Plot – After a Jewish prince is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend, he regains his freedom and comes back for revenge – Ben-Hur
Director – William Wyler
Released – 1959
Ben-Hur is so much more than the iconic chariot race, though undoubtedly, that is the film’s most famous sequence. And for good reason!. It’s a visually stunning piece of cinema filled with nail-biting action and bloody incidents, but what makes the sequence so enjoyable is the release of tension between Judah and Messala that had been building up since the beginning of the movie.
Their hatred for one another displayed by the length each will go to, to win, tinged with the sadness that they were once such close friends (or depending on how you read the film, maybe they were more than just friends). Either way, they shared an emotional intimacy that gets soured by opposing religious and political views that make the story much richer, deeper and more personal than its most famous sequence.
Some viewers might be put off by the nearly 4-hour runtime, however, this gives director William Wyler time to flesh out each character and developing the opposing sides. Be it the Roman’s struggling to keep order, the Jews attempting to regain their lands or even the founding of a new religion threatening the old religions of Rome. I for one enjoyed seeing how they introduced the birth of Christianity to the story.
Only at the end did it directly intersect with the plot. Leading up to that, all you see is snippets happening in the background. You also never see Christ’s face and only hear what he has to say though other characters. After-all, Ben-Hur isn’t a film about Jesus, just one that takes place during his time in Jerusalem, which in my eyes makes the movie more accessible to Christians and Non-Christians alike.
Overall, Ben-Hur is one of Hollywoods most ambitious epics. Boasting grandiose sets, thrilling action sequences and excellent acting, this is a movie that entertains just as much today as it has ever done.