What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that, as early "spectacle" movies go, this one has few peers. Ben-Hur was a landmark achievement in grand biblical storytelling. Set in ancient Israel during Christ's young adulthood and focused on a stalwart Jewish patriot and his family, spiritual beliefs and Judeo-Christian values inform both the characterizations and the plot. Clear messages from the gospel are delivered throughout ("blessed are the merciful," "love your enemy"). The Roman villains are brutal slave masters, whipping and beating their way into town, and bent on destroying the peaceful citizens of ancient Israel. Several scenes take place in a leper colony where two principles are shown with open, rotting sores. The climactic chariot race, which includes collisions, men dragged under chariots, bloody injuries, and intensely suspenseful competition, set new standards for action-filmmaking without modern cinematic razzle-dazzle. By modern standards of gore and gristle (seen in some horror movies and their parodies), however, Ben-Hur is not shocking as it once was but still is bloody, savage in parts, and too intense for younger kids.
- Families can talk about how action movie-making has changed since Ben-Hur was released in 1959. Find out how the filmmakers photographed the chariot race and why it was considered such a major achievement. How might they do it today?
- From 1927 to 1961, mainstream movies did not show Jesus' face; think about possible reasons for this. How effective was the portrayal of Jesus in this movie, even without audiences seeing his face or hearing his voice? How did the scene in which Jesus gives water to Judah Ben-Hur impact the story?
- When this movie was released, it was admired for being a "human" story as well as a spectacular action piece. How did the filmmakers accomplish this?