Ben-Hur (1959)


August 19, 2022

Ben-Hur is a 1959 American historical drama film directed by William Wyler. The film is set in the Roman Empire around the beginning of the Christian era. It is the third and possibly best-known film adaptation of Lew Wallace's novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The film premiered at the Loew's State Theater in New York on November 18, 1959. The film was a huge success, winning a record 11 Academy Awards, a record that has only been matched by Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).


The film begins with a prologue showing the story of the birth of Jesus. Next, a 26-year time jump takes place and zooms in on Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy Jewish merchant from Jerusalem, and his childhood friend Messala, who has just returned to Jerusalem as the new Tribune. At first, the two are delighted to see each other again, but their political outlook on life drives them apart within days: Messala as a Roman believes in the glory of Rome, while Ben-Hur as a Jew remains faithful to his own people. Ben-Hur therefore refuses to reveal the names of some of the Jewish rebels to Messala. Their friendship is instantly over. Messala now sees Ben-Hur as a traitor. During the entry of Governor Valerius Gratus, a loose roof tile accidentally falls off Ben-Hur's house. This strikes Gratus, who is injured. Knowing that this was an accident (and not an attack), Messala has Ben-Hur, as well as his mother Miriam and sister Tirzah, arrested in order to perform a terrifying act. Ben-Hur pleads in vain for mercy. He is sentenced to be a galley slave. His mother and his sister go to jail. Ben-Hur vows to return and exact revenge on Messala (which Messala considers impossible) and is taken with other slaves, walking through the desert, in chains to the port city of Tyre. On the way they pass through Nazareth, where there is drinking water for the exhausted soldiers and the prisoners. The chief decides that Ben-Hur is not getting any water. Despite this, he gets water from a young man. The chief does not intervene, he is impressed by the sight of the boy. After three years as a galley slave, Ben-Hur is assigned to the flagship of the consul Quintus Arrius, who has been tasked with taking out a group of Macedonian pirates. Arrius sees that one of the slaves doesn't look like a villain and thus enters into a conversation with Ben-Hur. Ben-Hur hopes Arrius can help him. During the naval battle, Arrius's ship is lost, but Ben-Hur manages to save Quintus Arrius's life. In thanks for this he is adopted by Arrius as his son. With his newfound freedom, Ben-Hur gets to know Rome and Roman culture better. He even becomes a successful charioteer. Finally, he decides to return to Judea. On the way, in Antioch, he meets the Arab Sheikh Ilderim, who wants to train his four white Arabian horses for the chariot races in Jerusalem. Ilderim is still looking for a good driver for his horses and sees the right person in Ben-Hur. Initially, Ben-Hur refuses, until he learns that Messala is also participating in the race. Another guest of Ilderim is the old Balthasar, who says that he visited Bethlehem 30 years earlier with a newborn child. He fervently hopes to meet that child, who must be an adult by now. Back in Judea, Ben-Hur again meets Esther, the daughter of his slave and steward Simonides. He once gave Esther freedom as a wedding gift, but it turns out she is still unmarried. She still lives with Simonides in Ben-Hur's (now dilapidated) house. Ben-Hur visits Messala, identifying himself as the son of Arrius. Messala is not a little surprised when he recognizes Ben-Hur. Ben-Hur wants to know what's going on