Alexander the Great (2004) 



Director:  Oliver Stone

Starring:  Anthony Hopkins (Old Ptolemy), David Bedella (Scribe), Jessie Kamm (Child Alexander), Angelina Jolie (Olympias), Val Kilmer (Philip), Fiona O'Shaughnessy (Nurse), Connor Paolo (Young Alexander), Patrick Carroll (Young Hephaistion), Brian Blessed (Wrestling Trainer), Peter Williamson (Young Nearchus), Morgan Christopher Ferris (Young Cassander), Robert Earley (Young Ptolemy), Aleczander Gordon (Young Perdiccas), Christopher Plummer (Aristotle), Gary Stretch (Cleitus), John Kavanagh (Parmenion), Nick Dunning (Attalus), Marie Meyer (Eurydice), Mick Lally (Horse Seller), Colin Farrell (Alexander), Rosario Dawson (Roxane).



Spoiler Warning:  Below is a summary of the entire movie.

323 B.C. Babylon, Persia (in present day Iraq).  Death of Alexander. 

Alexandria, Egypt.  40 years later. Old Ptolemy is assessing the impact of Alexander the Great on the world. He mentions the building of the Hellenic civilization. But he starts with the story of Alexander's father Philip.  Philip was a uniter; a man who created a professional army that conquered the Greeks.  Even King Darius in Babylon feared Philip.  His son Alexander was born in Pella in today's Macedonia.  His mother was Queen Olympias, who has an extreme dislike for her husband: "In my womb I carried my avenger."

Eight years later.  Alexander wrestles Hephastion (who becomes Alexander's true love).   Their teacher is none other than the great Aristotle.  Alexander is a natural with horses and is able to tame the wild horse Bucephalus, thereby making him his horse.

Eight years later.  Olympias is furious that Philip plans to marry the woman Eurydice and give him a son who will become his heir rather than Alexander.  And Eurydice's Uncle Attalus will become the regent during the son's minority.  Olympias tells Alexander that the result of Philip's plans is that she will be killed and then  his sister and remaining family.  So she tells Alexander to marry a Macedonian woman and have a baby, an heir.  

But Alexander loves his father and does not like all the negative comments about him.  He is skeptical of his mother's ambitions, remarking to her: "You crazed woman."  And yet he is suspicious of his father.  During a drunken exhibition by his father, he says to him: "You shame yourself."  When Alexander says he will not apologize for the remark, Philip retorts: "You're exiled, you bastard.  You're no son of mine."

Philip is assassinated and at 20 years of age, Alexander becomes the new ruler.  Several Greek city-states revolted. Alexander responding by massacring several thousands of Thebes and selling the survivors into slavery.  Other lessons for future rebels were Gaya and Persepolis. 

At age 21, Alexander was leading an army of 40,000 men.  He was declared Pharaoh of Egypt and the oracle at Siwa said that he was a true son of Zeus. 

Advancing into Persia, Alexander with 40,000 men meets King Darius with 250,000 men at Gaugamela.  Alexander maneuvers his forces in such a way that he gains access to Darius and nearly kills him with a thrown spear.  Darius runs from the battlefield, leaving Alexander master of the field.  The Persian Empire is destroyed.  At 25 years of age Alexander is "king of all."  But it is easier to enter Babylon, than to leave.  He enters Babylon and is quite impressed.  (At home, Olympias by letter warns that Antipater is an active enemy.)

Northeast Persia.  Alexander has to resist a guerilla war of almost three years.  He heads to Bactria (in today's Afghanistan), where he just misses catching Darius. Still pursuing Darius, Alexander finds him betrayed and killed by his own commanders.  Alexander then hunts down and kills the murderous commanders.  From the River Oxus he pushes north into Sogdia (today's Uzbekistan).  He then heads into the steppes of Scythia (today's Kazakhstan, s. Russia, e. & s. Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, central Ukraine, s. Belarus, Bulgaria).  There he established his tenth city of Alexandria.

Back in Babylon, Alexander marries Roxane, a hill chief's daughter of no political significance.  He admires her spirit (like his horse Bucephalus) and wants a son by her.  His men are not happy with his choice emphasizing that he give them a "Macedonian" heir.  On his wedding night, Roxane learns that Alexander loves Hephastion when she suprises the couple in an embrace.  She is furious and at first resists Alexander.  But a hot sex scene with Roxane (Rosario Dawson) then follows. 

Back home, Olympias is still trying to warn Alexander.  She writes that Antipater is undermining him and adds:  "Do not go farther west."  Alexander does not listen. 

Alexander discovers a plot to poison him.  The would-be assassin Hermolaus is executed by thrown spear.  Then Antigonus and Cleitus are send to deal with the father Paremenion.  Cleitus kills Parmenion. 

Not listening to his mother, Alexander pushes into the Hindu Kush mountains (in modern Afghanistan and n. Pakistan) where it is very cold.  Around 150,000 men cross the Hindu Kush mountains.  He carries with him a veritable mobile empire.  His visits to Roxane diminish as there is no successor.  He heads south into India where he runs into a lot of difficulties.  The men especially hate the nearly constant rain. 

Alexander is staying too long abroad and it begins to show.  Cleitus is so disgusted that he goes overboard in his public criticisms of his king and Alexander kills him.  He later feels bad about it, saying:  "I have become a tyrant." 

Macedonia. Eight Years Before.  Philip is making himself a 13th God.  Pausinias assassinates Philip.  Alexander becomes the king.  Pausanias is chased and killed.  Alexander rebels against his mother saying "You birthed me in a sack of hate."  But Olympias insists that he has to execute Attalus now!  After this confrontation, he never sees his mother again.  Later Olympias has Eurydice and her son killed and Alexander has Attalus executed. 

Back to the present.  Alexander's men have fought some 50 battles.  The men are near rebellion for they believe that too many have died.  They want to go back to Macedonia to see their families.  Alexander becomes angry and responds with "I will go on with my Asians."  He executes the ring leaders of the budding mutiny. But "Alexander was no longer loved by all."

Alexander's next battle proves to be his bloodiest.  The Indians uses a large number of charging elephants which do a great deal of damage to the ranks of Alexander.  Alexander's poor horse is killed and Alexander himself is wounded by an arrow.  Alexander decides to head back to Babylon.  They head through the Gedrosian Desert, which proved to be the worst blunder of his life, for many died. After reaching Babylon, he took two more wives. 

Alexander is devastated when Hephastion contracts typhus and dies.  He is so distraught that he accuses Rosane of killing him and starts to strangle her as she shouts: "I have your son, Alexander!"  With this he relents.  But then he goes wild and in a kind of chug-a-lug demonstration he downs a huge amount of wine. 

323 B.C., Alexander dies before reaching his 33rd birthday.  His officers begin fighting over his corpse, a struggle that went on for 40 years. His kingdom was divided into four parts.  Cassander has Olympias killed.  He then poisoned Roxane and her 13-year old son. 


Good movie.  With the help of maps, the movie helps the viewer follow the course of the triumphs of Alexander to his final death.  I thought the start was a little slow, but the pace later picks up nicely as he conquers people after people.  There was a lot of controversy about the homosexuality of Alexander.  Even though I'm a definite heterosexual, I did not find the homosexual scenes that objectionable.  The scenes were more subtle, especially more subtle than the sex scene with newly-wed wife Roxane.  (If you're not homophobic, don't let this aspect of the movie stop you from watching it.)  Very good performances by Colin Farrell as Alexander and Angela Jolie as Olympias.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

See Alexander the Great (1956)



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