Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details we can’t reveal in our review.
Because of his well-developed eye for composition and fixation on spaces-within-spaces, Anderson occasionally produces images charged with a kind of pulpy, B- movie poetry, like Soldier’s scenes of Kurt Russell skulking around a trash-strewn wasteland or the endless, grid-like forest from Mortal Kombat. That’s certainly true of Pompeii’s final scenes, which break with one of the major conventions of the disaster genre—the hope of rebuilding a better world which inevitably comes at the end—by having absolutely all of the characters perish.
Around the introduction of Atticus, the movie introduces a theme—the importance its gladiator characters place on dying on their own terms—which ends up informing most of the finale. Each character inevitably realizes that they can’t outrun the destructive power of the volcano, and instead tries to control the circumstances of his or her death. This gives the movie a certain fatalist edge, and also underscores why Atticus makes for a more interesting hero than the Celt, whose demise alongside Cassia is the last thing the audience sees before the credits.
There’s an obvious dramatic irony to the fact that Atticus meets his end in the amphitheater, mere hours after he was slated to die there in combat. What’s changed, however, are the circumstances. Having killed a Roman soldier in hand-to-hand combat, and therefore symbolically defeated the empire that enslaved and betrayed him, Atticus turns toward Mt. Vesuvius and shouts the familiar, apocryphal gladiator salute—“Those who are about to die salute you!”—before disappearing into a cloud of ash and debris.
Anderson uses 3-D in the scene to emphasize visual scale. The amphitheater—where, earlier, Severus had restaged an incident from Corvus and the Celt’s past—now seems even more like a microcosm, surrounded on all sides by a whirling blur of disaster. Atticus and his opponent are dwarfed by the incoming cloud of debris; the sheer scale of the destruction around them makes their confrontation seem at once smaller and more important. The effect also makes Atticus’ final gesture—a shout that no one will hear and a death that no one will remember—seem insignificant, pathetic, and, when it all comes down to it, moving.