'Napoleon' (2023) Explained: Power, Passion, Legacy, Last Words & Ending


Napoleon Bonaparte, as depicted in Ridley Scott's film, experiences a dramatic downfall marked by key events, notably the Battle of Waterloo.

The Battle of Waterloo serves as the pivotal moment in Napoleon's cinematic journey, symbolizing the apex of his power and subsequent dramatic fall. In the film, Napoleon's defeat mirrors the broader notions of hubristic arrogance and the inevitability of fate. The Duke of Wellington, played by Rupert Everett, appears to have Napoleon's number, yet the battle takes an unexpected turn, adding an element of genuine mistake rather than predestined failure.

Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo - Napoleon 2023 - Apple, Sony
Image Credit: Apple, Sony

As the movie suggests, the Battle of Waterloo becomes a metaphor for life's "Waterloo," signifying the challenges and consequences that inevitably catch up with every individual. Ridley Scott, with a bitter touch, underscores this by tallying the number of dead soldiers at the end, underscoring the harsh reality that even great ambitions and love can result in a pile of corpses.

Napoleon's Return to Power after the 1st Exile & Fate of his Son

Despite Napoleon's forced abdication and exile to the island of Elba in 1814, the film showcases his remarkable escape and return to power in 1815. Ridley Scott highlights Napoleon's popularity with the 5th Regiment, who not only reaffirm their allegiance but attract a growing number of soldiers. This resurgence is facilitated by the lack of affection for Louis XVIII, Napoleon's successor.

The ease with which Napoleon re-establishes himself in France emphasizes the lingering loyalty and support he enjoys, underscoring the complex political landscape of the time. The film suggests that Napoleon's charisma and connections contribute significantly to his ability to regain power swiftly.

Napoleon holds his son - Napoleon 2023 - Apple, Sony
Image Credit: Apple, Sony

While the film introduces Napoleon's son, Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles, born to Archduchess Marie Louise, the fate of the young heir remains enigmatic after his initial appearance. Although ruling briefly for two weeks after Napoleon's second ousting in 1815, Napoleon II never joined his father in either of his exiles. Living primarily in Vienna and holding the title of Duke of Reichstadt, he faced an untimely demise at the age of 21 from tuberculosis, leaving the question of Napoleon's true successor unanswered.

Napoleon's Goals and Ambitions as Emperor

Napoleon's goals and ambitions during his reign as Emperor, were both grand and strategically calculated. His primary objective, especially at the height of his power, was the conquest of powerful countries.

Napoleon as Emperor - Napoleon 2023 - Apple, Sony
Image Credit: Apple, Sony

Napoleon Bonaparte's overarching ambition as Emperor was the conquest of formidable nations, with Russia being a focal point. The film suggests his desire to extend French rule over influential European territories, including Britain. The Napoleonic ambition also stretched to the Ottoman Empire, even though it remained unrealized due to significant losses during military campaigns.

This portrayal underscores Napoleon's relentless pursuit of dominance on the global stage, showcasing a leader driven by a desire to expand his empire and solidify French influence across continents.

While initially supporting the French Revolution and advocating for the removal of the monarchy, Napoleon's later actions revealed a different motive. His marriage to Archduchess Mary Louise of Austria and attempts to produce an heir were strategic moves to establish a royal bloodline. This decision was driven by the realization that creating his own dynasty could secure the continuity of French rule after his death.

The film emphasizes Napoleon's determined quest for an heir, leading to the dissolution of his marriage with Empress Josephine when she couldn't bear him a son. This narrative sheds light on the intricate balance between personal aspirations and political maneuvers that characterized Napoleon's rule.

Napoleon's ego and insatiable lust for power played significant roles in shaping his decisions, particularly in his later years. The film portrays him as a Type A personality, a driven individual who seeks control, dominance, and perfection. This personality trait manifests in his meticulous leadership style and the relentless pursuit of his goals.

