Ben-Hur 2016 Parent Review
The 2016 version of this classic film focus on forgiveness,and that may be reason enough to applauded this beautifully crafted adaptation.
Why would anyone undertake the task of re-making a film as classic as the 1959 Ben Hur? I asked a similar question when an animation company announced their intention to retell the story of Moses in The Prince of Egypt (1998), . Hadn’t that Bible character had already been thoroughly depicted in The Ten Commandments (1956)? Interestingly enough, both of these 1950s religiously inspired movies starred Charlton Heston. And amazingly, each of these more recent reimaginings adds a new twist to an old tale.
The 2016 version of Ben-Hur begins (much like the opening sequence of The Prince of Egypt), with adopted siblings horsing around while displaying their brotherly love and sense of competition. This familial bond is extraordinary because Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is a rich Jew and Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell) is a poor Roman (taken in as an orphan by the benevolent Ben-Hurs). And the “adoption” occurred during a time when the Empire is exerting its might over the residents of its occupied territories.
The differences between their ethnicity, religion and social status becomes a problem when Messala’s attraction to Judah’s sister Tirzah (Sofia Black-D’Elia) meets with disapproval from the pair’s mother (Ayelet Zurer). Determined to prove himself worthy as a suitor and a man, Messala enlists with the legion. But when he returns to Jerusalem three years later, he is a different person. Hardened by warfare (which is depicted in some gory detail) and now loyal to the Roman leader Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbæk), Messala tries to use his childhood connections to root out local rebels and improve his military career. When his ambition conflicts with Judah’s pacifist ideals, friends turn into enemies, and the Ben-Hur family is punished as a warning to other dissenters.
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Judah is sentenced to life as a galley slave and chained in the bottom of a ship that is fighting Rome’s wars at sea. As he endures abuse and bloody battles, he too becomes a bitter soul. Then a strange twist of fate gives him the opportunity to seek revenge for the wrongs he and his loved ones have experienced. That path eventually leads to a showdown between Judah and Messala in a no-holds-barred chariot race. (This features spectacular crashes, as well as riders being tossed in the air and/or run over. Both humans and horses suffer serious injury and death.)
Those familiar with the 1959 epic will recognize many of the same plot elements in this production. Where the portrayals really vary is in their emphasis on redemption. Jack Huston’s character appears to undergo a more convincing change of heart as he wrestles with his angry feelings towards his oppressors in general, and his adopted brother in particular. This is demonstrated as he is put in situations where he must choose how he will react – with kindness or brutality, with fear or faith. As well, Jesus (played here by Rodrigo Santoro) has a greater presence in this script and shares brief words about how the shackles of hatred can only be unlocked with love.
It is rather ironic though that the liberating and healing power of turning the other cheek is packaged in such a display of violence. Everything from accidental injury to intentional killing (including portrayals of crucifixion) are shown here, often with gore and depictions of suffering.
For audiences willing to overlook or justify this content (history would suggest the real Romans and their opponents engaged in even worse atrocities), the focus on forgiveness found here may be reason enough to applaud this beautifully crafted adaptation. Either way, it is interesting to note how the Old and New Testaments are continuing to inspire storytellers. Perhaps one day the Good Book’s messages of hope and peace will also be practiced, and not just preached.Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Starring Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Sofia Black-D'Elia. Running time: 124 minutes. Updated November 7, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Ben-Hur 2016 here.
Ben-Hur 2016 Parents Guide
In the film, Judah is given advice about how to deal with his feelings of injustice. Ilderim (played by Morgan Freeman) suggests he beat the Romans at their own game. In what ways has this seasoned horseman followed that path himself? How does he profit from Roman pride and greed? Meanwhile Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) suggests he chooses her love over his hate. How have her feelings of regret and guilt colored the way she sees their oppressed situation? Why is he less than enthusiastic about her council?
Christ preaches love instead of hate, and faith instead of fear. How effective are these virtues in changing the world? Even if war prevails, how can living these principles bring peace into an individual’s personal life? How does Judah’s anger hurt him more than it does his enemies? Why is this so? How does Judah eventually learn to forget his feelings of vengeance? How does that change his future? Could he have moved forward if he hadn’t let go of the past?
At one point in the movie, Pilot points out that the Jews have become just as blood thirsty as the Romans. How did this happen to a nation that claimed to be seeking peace? Considering the frequent violent depictions found in modern films and video games how are we becoming more like the Romans for wanting a little blood in our entertainment?