What topic could successfully tie the contemporary world to the culture of Ancient Rome while also managing to stimulate interest in learning the classics? Successfully answering the first serves to answer the second question. The route to creating buzz and viral interest in any topic among the denizens of pop culture eventually runs through the local cinema. Give the people something that fascinates them and that interest expands with predictable results: everything from fashion to food wants to jump on the bandwagon. Of course, the key to stimulating that kind of interest is finding a new twist. And when it comes to Ancient Rome, there’s not much left is there? Gladiators…Caesar and Cleopatra…Antony and Cleopatra…Vesuvius erupting…chariot races… Ben-Hur, done that, am I right?
]If you really want to make your considerable investment in making a film about Ancient Roman history that connects with modern society in a way unlike any movie with togas ever has in the history of film, I have two words for you?
Here’s something you don’t see in all those movies that Hollywood has given us about gladiators battling it out in the coliseum: they kept Roman’s top rhinoplasticians busier than a Kardashian family brawl. Gladiators went in looking like statues of Greek Gods (if you know what I mean!), but when they came out, they weren’t pretty no more. Noses don’t do too well when they come up against the sharp metal of a gladiator’s sword.
Not that Rome’s top plastic surgeons were limited to work on the nose. Breast reduction, ear tucks and skin grafts were all fairly well known and desired medical procedures in Rome before rise of the Church. If you are truly committed to making a movie about Roman times that could just as easily be taking place today, then you could not pick a more timely historical subject than the plastic surgery mania that swept through Rome before Pope Innocent III finally put an end to it. Why? Because the Church felt that the obsession with looking good and staying young was destroying society.
That familiar is your hook. We start off with the golden age of Roman civilization. The empire was at its heights and strangers from foreign lands were arriving in large numbers every day. Amid a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping the natives, one of the few bastions of Roman culture that is most progressive in their welcoming of strangers speaking in foreign tongues are the empire’s stock of plastic surgeons who are doing a heady business. Turns out—and this just so happens to be historically accurate—that one of the most popular ways for these immigrants to fit into Roman life more smoothly is to go under the knife and come out not just with a Roman nose but Roman chin, Roman ears and Roman hairline. All great drama arrives from conflict, of course, and if history has taught us anything, it is that anti-immigrant sentiment runs high as regular intervals. A little conflict here between the Roman Senators, the immigrants, the anti-foreigner faction and the plastic surgeons and everyone from gun-toting, wall-building, Trump-loving hicks to Syrian refugees being met at the Statue of Liberty by Trump himself carrying a Go Home, Terrorists! sign will be able to connect on a contemporary level with this issue. (Okay, admittedly, while there were periods of anti-immigrant fever sweeping through Ancient Rome, it may not be entirely historically accurate that it coincided with the height of the fever for plastic surgery, but if Oliver Stone can get away with 2,000 lies in JFK, we’re probably okay with this.)
We ride that conflict into the veritable explosion of plastic surgery from a means of fitting into Roman society through to its apex as a means of standing out in Roman society. Emperor Justinian II has become known as Emperor Cut Nose as a result of going under the knife and then empire falls and the Church rises to prominence and everywhere people are seeking to look better and stay younger and there in the Vatican sits Pope Innocent III viewing the madness as further proof that the Church needs to establish its authority with greater strength to keep things from going the way of Noah and the flood and making God get too ticked off with the vanity of His creations. (In fact, the Pope banned all surgery because of dogma against the shedding of blood, but we don’t need to advertise that fact when much greater drama can be wrung from placing the end of plastic surgery in the context of the rise of the Dark Ages). After all, here’s where the story of plastic surgery in Ancient Rome can connect with 21st century anxiety over this disturbing rise in Medieval conservatism that rejects scientific knowledge from evolution to global warming.
The film ends with the great-great-great-great-whatever-grandson of our first plastic surgeon at the beginning of the film. Only this guy is reduced to being a Dark Ages barber who medical practice side of business consists of applying leeches! How’s that for a film idea about the need to become more acquainted with the classics! History repeats, after all, and if you can’t see the tie between how it all fell apart as the Glory That Was Rome slipped into the Dark Ages and a 21st century America where Donald Trump could conceivably get elected President…
Well, if you really want to make a movie that teaches a lesson no one in the audience will ever forget, just cast the role of Pope Innocent with an actor made to look and act like Donald Trump, foreigners streaming into Rome that look like Syrian and Mexican immigrants and a few Kardashians to lend the section of the film about how plastic surgery is sweeping Rome to lend the film authenticity.