Napoleon's ambition is not merely about achieving political milestones but also about leaving an indelible mark on history. The film captures the complexity of Napoleon's character, blending ambition, ego, and a thirst for power that propels him through the peaks and valleys of his tumultuous rule.

After the Second Exile: Napoleon's Life in Saint Helena

The latter part of Napoleon's life unfolds on the remote island of Saint Helena, marking his second exile. This chapter explores the living conditions and accommodations Napoleon endured, the support he retained despite his isolation, and the circumstances leading to his eventual demise and the return of his body to France.

Napoleon in Saint Helena - Napoleon 2023 - Apple, Sony
Image Credit: Apple, Sony

Napoleon's second exile to Saint Helena presented a stark contrast to his previous life of grandeur. The film depicts less-than-ideal living conditions, showcasing Napoleon's discontent with his quarters. Despite his resilience, the accommodations on the isolated island failed to meet the standards he had grown accustomed to.

Despite the isolation, Napoleon did not face this chapter alone. The film suggests a small contingent of supporters who remained with him on Saint Helena. This group, while limited, served as a testament to the enduring loyalty Napoleon still commanded, even in exile.

The story takes a poignant turn as Napoleon succumbs to stomach cancer in May 1821, marking the end of an era. While theories of intentional poisoning persist, the film, in line with historical records, suggests unintentional exposure to arsenic. Napoleon's death in isolation speaks to the somber conclusion of a once-mighty ruler.

Following Napoleon's death on Saint Helena, the film portrays the journey of his remains back to France. The narrative highlights the intervention of Louis Philippe I, facilitating a return that culminates in a state funeral. This symbolic journey serves as a final chapter, bringing closure to the extraordinary life of a man whose impact on history was far-reaching.

In recounting Napoleon's later years on Saint Helena, the film provides a sobering portrayal of a fallen leader, grappling with isolation and declining health, yet still surrounded by a lingering support network. The return of his body to French soil, orchestrated by political forces, underscores the complex legacy Napoleon left behind.

Napoleon's Last Words

The concluding moments of Napoleon's life are shrouded in intrigue, centering around his enigmatic last words.

Napoleon and Empress Joséphine - Napoleon 2023 - Apple, Sony
Image Credit: Apple, Sony

Napoleon's final words, "France, the army, head of the army, Joséphine," encapsulate the core values and relationships that defined his existence. The film suggests that these words are a testament to his unwavering dedication to France, his profound connection with the army, and the intense, albeit complicated, relationship with Empress Joséphine.

This succinct phrase, uttered in the throes of mortality, encapsulates the essence of Napoleon's life journey, revealing the priorities that occupied his thoughts until his last breath.

In his final moments, Napoleon grappled with delirium, a state that added complexity to the decoding of his last words. The film suggests that, amidst the haze of delirium, Napoleon confessed and received absolution from Abbé Vignali, a representative of the pope. This element introduces a layer of regret, hinting at a possible reflection on the choices made during his rule.

The film implies a deep internal struggle, providing a glimpse into the complex emotions and potential regrets that haunted the former French emperor in his final hours.

The ambiguity surrounding Napoleon's last words lingers, sparking debates and interpretations. The film refrains from providing a definitive answer, leaving room for speculation about the deeper meaning concealed within this succinct farewell. It raises questions about whether Napoleon expressed regret over his rule, the wars, or the tumultuous relationship with Joséphine.

The film's portrayal of Napoleon's ambiguous last words invites viewers to contemplate the complexity of his character and the intricate facets of his life, emphasizing that even in his final utterances, Napoleon remains a historical enigma.

Napoleon's Personal Life and Relationships

The film accentuates Napoleon's overwhelming obsession with Empress Joséphine. It portrays him as captivated by her, from their initial meeting to the heights of his power. The depiction suggests that Joséphine held a unique place in Napoleon's heart, becoming a driving force in his personal and political decisions.

Napoleon's Personal Life - Napoleon 2023 - Apple, Sony
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Napoleon's obsession with Joséphine is a recurrent theme, illustrating the profound impact of their relationship on the course of his life and reign as Emperor.

