Friday, April 21, 2017

Ben-Hur - Movie Review

This 1959 classic was almost four hours long so we watched it over two days. I finally got why it was such a classic - the setting of the tale, the background and the tale itself were so beautifully woven in the original 1880 novel by Lew Wallace (Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ) that it just needed to be made honestly.

It was as much a tale of Christ, who is shown to be born around the same period, as that of a Jewish prince in the land of Judea. The land is then occupied by the Romans, and the Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) is wrongly sentenced to the galley ships by his own friend, a Roman tribune, Messala. Judah Ben-Hur vows revenge as as he loses his fortune, his friendship, his mother and sister and even his love. For three years  on the galley ships he survives on this hate. As fate would have it, meets a powerful Roman Consul Arrius, out to counter a Macedonian fleet. Arrius sees a fire in the young man, offers him a position as his slave, does him a favour by not chaining him to the ship, and thereby does himself a favour because Judah saves him from death. Arrius takes him to Rome, gets a pardon from the Senate, adopts Judah and makes him a champion charioteer. Judah returns as promised to Judea, meets Messala, and tells him that he has returned to seek the vengeance as he promised. Now with a superior Roman seal on him, he orders Messala to find his mother and sister.

Judah's mother and sister have become lepers and are sent to a leper colony. This fact is hidden from Judah by Esther, a girl he loves and who loves him. Esther tells Judah that she has seen them both dead. Judah meanwhile races the horses of an Arab Sheikh and defeats the reigning champion Messala in a chariot race. Messala dies but before dying he tells Judah that his mother and sister are now lepers, more out of hate than any love. Judah finds them with Esther's help and they seek the man from Nazareth, Jesus, who preaches love and forgiveness. The family witnesses the crucifixion and in the rain that follows the mother and daughter are healed. And so is Ben-Hur, now healed of all the vengeance in his heart.

It is easily the kind of a movie that would have done more to influence people in matters of faith and does that subtly. To keep the life of Christ as the background and the setting for a battle between the Jews and Romans, and within that put two young warriors who were once friends and who turn enemies, is the work of a master. There are enemies within friends, and friends within enemies, there is war and forgiveness, love and despair. In the end it is love that conquers all and despite its length, holds interest even for a nine year old. Anjali finally said she did not like it, but she does not like too much violence and drama (but she watched it all). I did not like it too much when I was young too, but now it makes so much sense. The story and its scale, the settings and the performances. Again, one feels the need to see these spectacles on the 70 mm screens to fully gain from them. 

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