Napoleon Was A Lot of Things — A “Silly Man” is Not One of Them!

A Response to a CNN Review of Napoleon

Brian Tubbs

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Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte — image generated via MidJourney

According to a CNN review of Ridley Scott’s epic Napoleon, the French dictator that is the subject of the film was “a silly man” who doesn’t deserve another cinematic portrayal.

I haven’t (yet) seen Scott’s film starring Joaquin Phoenix. I will remedy that this week. But if it depicts the autocratic ruler as little more than a “silly man” then Hollywood has once again done a disservice to history.

Whether Napoleon deserves a movie is beside the point. Whether this particular movie does him or his times justice is something I can’t (yet) comment on, but this much I can say…

To dismiss Napoleon Bonaparte as a “silly man” is a gross oversimplification of the man and displays (on the part of the writer) an utter ignorance of history itself.

Just who is this writer?

His name is Noah Berlatsky, a freelancer whose writings have appeared in CNN, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Salon, The Guardian, Esquire, and many other publications. This particular piece, the one about Napoleon, is one he wrote for CNN.

In his review, Berlatsky says that, even though Ridley Scott “deplores Napoleon’s grotesque hubris,” the renowned director is nevertheless “clearly fascinated by it, and enjoys the opportunity it gives him for sweeping spectacle and Hollywood mythmaking.”

Clearly, Berlatsky doesn’t feel Napoleon deserves any such attention or “fascination.” He goes on:

The film concludes with a final text screen that says that 3 million people died in Napoleon’s wars. That’s a lot of death and misery to satisfy the ego of one silly man. Again, Scott knows as much, which is why he provides the audience with the death toll. But, at the same time, the movie wouldn’t exist if Scott weren’t fascinated with the silly man, and not least with the ego and the death.

Berlatsky, Noah. “Napoleon, Ridley Scott, Joaquin Phoenix, and Donald Trump.” CNN, 20 Nov. 2023

Silly man?

Really?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Napoleon was a hero. I’m not saying I approve of his avarice or all…

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