While the film captures the intensity of Napoleon's relationship with Joséphine, it also delves into the turbulence within their marriage. Napoleon's desperate desire for a male heir led to the dissolution of this union. The film portrays a pivotal moment when Joséphine, in true femme fatale fashion, reveals her affairs, sparking a complex dynamic of dominance and possessiveness between the two.

This portrayal exposes the strains and challenges that defined Napoleon's personal life, offering a glimpse into the complexities of love, power, and ambition that characterized his marriage with Joséphine.

Historical Accuracy and Creative Liberties in the Film

Examining the historical accuracy of Ridley Scott's film about Napoleon reveals a delicate dance between truth and creative interpretation.

Duke of Wellington meets Napoleon - Napoleon 2023 - Apple, Sony
Image Credit: Apple, Sony

One notable aspect is the film's depiction of Napoleon's meeting with the Duke of Wellington. While the two historical figures did not have a face-to-face encounter, the film introduces a dramatic interaction between them during the Battle of Waterloo. This creative choice, although not aligning with historical events, adds a compelling dynamic to the narrative and underscores the tension of the battle.

The film's departure from historical accuracy in this instance showcases the filmmakers' prerogative to heighten the dramatic impact of the storyline.

Historical fiction often necessitates creative liberties, and Ridley Scott's portrayal of Napoleon is no exception. The film selectively omits certain aspects of Napoleon's true story, including his numerous affairs and illegitimate children during his marriage to Joséphine. The absence of these elements, along with details like Napoleon being crowned King of Italy in 1805 and assassination attempts on his life, showcases the film's focused narrative.

While acknowledging the cinematic choices made by Scott, it's crucial for viewers to recognize the nuanced and multifaceted nature of Napoleon's personal life, extending beyond the boundaries of the film.

In response to critiques about the film's historical accuracy, Ridley Scott offered a succinct perspective: "Get a life." This unapologetic retort from the director emphasizes his commitment to delivering a cinematic experience rather than a strict historical reenactment.

Scott's response encapsulates the filmmaker's stance on prioritizing storytelling over an unwavering commitment to historical minutiae, inviting viewers to appreciate the film as a work of art rather than a rigid historical documentary.

Napoleon's Leadership Style

Napoleon's rise to power unfolded against the backdrop of continual unrest in post-Revolutionary France. The film portrays the country as a cauldron of opportunities and pockets of instability, providing individuals like Napoleon a chance to make their mark. His strategic prowess and ability to capitalize on these moments elevated him from relative obscurity to a prominent figure in French politics.

Napoleon briefing his troops before war - Napoleon 2023 - Apple, Sony
Image Credit: Apple, Sony

Examining Napoleon's early career, the film illustrates a man driven by ambition and a keen understanding of the political landscape, allowing him to seize opportunities when they presented themselves.

One of the pivotal junctures in Napoleon's journey was his elevation from the role of First Consul to Emperor in 1804. The film captures this transition as a strategic move to consolidate power and establish a lasting legacy. Napoleon's ambition, coupled with the changing political tides, propelled him to new heights as he crowned himself Emperor of the French.

This transformation not only solidified Napoleon's rule but also showcased his adeptness at navigating the intricacies of political maneuvering during a time of significant flux.

Napoleon's leadership style was characterized by a blend of military acumen, strategic vision, and a knack for decisiveness. His approach to leadership, especially during times of conflict, is showcased as a meticulous and hands-on style, where he delves into the minutiae of plans and battles.

Napoleon's ability to inspire loyalty among his troops, as portrayed in the film, underscores his charisma and capacity to lead with conviction. While his leadership traits were undoubtedly influential, the film leaves room for viewers to ponder the complexities and potential flaws in his leadership style.

Napoleon's Identity: Corsican or French?

