I’m gonna get this out of the way. This is my favorite movie of all time. That’s not to say it doesn’t have it’s flaws but this is a biased review. This is a film I grew up with and the only real reason I am doing a review of it is because the remake came out this year and I want to do a review of that and maybe an article on it and our culture of remakes.
Why is this my favorite film? I can only get into it so deeply. I could talk for hours, and have, about why I love this film, so everything I am about to say should be taken as a sort of cliff notes version of my opinion.
STORY IS KING
The story of “Ben-Hur” is simply phenomenal. Granted it is an epic with a running time to match its grandeur and with that comes a lot of time to tell the story, but that story is told in a classic style that just isn’t seen much anymore. It is content to let you get to know the characters and not rush through their introductions and conversations, which explore deep motivations. These motivations drive the emotion and action of the film, so even though some of the stylings of the movie seem old fashioned compared to flashier films, the emotion of those scenes land more forcefully than almost any blockbuster you’ll see in the theaters this year.
It may be a long film, but it isn’t a boring one. The story is huge and when the story is big, so is the run time, because in great films, story is king.
The theme of “Ben-Hur” is another stand out success for me. It’s a theme largely ignored today and especially for the Christian looking for a movie with themes in line with their worldview, it’s a theme more artistically and fairly treated than in most Christian films today.
The theme of this film can be spoken of in two ways for me. The first, is that revenge, even once truly accomplished, can never satisfy the longing the wronged party feels. The second, is that only Christ can heal that which justice can only punish.
These are themes which Hollywood largely ignores today. Most art ignores them. We see plenty of revenge films where a man swears revenge, gets at the bad guy, refuses to take revenge, then is forced to kill the bad guy when they are attacked, but this is not the same. At the end of the day, the bad guy is dead and the good guy gets closure for the wrong that was done.
The problem is that this is not how life really works. This is how stories work but in real life, revenge does not heal. It punishes.
In “Ben-Hur,” the hero kills the villain only to find out that the wound his family has suffered will not heal. The villain dies with forty-five minutes left in the film! What could possibly be left to accomplish in that last act? The director shows that when all of man’s efforts to put things right have failed, the power of Christ is what heals those wounds, by restoring to Judah all that had been taken from him. Revenge could never do that.
This theme, that revenge, even justice, cannot assuage humanity’s desire for resolution and healing is almost completely ignored today and it is a powerful and needed message.