Ben-Hur – An Honest Review
The new version of Ben-Hur has been in theaters since August 19th, attracting audiences to see a timeless tale of revenge and forgiveness. When my husband planned a date for the two of us and included Ben-Hur, I was excited. Mostly because I would be able to spend much needed one-on-one time with my husband, but also because my mom and brother had recently seen and enjoyed the movie.
This honest review of Ben-Hur is untainted by views of previous versions, or even a familiarity with the story line. I had heard references to Ben-Hur, but had never seen another version. I had no expectations going into the movie, except to relax for an hour and a half. 🙂
My overall general opinion of Ben-Hur is very favorable. Maybe I don’t get out enough to know true good cinematography, but I thought the movie was beautiful. It was gripping enough to make me want to know what would happen next, but enjoyable enough to allow me to process and understand the scenes.
The story begins in Jerusalem where Judah Ben-Hur and his adopted brother Masala are enjoying their privileged life as Jewish royalty. Masala, though adopted and loved, begins to feel the need to prove his worthiness as a member of the family and sets off to fight in the war in Germania. He battles through multiple countries, and, although there are multiple battle-scenes, they are tastefully done and not overly-bloody. Meanwhile, Judah remains in Jerusalem and marries the stunningly beautiful Esther. The letters he writes to Masala are left unanswered.
Zealot uprisings are continuing to wreak havoc on the Roman army. The uprisings are swiftly and mercilessly punished, but the zealots are driven by the cause to protect their holy places. When Judah discovers a wounded zealot in his barn, he reprimands him for his foolishness in allowing himself to be caught up in the uprisings, but treats his wounds and allows him to stay during his recovery.
With no forewarning, Masala comes back to Jerusalem. He calls for his brother and asks him to speak to the Jews and quell any thoughts of rebellion when Pontius Pilate comes through the city at the head of a legion. While Judah fulfills the request, he refuses to give the names of the few troublemakers on the streets.
When Pontius Pilate rides through the street, the young zealot who had been in recovery in Judah’s home, shot an arrow and aroused the full wrath of the Roman army. Although he escapes, the family is caught up in the turmoil and, at Masala’s order, are taken away to die. Judah is sent to the galley of a warship where he remains for 5 years, escaping only when a battle wrecks the ship and he alone survives.
Judah recovers from his slave-years in the camp of an African horse breeder and tends to the beautiful chariot horses that are kept there. When he returns to Jerusalem, he meets up with his wife who has occupied herself by caring for the poor and homeless. He also clandestinely meets with Masala and leaves when additional members of the Roman army show up.
Driven by his desire for revenge, Judah begins training as a chariot racer, under the direction of the African horse breeder. He is accepted into the circus race. The culminating scene of the movie is where Judah is racing to the death with Masala. With dirt flying, chariots crashing, and emotion written all over the faces of the two brothers, the scene is gripping to say the least.
Upon Judah’s victory, he also earns his freedom and is acquitted of all previous charges against him. He has no satisfaction in his victory and is left tormented until he watches the death of Jesus on the cross. The powerful love exemplified in the life and death of Jesus stirred Judah to his very soul. As he kneels at the foot of the cross and receives forgiveness, his past is washed clean.
The forgiveness that Judah has received cannot be kept to himself and he goes to find his brother. Although Masala lost his leg in the chariot race, he was left alive. When Judah enters to pursue reconciliation, Masala is full of rage and looks to be about to slice through his brother with a knife. Redemption, forgiveness and brotherly love win out in the end and the family lives happily together.
What I Liked:
I always enjoy a story that depicts a strong sibling relationship. The movie definitely had this element throughout the first several scenes. The love that the brothers shared was strong and palpable, even though one was Roman and the other Jewish. This disappears before the movie is half over, but reappears again at the ending.
There was a surprising scene when it is discovered that Judah’s mother and sister are still alive. Although afflicted with leprosy and kept confined because of their condition, they are ultimately healed at the moment of Jesus’ death.
Judah is drawn to the person of Jesus, even without knowing the significance of who He was. The love emanating from the Lord was enough to leave Judah feeling strangely drawn to Him at every encounter.
What I Didn’t Like:
There has to always be at least one thing that is either out of place, not well done, inaccurate, or false in a modern movie (especially one endeavoring to depict the life of Christ). The one thing in Ben-Hur that I didn’t care for was a statement from Esther. When she finally fathoms the depths of the desire for revenge in her husband Judah, she tells him “there is nothing here for you anymore” while walking away from him.
Esther had just watched 20 people be crucified in retaliation for an attack on Masala. Judah was responsible and Esther knew that. Her emotions were high and she was angry for the way her husbands actions had hurt so many people. I understand that. We say things in the height of a situation that we don’t necessarily mean. But Esther was Judah’s wife.
Marriage has always been intended to be “till death do us part” since it’s inception in the garden of Eden. For Esther to walk away from her husband and declare, in essence, that she wouldn’t be in his life anymore would have been wrong – for either a Jew or a Christian.
I greatly enjoyed my time watching Ben-Hur. It was especially intriguing to me because I just finished reading the Mark of the Lion book series by Francine Rivers (which I highly recommend!). The books are set in the same locations and just after the period of Ben-Hur. It was fun to see in visual what I had imagined in my head. The architecture, the clothing, and the customs depicted in Ben-Hur were fascinating to view.
I definitely would recommend this movie! It has the capacity to stir deep emotions in the hearts of the viewers. Beyond that it has the message of the truth of God’s love which can penetrate even the hardest of hearts!
Have you seen the newest production of Ben-Hur? What did you think? Would you recommend it as a movie worth seeing? Let me know in the comments below! And thanks for sharing my review on your favorite social media!
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