Sunday, April 10, 2011

- 'Ben Hur' Open Thread

What did you think?


  1. On a special feature on the making of "Ben Hur", Gore Vidal, who worked on the screen play, commented:

    "It is Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ as Lew Wallace titled it. But it is not a story of the Christ. It is a story of a war between a Roman boy and a Jewish boy."

    Well it is a story of conflict, a story of Imperial Rome, a story of many things, but to say it is a story of a war between a Roman boy and a Jewish boy is to say "Field of Dreams" is a story about baseball. It is that, of course, but it is much more. The underlying story is just as Lew Wallace said, as we shall soon see. I am very much looking forward to this one!

  2. I loved Jack Hawkins in this movie. As Quintus Arrius, the Roman Consul and naval commander, his bitter resignation that life has no meaning one would suspect arose after the death of his son. Now bitter, and determined to due his duty, life holds no meaning for him. His surprise at the resolute Judah Ben-Hur, and the affection and admiration he gains for him are one of the pleasant aspects of a very tragic narrative, and it underscores the greater discussion: "Is there a God, and does he care for you and I?"

    I loved the comment Arius expressed to Judah after he learns that, instead of being a failure, he has been a part of a great Roman victory:

    "In His eagerness to save you, your God has saved the whole Roman fleet."

    It is a humorous reminder, and yet very true, that we as men do not have God's perspective, and often will discover He is doing things that we would never have imagined were to His purpose.

    This is the underpinning of the whole story. The world is never better represented than it is here by Rome, with all of its striving to conquer and rule both the people of the world and the hearts of men. In hating Rome Judah was chained to this world, very much as much as Messala was. The story, than, is about Judah, a man, and God's love for him, God's presence in his life, even when it seemed he was forsaken, His saving hand and His higher purpose.

  3. "You think you can treat my horses like animals?!"

    Not a significant line, but it made me laugh, which made me realize I am need of an intermission, since I haven't moved since the titles rolled. This is so awesome!

  4. Ah, much better.

    So, so far, Judah Ben-Hur has been a wealthy man of influence/Jewish prince, prisoner, condemned galley slave, champion charioteer (even though we didn't get to see any of that), and Arius' adopted heir on his way back to his home town in Judea. And I'm only half-way!

    The relationships between Judah Ben-Hur and both Messala and Quintus Aruis feel so real, and so deep -- and so moving in the physical expressions of affection. And then the depth of Messala's sense of injury and the bitter hatred that follows, when he finds Judah will not play the role he's given him in his imagined re-conquering of Judea. (His treachery might possibly be forgivable if he had not extended his vengeance to Judah's mother and sister.)

    But I gotta see what happens next. Later!

    I loved the scene when Jesus gives Ben Hur water despite the guard's order -- it establishes so much the tremendous natural authority Jesus exudes, as well as his transfixing countenance, by showing the guard's and Judah's reactions to him.

  5. What happened to just "Nicholas"?

    Ah well, it's half-dozen, one of the other.

    Truly few men could've graced the stage like Heston, and in Ben Hur at that. One of the great films of the Golden Age of films, when movies meant something and were safe (more of less) for all ages.

  6. Make that, "six of the other."

    (ya see, this is why I had to give up blogging and take a holiday!)

  7. Messala may have been a good friend to Judah when he was a boy, but he did not return that way. Instead, he was enamored with the grandeur of Rome, and what he might make of himself by serving the Roman emperor well. In this case, it meant subjugating the Judean's, of which Judah was one. His boyhood friendship with Judah appeared to be of use, and almost immediately he set about attempting to get Judah to betray his people. Make no mistake, Messala intended to capture, torture and crucify the Judean's who wanted to resist Rome.

    Judah was a reasonable man, certainly, but he was also a very honorable man. He could never allow himself to be used to kill his own people, something which Messala would have known if his head had not been so clouded with lust for the power that could be his if he could only excel at subjugating Judea. After the accident with the governor, Messala went to the rooftop of the Ben Hur household, and found the tiles to be loose just as Judah had told him. His dropping one on the roof top, with the shattering of the tile emphasized both his realization and the breaking that he intended. He sentenced Judah to the galley's and Tirzah and Miriam to the dungeons, full knowing they were innocent. Messala was completely heartless, and was as full of lust for this world as a man can be.

