Ben Hur is definitely a film that I’m sure just about everyone has heard of at some point or another. It definitely became very well known as a film taking place during the crucifixion but seen through the eyes of a Roman centurion. It’s a pretty different take and in this case it is not the main plot.
The main focus of the story is on Ben Hur and Messala. They used to be friends for many years. That all changed when Messala became a high ranking official for Rome. He began to obsess over proving himself to the empire and wanted Ben to help him find the Jews who were not complying with his laws. When Ben refused they became enemies. Unfortunately Ben’s sister accidentally puts Messala’s superior in a coma which gives Messala a good excuse to imprison them. Ben is sent to a ship where he will spend his life. Can he ever get off?
Well, most of you know this story from the horse race so you can probably guess where the story goes from there. At its core Ben Hur is really a revenge story as he tries to take Messala down once and for all. The horse race is definitely quite long and intense, so fans of that kind of sport will enjoy it. I’ve never cared for horse racing because whipping them is just barbaric. They made a point to show that Ben doesn’t hit his horse at least, but you’ll definitely feel bad for the other horses. At least none of them were seriously injured or anything during the race which was good. Definitely a very tense moment throughout.
After the big climax it’s fair to say that the film slows down quite a lot. While parts of the climax are needed like Jesus appearing again and meeting Ben Hur, we could have done without the subplot of Hur’s sister and mother becoming lepers. At least shortening some of their scenes or something. The film also shows how Ben starts to go down the same dark path as Messala after a while which fortunately concludes with him not going that far but it does make the lead hard to root for at times.
Watching the film will definitely remind you of how tough things were back then. The Jews were enslaved by the Romans for a very long time and throughout history they were always being attacked or invaded by other groups. It’s easy to see why in this film a lot of them have given up on waiting for God to avenge them or to settle things diplomatically and just want to attack. It’s certainly the easiest option but not always the right one. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive as there have been many cases throughout history where fighting the oppressors is the right thing to do. You just have to look at each individual situation.
The film does its best to show Messala as being more than a one note villain. He’s not insane at all and his goals do make sense. From his perspective, Ben is essentially aiding terrorists instead of his long time friend. Naturally this betrayal stings and he isn’t the kind of guy to allow a slight to go unpunished. Of course he is evil as made evident throughout the film so don’t mistake understanding his goals for actually justifying them. He’s an entertaining character who is always fun to have on screen and makes for a compelling villain. He certainly gave Ben a good fight although it’s clear that Ben was more skilled as he won despite several disadvantages.
The scenery definitely appears to be accurate to what the land must have looked like back in the day. There definitely weren’t a bunch of shiny skyscrapers or anything like that in these days. It was just a lot of desert and stone surrounding the area. The designs for the chariots and the horses were on point as well. I do have to say that if the building tiles were so fragile back in the day then I’m glad we found a better system. Clearly the tiles breaking is a rare occurrence as the main characters would have been more prepared otherwise, but definitely still not a risk you want to have.
Ben Hur isn’t a pleasant film to watch, but it’s certainly a long one and a film that has really gone down in history as being iconic. It’s probably one of the first ever revenge stories to really hit it big. If you take away the Biblical aspects of the film then it would certainly fall quite a bit, but with that part of history included it certainly makes this film a lot more legitimate. If you are interested in seeing more of this point in history from a fresh perspective then it makes sense to watch this film. Be sure to take a break during the intermission though as otherwise it will definitely feel like a very long adventure.