Aparna (inspirethoughts) wrote,


Classic Wednesdays this time had the 1959 epic historical film, Ben-Hur airing. I didn't want to lose the opportunity to watch it this time, especially for the famous chariot race. Boy, oh Boy, was I in for a surprise! It was not just the chariot race that made the movie famous. Based on the 1880 book of the same name written by Lew Wallace, the Tale of Christ, was beautifully portrayed from a third party's point of view.


As always the movie opened with an introduction by this same speaker who opened for every classic movie in this theater. He quoted the following tidbits, obviously researched on internet or elsewhere: Astonishing to hear that this was a $15 Million budget movie. More than 200 camels and 2,500 horses were used in the shooting of the film, with some 10,000 extras. However, the movie became famous for its 9 minute chariot race and the 7 minute prelude that was played even before the movie started and was played again during intermission. The movie won 11 Academy Awards, a record that was broken by Titanic in 1997 and Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King in 2003.

It was not only an epic movie, and considered now "culturally, aesthetically and historically significant" movie; it left a very deep impression on my mind. For days I couldn't forget the movie or remove it from my brain after watching it. Here is my modest review on such a majestic movie.

Movie opens with a narration of how all the Jews are ordered by Caesar to move back to their place of birth, counted and taxed. And during this narration the birth of Christ is shown as well. And moves on to the two primary characters of the movie, Judah Ben-Hur and Messala. Judah is a wealthy Prince and merchant in Jerusalem living with his mother Miriam, sister Tirzah and loyal slave Simonides. Messala, childhood friend of Judah, returns to Jerusalem a tribune, the new commander of Roman Garrison. Messala is blinded by the glory of Rome and its power. Judah is faithful and devoted to his Jewish people.

Upon Messala's arrival to Jerusalem Judah meets him to reinforce their childhood friendship. The scene what charmed me was the way both of them throw the spear at exactly the same point on the wood above the entryway, in a manner of showing off something they did as kids. Interesting to note that the frame of the entryway is shaped like a cross.
Back at his palace, Judah comes to know of Simonides preparing for his daughter, Esther's arranged marriage. He gives her freedom as her wedding present. In a sweet moment both of them express their love for one another even though she will be married off soon. Two lines are spoken that drive in the meaning so deep that cannot perhaps be said in paragraphs of words.

         Judah Ben-Hur: If you were not a bride, I would kiss you goodbye.
            Esther: If I were not a bride, there would be no goodbyes to be said.

Primary idea behind Messala meeting Judah comes to light when he asks Judah's help in finding the names of the people who are against Rome. Judah refuses which angers Messala. Shortly after this confrontation while watching the parade of the new governor of Judea, Valerius Gratus, accidentally a tile falls from the roof of Judah's home and frightens the horse which almost kills the Governor. Messala attacks Judah in his home and captures Judah, his mother and sister even though he knew they were innocent. Messala's thought is that by capturing the city's wealthiest man and a childhood friend he hopes to drive fear into Jewish hearts againts Rome. Another powerful stream of lines flow between Judah and Messala when Judah escapes from prison and confronts Messala of the injustice.

Judah Ben-Hur: [after he is sentenced to the galleys] May God grant me vengeance! I will pray that you live until I return!
Messala: [ironically] Return?

What follows after is how Judah survives as a galley slave, comes out of it alive, transforms into a Roman prince, becomes an exceptional charioteer and returns to Jerusalem to take his revenge and also find his family. In the process, he reunites with Esther, comes to know where his mother and sister are thrown away into leper colony, saves them and also takes his revenge on Messala by defeating and killing him in the chariot race. Yet, his heart does not stay in peace not his nights give him sleep. Esther pleads with him to go see this man from Nazareth whose sermons bring peace to mind and heart. Finally he ventures there along with his family and Esther only to find this man being crucified. After witnessing the crucifixion, Ben-Hur returns home to his family to find his mother and sister cured of leprosy. His final words to Esther "I felt His voice take the sword out of my hand." shows that finally he is at peace and hatred vanished from his heart.

An amazing performance by everyone in the movie. Even in death Messala does not waver to taunt Judah one last time.

  Messala: [with grim satisfaction] Look... look for them... in the Valley... of the Lepers! If you can recognize them!
    [Judah doubles over with grief]
    Messala: It goes on. It goes on, Judah. The race... the race... is not... over!

Even is hardship Esther does not shun away Judah though she understands that he is turning into Messala himself. Instead with her determination and patience she heals him and also brings peace to Miriam and Tirzah. As a Prince, as a slave and as a charioteer, Judah reigns the screen all thru the movie.

Apart from the Chariot Race and the 7 minute prelude / interlude, I particularly liked the scene where Quintus Arrius, Roman Consul, makes the 200 rowers (galley slaves) row with gradually increasing their pace with the commands "Battle Speed", "Attack Speed" and "Ramming Speed". A solid 5 minute scene that is very well pictured. I cant even imagine how the slaves in real had managed to do that.

I totally loved the movie, even though it was approx 3 hrs 45 minutes. A totally spell-bounding motion picture, I must say! Dont miss a chance to watch it if you get one.
Tags: critique by amateur, english, movies, reviews

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