    I loved the scene where Judah, now young Arrius, the adopted son of one of the most powerful men in Rome, returns to pay his respects to Messala. The dark shading as Judah waited in the shadows, shortly to be reveiled as the men that Messala had destroyed, along with all his family. The exchange in dialogue was so powerful. Messala questions how Judah came to be the son of Arrius, and as a proof Judah asks him "Do you know his seal?" takes a tablet, pounds the ring seal into it, shows the symbol... then drops it flat upon the table.

    Charlton Heston had such great presence. I loved him in this show!

  8. Hey Wakefield! Yes, I'm not blogging that much myself, but we are still intent to have a little fun here! Good to see you stopping by!!

  9. I think Messala's expectation that Judah would inform on the potential troublemakers -- that he would sell out friends, "his own people" -- indicates how much Messala has been dreaming of this appointment in Judea. Admittedly, they were "boys" together, too young, perhaps, for true natures to have been exposed or understood. They had lived under very different influences as they grew into successful men, Messala in the politics and ambition of Rome, Judah entrenched in his Jewish community as a leader by both lineage and nature. But still, expecting that Judah would be so dishonorable, so ignoble, so callously selfish, seems inexplicable unless the memories of that real friendship were written over by grandiose schemes that included a perfectly placed accomplice ready to make the otherwise interminable process of discovering invisible vandals and malcontents a simple feat. Messala is not injured by the rift; he is furious at being thwarted.

    Judah is truly saddened by his friend's desertion, and at the permanent loss to himself and his family this will mean. His desire for revenge is a response to the treatment shown his mother and sister, and even so it fades when he sees Messala's broken body after the race. Even when his attempt to find some hint of resolution in their farewell ("I see no enemy -- ") is met with the unforgivable cruelty of Messala's "news" about his mother and sister.

    Judah's speech to Pontious Pilate reflects his broken heart, for Messala as for his mother and sister among the living dead. He had expected honest friendship from his "practically brother," and recognized clearly the fatal effects life among the ambitious Romans had had on Messala, how the drive for political success had corrupted his heart. He hates Rome for what it did to his friend as much as what it did to his family. And now the damages Rome has inflicted on him cost him another love -- the second father, who had seen too much of value in the galley-slave "41" to let him die in a sinking ship, who had owned his gratitude to the young man who saved his life, who had made Judah Ben-Hur a member of his family and heir to his all; this beloved friend is lost, too, when Judah determines to set himself against Rome.

    And against this anger and hatred and murderous resolve there is only Esther. Faithful, loving, courageous Esther, caring for her broken father, helping Miriam and Tirzah the only way she can. And trying so hard to persuade Judah to at least listen to this strange young rabbi who speaks of forgiveness. She may not know, as Balthasar does, that this Jesus is the son of God, but she knows that his voice and his message will ease torments of the mind and heart.

    Esther is such a wonderful character -- her innate selflessness so perfectly matches Judah's. Just as he does not flee immediately, but stays to unchain all of the prisoners from the sinking ship, Esther takes on the risk of the same lingering death Miriam and Tirzah are living in order to give them some measure of peace just in seeing Jesus.

    Oh, BOTHER! The lights are dimming -- better go.

  10. Well! Either the storm is past, or we're between bands, but we've had thunder, and lightening, and rain, and then a whole lot more rain, and a tornado watch and everything!

    But I couldn't skip Sheik Ilderim -- what a hoot! And those horses -- so magnificent. I loved the saying Goodnight scene. I have to say, after the emphasis that was put on the affection the sheik and Judah had for the horses, I was almost sure that something horrible would happen at the race. Even after learning about stunt animals as a kid (which made a few Disney features much less traumatic), I've still never been able to stand seeing animals hurt in movies. (Although I still think it would be amazingly cool to teach horses to fall down on purpose.)

    More later -- I need to sort out what I think about the religious elements; I may need to re-watch a few scenes.

    How could I never have seen this movie before?

  11. If you guys need a palate cleanser between significant films, watch Taken with Liam Neeson. It's short (90 minutes) and it's pure escape. Doing what needs to be done.

  12. Neeson is good too.

    After all, elsewhere we see so many roles that mesh and jive so well. Who else could really make Aslan the lion "work" with an Irish accent, however muffled to a growl here and there...:)

  13. "Taken" was a pretty fun show. I love that Liam Neeson!

