Title: Ben-Hur (1959; G*)
Director: William Wyler
Major Themes: Jesus’ Life, Bible Times, Romans, Jews
Synopsis: After an accident, Judah Ben-Hur is sent to work the galleys while his mother and sister disappear. Is there any way he can forgive the Romans who seem determined to rip his life, family, and country apart?
Whew! Ben-Hur is one fascinating movie! We found a copy of this at a garage sale several months ago, and then Mom found an advanced reader copy of the newly released Ben-Hur retelling. As has happened before, she told me I ought to watch the movie and she’d read the book. So that’s what we did. This is a great movie, although Mom has gotten a little annoyed at the stories I’ve told from it—“that’s not how it happened in the book!” Despite the “inaccuracies” (which I’d rather view as artistic license), this story is very well done.
When Judah Ben-Hur hears that his childhood friend Masala has finally come back to Jerusalem after his training in the Roman army, he wastes no time going to the headquarters to meet him once again. However, Masala is a different man now, trained and indoctrinated with all the modern Roman army can offer. As the new commander of the fort, Masala is determined to make his mark in the world and keep the Jewish “rebels” under control. He’s sure Judah will want to help him—after all, isn’t their friendship the same as it was when he left?
Judah, on the other hand, doesn’t want to fight against his own people. And with this dividing them, can the two ever hope to find peace again? Meanwhile, the new governor of Judaea is on his way to Jerusalem and in the middle of his grand entrance Judah accidently harms him. Such an outrage against a Roman official cannot be tolerated, and Masala quickly ensures that Judah is taken to prison. Not only is he taken to prison, but his mother and sister are as well. Judah begs, on behalf of their previous friendship and in all fairness, that they be released, but Masala refuses. Soon, Judah is sent to work in the galleys—a place that few men, if any, ever escape from. Will he ever see his mother and sister again? Will his hate against Masala and the Romans in general ever die?
To me, Ben-Hur is a bittersweet film. The acting was great, and despite the movie’s length—3 ½ or 4 hours—it was gripping the entire way (well, except for the 3-4 minute introductory music and the intermission half way through!). As I said before, this apparently doesn’t completely line up with the book, but even so it presents a fascinating picture of Jewish and Roman life at the time of Christ. I also loved the few glimpses of Jesus’ life spread throughout the movie—His love, forgiveness and care, set against the overall background of hate and the desire for revenge, was absolutely beautiful. Overall, this is a great film.
*The rating for this movie is G. However, with the sea battle and chariot race (exact timing below), I’d recommend it as PG-13.
WARNING: There were quite a few things I didn’t appreciate so much about the movie, even though overall it is very good. There’s a kiss between two unmarried people at 36:01. A fight in the prison at 46:30 – 50:30 (fairly intense; if I remember correctly, someone is killed). A man is left to die in the desert at 53:45 (you see him rolling down the side of a dune), and some of the horrors of the galley ship (beating, sickness, etc.) are shown from 1:02:22 – 1:05:20 and again from 1:05:47 – 1:09:19. The sea battle is from 1:11:39 – 1:19:52—lots of blood, severed limbs, fighting, etc.; it’s pretty graphic. Another kiss, again between two unmarried people, at 1:58:03. There’s a very intense and sometimes awful chariot race from 2:24:36 – 2:27:10. Later, there’s a very hurt man covered in blood who talks to Judah from 2:57:18 – 3:01:05. And lastly, Jesus’ crucifixion is shown from 3:34:30 – 3:36:57.
Ages 15 and Above, Adults