Every Easter I watch Ben-Hur religiously (no pun intended). Most of the people I tell this to, they don’t know that it deals with Christ and Easter as well as being one of Charleston Heston’s greatest roles. The events that befall Judah run in tandem to the life and final days of Jesus Christ. After all, the title Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ kind of says it all.
Long story short, Judah is a Jewish nobleman who is wrongly imprisoned and the film is about his journey to back home and the people he meets along the way…and the most important person met along the way is Jesus Christ. For those of you who haven’t seen this remarkable film…stop reading this and go BUY it. Now, if you have seen Ben-Hur or own it, then consider this a reminder to see it again soon. Just don’t wait until next Easter to do so.
The story follows Judah through more of a journey than you would have though possible for one man to endure. Judah is taken from the height of his power as a prince when his lifelong friend Messala (who is leading the expansion of Caesar’s empires) makes him choose between his Jewish countrymen or helping support the Romans. After an accident which is quickly mistaken as an attempt on a senator’s life, Judah is wrongfully imprisoned and later sent to serve on the Roman battle ships. During a sea battle, he saves the life of the commanding officer. To show his gratitude, he makes Judah his surrogate son whereby he becomes a Roman citizen with all the benefits that come with his surrogate father’s namesake.
But all his winning chariot races in Rome and a return to a lavish lifestyle mean nothing as he longs to return to his country and find his mother and sister (who were also wrongfully imprisoned). During his long journey back, his travels have him meeting Bathazar (yes that Balthazar) as well as training a wealthy Arabian’s horses to race in the chariot races. He declines to race them himself but soon agrees when he learns that Messala is the reigning champion at the arena. Man, if you haven’t seen that chariot race you should watch Ben Hur just for that sequence. From there the film becomes more moving and heartbreaking but I don’t want to spoil it for you but the film is just an unbelievable piece of film-making.
Many of my friends have never seen this fantastic film and it isn’t just described as epic, it pretty much wrote the book on what it means to be an EPIC. The film won a staggering but deserved 11 Academy Awards and held the record for most wins until Titanic came along in 1997. You can see the themes, sets and other winning traits of this film replicated in movies like Star Wars (yeah the chariot races were ripped off for the pod race in The Phantom Menace), Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, even Batman Begins. It’s one of the best examples of “how to make an epic” since everything about it was done right…even deciding not to casting Leslie Nelson as Messala.
Ben Hur’s plot, its equally epic and moving score (by the amazing Miklos Rozsa), solid acting and superb set design were at the top of their game for the time and even stand up against films made today. I won’t go to much detail here save to say that this is one of my favorite films of all time. I’ll let you all decide what you like best and what you want to take away from it but I think we can all agree that Ben-Hur is an emotional, memorable and near perfect film if there ever was one.