    As to Ben Hur, I read a little comment discussion at IMDB, and the gal said she thought it was a good show but they should have ended the movie after the chariot race. She didn't like all that magical stuff at the end, and she felt that the audience of 1959 might have gone for that, but she didn't like all that christianity stuff pushed on her. There were a number of responses in support of her, and a number pointing out that "A Tale of the Christ" was part of the title, and so the "magical parts" were appropriate to be there. I didn't enter into the discussion, as it was beyond hope. No sense in wading in there.

    Now, I know the film people intended to make the story a bit broader in its philosophical appeal, and the language is a bit more humanistic at times, but the story that Lew Wallace wrote does shine through, and it really was remarkably good. As a young man I read it as a great adventure story, but I think I see more clearly now what he was after. The story reminds me of something out of the Old Testament, where you read the story and then at the end you realize that the red thread of Jesus ran through the whole thing. From start to end the characters are talking about God and His purposes. He is the central aspect of the story.

    The woman in the critique thought the healing of Tirzah and Miriam magical and offensive, but she missed the fact that a change just as miraculous had happened as well to Judah. After all that had happened to him, ending up with the tortuous loss of his mother and sister, there was no way possible that Judah could turn away from his hatred of Rome. He was purposed upon striking back at Rome however he could. Such a path would in fact end in his destruction, along with the destruction of the Jewish state, just as actually happened some forty years after this story's setting.

    Judah witnessed Jesus suffering. He wanted to help with what little help he could give, and yet he was denied this. Even the bit of water he hoped to give Jesus, as Jesus had given him help and hope, was kicked out of his hand. In the end, there was nothing that Judah could do to help make Jesus' burden lighter. He just had to allow Jesus to do what He was about on his own. He watched Him die while forgiving those that had killed Him, and being present for that changed Judah's heart. That truly was a miracle, because there was no way on earth that that could be done by anyone's human striving.

    What Judah desired more than anything was for his mother and sister to be restored to him, and all his efforts and striving, from his return to Judea to his confrontation with Messala, to his defeating and crushing Messala in the chariot race, and with all the wealth still at his disposal, none of it could restore Tirzah and Miriam to him. Yet with the death of Jesus Judah is given life anew, and with the death of Jesus Tirzah and Miriam are in fact restored to him, healthy and well. Judah strived, but finally let go, and God did what no man could do. A magical miracle? Surely God is just like that. I see Him as having great love for us, and persistence, patience and the ability to work bad things to good. Our God does have control of things, even when it seems everything is dark and he has forgotten us. The magical parts were very encouraging to me. I think it was a story about Jesus, all along.

    That's the way I saw it, anyway. What did you think?

  14. From start to end the characters are talking about God and His purposes. He is the central aspect of the story.

    I think you're quite right, as much as Vidal and Company may have liked to gloss over it.

    I had to assume -- and I'm glad you've confirmed it -- that Wallace's novel wove Christ's story into Judah's more comprehensively than the screenplay did. I fully expected to have "all that christianity stuff" ;) as a theme of the movie -- my problem was it didn't feel integrated very well. And it seemed that they tried to cover Judah's determination to fight Rome too quickly, and his exposure to, and healing by, Christ, felt almost tacked on at the end. BUT, I haven't had a chance to re-watch the last hour or so, and I could be way off.

    I did enjoy it, very much, and I'm sure that on a second viewing I'll pick up all kinds of things I missed first time!

  15. Interestingly enough, Wallace's novel did not start out that way. He set about to write about the biblical tale of the three wise men, with the idea of weaving into it a story about a Jewish boy and a Roman boy. Over the course of the writing he was confronted by the outspoken opinions of an atheist of the day, and by the time he had finished writing his tale three years later he had become a committed Christian.

    I loved the score, so rich and moving. It really gave the film a very grand feel. And what did you think of Stephen Boyd? Was he not excellent as Messala?

    I'll tell you what, there were a whole host of scenes that I just loved, few more so than Shiek Ilderim's visit to the Roman bath to see if he could make a wager at odds that were ... favorable. His praise of the Roman's, his quiet goading, his ability to shirk off an insult while he played his own quiet game, and his subtle insistence that the agreement be formalized with the Tribune's own signature or seal. It was a great scene.

  16. "What did you think?"

    Aaahh! The book was longer!