Usually ignored in this controversy is the fact that the history of Caligula is not exactly what is desired from a retelling of hisotry. Caligula and real history really do not seem to go together.

Caligula tells the story of a fledging Roman youth (I wonder what his name is) as he migrates from being the heir to the throne to being the emperor to being beheaded. This movie starts with Caligula’s rise to power, when he is frolicking in the woods having sex with his sister. It then moves on to when he ascertains the throne of Rome and discusses his popularity and love. Finally, the movie comes crashing down due to the madness that is associated more often with Nero. The movie does this in a somewhat slow paced fashion, which surprisingly fits the film. Oh, and on a side note, it interjects hard-core pornography throughout.

Moving on from the discussion of the plot of the movie, it becomes apparent that the history in Caligula is lacking. Ancient Rome was not sexually obsessed in any manner. As a Roman History major put it, “They were much more open about sex; however, they were also far more conservative then modern America.1” Basically, the Romans were fine with the concept of sex, but they were not having sex all of the time, nor were they having sex in public. This is a major theme of Caligula, and one that is greatly incorrect. No matter what somebody might see saying otherwise, the Romans were not hyper sexualized.

The rise to power by Caligula was not one of deceit and killing, as it was depicted in the movie. Instead, Caligula's family was killed by his adopted uncle, and then he waited until that uncle died naturally to become emperor; in the movie Caligula kills his uncle and his sister (with whom he has sexual relations) is still alive. After this, for the next two years, Caligula led a decent, moral, and much enjoyed reign2.

According to Caligula, he not only killed his uncle, but he immediately led a perverse and violent regime, one not enjoyed by the people. This is a great falsehood, but it is one that is acceptable for the movie. As his actual reign moved into a immoral and horrific one, it made sense for the movie to start with this setting, so that it can move quickly into the actual meat of the movie. That is, the movie is designed to be inaccurate here because the otherwise needed character interplay and growth would be too large.

The rest of Caligula's reign, after those initial two years, was marked with gruesome and perverse interests. This seemed to occur immediately after his illness3. As his mind changed, Caligula started to kill off random people, including many family friends. He also decided to randomly invade Britain, much to the hatred of his generals4. Caligula focused mainly on this nature of the emperor, and it was done quite well. Though it was far too focused on his sexual perversions, the actual nature of his other attacks, specifically the move on Britain, were well covered by the movie. This made sense, as the actual nature of the movie was to examine the perversions and immoral aspect of Caligula.

Caligula seems to divulge from the real nature of Caligula's history because it needs to target a specific audience. People who enjoy pornography, or anything of this nature, seem to want to look at immoral and more violent fare. A movie which focuses, for the most part, on the immoral nature of Caligula fits far better into this demographic. Toss in incest (which never happened), gay sex (when in Rome...), and a ton of violence and you have a nice mix for this audience.

It seems as though Caligula was designed to focus far more on the later nature of Caligula's reign, once he had gone crazy and off the rocker. Additionally, it added several untrue features to further the overall enjoyment of the target audience. Most movies seem to do this, and Caligula is in no way alone with this. Caligula has a few parts of history correct, most specifically when talking about invading Britain, but it generally failed its exam. Overall, it seems as though Caligula missed the mark if it was aiming at history – as do most movies based on history (see 3005) – but hit the mark if it was aiming at its target demographic.

1IM conversation with Lucas Proctor, copy can be provided

2On the Embassy to Gaius”, Volume Two – Philo of Alexandria

3On the Embassy to Gaius”, Volume Two – Philo of Alexandria

4Natural History” Volume Eleven - Pliny the Elder

No comments:


You will be redirected shortly to our new website. If you are not redirected within 5 seconds please CLICK HERE!

Copyright Notice

(C) All articles, postings, images, etc. on this site are protected by relevant copyright law, unless otherwise specified. To use any original material in totality please ask for author permission.

(C) 2009, all rights reserved by, Robert M. Barga, and all contributing authors.