A Commentary on Ben Hur—Part 2

Here continues part 2 of my commentary on the 1959 classic epic film Ben Hur staring Charlton Heston. Click here for part 1.

  • Note the racial/ethnic tensions in the opening scene in part two: who is the superior civilization: Jews, Arabs, or Romans? The Sheik knows how to humbly play off the insults from Massala, while still getting the last laugh.
  • Ben Hur seeks forgiveness for his vengeance, and yet God grants his vengeance to him.
  • He wears blue in contrast to the Roman red. He is a prince of his people.
  • The scale and scope of the chariot race set is epic. Does that even need to be said?
  • Did Tribunes actually run in chariot races? Was this not beneath them?
  • So...how many people exactly died in the race scene? Like 75 at least, right?
  • Pontius Pilate looks like a real dweeb.
  • Massala's horses and chariot: totally intimidating.
  • Look at the choreography of the horses! What a feat.
  • I'm assuming that's a huge matte painting in the background of the stadium. They don't manage to make it look like Jerusalem at all. Where exactly would this stadium have been located? It's huge!
  • Charlton Heston doesn't exactly look like...uh...like he knows what he's doing on those horses. He's just hangin' onto those straps for all he's worth!
  • Notice how they don't have Heston beating and whipping his horses as the others do with a vengeance. Ben Hur is immediately more intelligent and humane when it comes to how he treats his animals.
  • There is this shot that follows Ben Hur from behind, as he is last in the race just after the 3rd lap. We follow him as he tries to catch up to everyone and he rounds a corner. It makes your gut go flippety flop. It's stunning.
  • Massala completely deserved to die. He set his own fate years ago and he continued to set it on the race day. Every act of foul play and violence brought him closer to his bitter end. What a petty and pathetic man.
  • Notice Massala's "male companion" when Massala gets in the wreck and goes under the chariot. That's more than a look of mere concern. There was a relationship there.
  • Massala will not die until his true love comes to him...
  • The shot of Ben Hur standing in the barred doorway of the infirmary waiting to come in, Hur in the background, Massala in the foreground is stunning.
  • The entire Vally of the Lepers scene is horrifying. Don't touch anything!
  • Whoa! They totally just wandered into the Sermon on the Mount! Why doesn't this kind of stuff happen to me?!
  • I like the "Jesus Theme" music. Every time it comes up it is powerful.
  • Ben Hur is having none of this Jesus stuff!
  • The scene where Ben Hur rejects his Roman citizenship makes me wonder if there are anti-Roman Catholic sentiments to the film/book. Ben-Hur will not go to Rome! No matter how much power and prestige lies there. It's evils are too great.
  • Get these lepers to Jesus! STAT!
  • The contrasting shots going into the leper cave and then looking outward from the leper cave are great. The way the shot going in leads to darkness and the shot going out leads to enveloping light is powerful.
  • "Aw naw! Who brought the lepers! Somebody get the bleach!"
  • Boy, they've really compounded Christ's narrative. Sermon on the Mount one day, trial and death the next.
  • Ben Hur sure does need to be a hero doesn't he?
  • Uh....is Jesus the only one being crucified?! Seriously, what kind of historians did they have working for them? Oh yeah, and I haven't even mentioned Balthasar yet, who was there when Jesus was born in the stable.
  • ....Phew...the other crucified criminals do show up.
  • It's interesting to think of the contrast of the 3 women, Miriam, Tirzzah, and Esther, with the other actual women at the cross, Mary Christ's mother, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary.
  • They're like totally healed ya'll!
  • Water is used throughout the film as a symbol of life and hope. The blood of Christ flows out into a river and heals the whole world.
  • If I'm being honest, the last section of the film more than drags in terms of plot and the conversion to Christ seems forced, despite the miracles. This is where it really becomes a "Christian" film. Ben Hur as a character is funneled down river to Christ. He had no choice in the matter. But maybe this is how conversion often works—we are headed in one direction, a direction we think is right, and then out of nowhere we are stopped in our tracks. We encounter Christ and from there head in another direction.


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