Napoleon's journey begins with his Corsican roots, born on the island just a year after it was ceded to France by the Republic of Genoa in 1768. Despite his family's initial resistance to French occupation and their ties to Italian nobility, Napoleon's early identification leaned towards Corsican sentiments.

Napoleon sitting on throne - Napoleon 2023 - Apple, Sony
Image Credit: Apple, Sony

The film introduces us to a young Napoleon grappling with questions of identity, torn between his familial heritage and the evolving political landscape. This internal conflict forms a crucial backdrop to understanding the complexities of his character.

As Napoleon matured, his identity underwent a transformation, aligning more closely with the ideals of the French Revolution. Despite his Corsican roots, he became an avid supporter of the revolutionary cause against the monarchy. This shift in allegiance was not merely political but also marked a profound change in how Napoleon viewed his own identity.

The film captures pivotal moments where Napoleon, once a supporter of Corsican independence, emerges as a figure deeply entwined with the revolutionary fervor sweeping across France.

Napoleon's identity emerges as a tapestry woven from diverse threads – Corsican heritage, French revolutionary fervor, and his personal ambitions.

Viewers are presented with a nuanced understanding of Napoleon's complex identity – a leader who, despite his Corsican origins, forged a deep connection with France, ultimately considering himself French later in life. This intricate dance between heritage and allegiance adds layers to the character, prompting reflection on the multifaceted nature of identity.

Legacy and Impact of Napoleon's Rule

Napoleon's imprint on history extends to legal reforms that left an indelible mark on European jurisprudence. The film highlights the Napoleonic Code, a legal framework influenced by the French Revolution, which not only reformed the French legal system but also influenced legal structures across Europe.

Examining the legacy of Napoleon's legal reforms reveals a commitment to principles of equality, even though it primarily applied to men. The Napoleonic Code laid the groundwork for legal systems that emphasized civil liberties and equality before the law.

However, Napoleon's legacy is not without its darker shades. The film sheds light on Napoleon's reinstatement of slavery in the French colonies, a stark contrast to the progressive legal reforms he introduced in mainland France. This duality in his approach to human rights and equality underscores the complexity of his rule.

Napoleon moments before his death - Napoleon 2023 - Apple, Sony
Image Credit: Apple, Sony

Additionally, Napoleon's penchant for plundering artworks and artifacts from conquered territories, as depicted in the film, adds a layer of controversy to his legacy. The economic turmoil resulting from multiple military campaigns further complicates the assessment of his impact.

Assessing Napoleon's legacy requires a nuanced perspective that acknowledges both the positive and negative ramifications of his rule. The film prompts viewers to grapple with the contradictory facets of a leader who, while championing legal reforms that echoed the ideals of the French Revolution, engaged in actions that contradicted these very principles.

Napoleon's mixed legacy raises questions about the complexities inherent in evaluating historical figures. His impact on legal systems, coupled with the shadows of slavery, plunder, and economic challenges, paints a multifaceted picture of a leader whose legacy is both enduring and contentious.

Wrap Up

As we conclude this cinematic exploration of Napoleon Bonaparte's life in Ridley Scott's film, it's clear that the narrative extends beyond the battlefield, offering a nuanced portrayal of a complex historical figure.

The film not only presents historical events but also delves into the humanity behind the historical figure. The intricate blend of personal struggles, political maneuvering, and the relentless pursuit of power offers a multifaceted perspective on Napoleon Bonaparte.

Watch 'Napoleon' in Theaters. Coming soon on Apple TV+.

'Napoleon' (2023) Explained Power, Passion, Legacy, Last Words & Ending

Author: Ted Lasso

Author/Writer - Ted Lasso

Meet Ted Lasso, a Bachelor of Arts graduate with a unique passion for the world of Entertainment. With an innate talent for capturing the essence of TV shows & Movies, he crafts engaging articles, covering everything from latest Entertainment news to in-depth Fan theories. Ted's love for storytelling through the lens of Cinema and TV makes him a captivating voice in the world of entertainment journalism, ensuring you'll always have something exciting to watch next.

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