The movie Ben Hur of 1959 is one of my favorite flicks of all time. I was not exactly jazzed to hear of a remake, a concept which verged on being sacrilegious in my eyes. However, since the reboot was done despite my objections, I felt compelled to see it. After all, the original title of the book written by Lew Wallace, the governor of New Mexico, was Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ. My passion is not only to write and produce such films, but to support the works of others who present the gospel and the author of that gospel to the world. And I have to admit I was curious as to how they handled trying to replicate a classic.
One thing I refuse to do is compare these two movies other than to say there were few differences in the story line. To be fair, I’m reviewing this movie as if I never saw the original. The pundits at Rotten Tomatoes didn’t make the same resolution and most have rejected this movie with only 28% giving it a favorable review. Could that be because Jesus has a role in this story? In my Bible reading this morning, I ran across Jesus’ statement that the world hated Him and would hate his followers as a result. I truly believe that Jesus hostility is on full display at Rotten Tomatoes. 92% gave a favorable rating to the latest Star Wars movie. That film doesn’t even compare to the new Ben Hur as far as depth is concerned. I have to surmise that many people reviewing this movie started off wanting to hate it for one reason or another.
In my opinion the production values were excellent. I found nothing to complain about with the acting, cinematography, music, sets, or the dialogue. My favorite measuring stick is dialogue, and the conversations in this story did not leave me wanting in the least. Most people realize that friction/tension grabs people’s attention and brings them into the story. There was no dearth of that element. Well, what about the story itself. Isn’t story the quintessential component of this genre of entertainment? Since this movie followed the original quite closely, the story line is already a proven quality. What was there to not like?
Let me be transparent by saying my wife hated this film. She stated that reaction loud enough for probably everyone in the theater to hear as the movie neared its conclusion. The reason was the violence. This is not a film for those who are super sensitive to physical altercations and bloodshed. I admit that I looked away a few times myself. As we exited the theater, I wished I had taken her to the remake of Pete’s Dragon instead.
However, I would not have wanted to miss Ben Hur. It awoke within me a semi-dormant realization that our world historically has been a very inhospitable place. I apprehended that my gratitude for human love has been diminished by my perspective in thinking that the world should be perfect and that all of the violence and hatred and sin have pulled it down to less than mediocrity. This causes me to focus on all the problems. A person who explores a desert looking for the beautiful wild flowers that rise up despite the heat and lack of moisture, exults in finding beauty in a desolate place. My outlook has caused me to instead look for all the warts on the face of the world and to become disconsolate when I see so many. I’ve considered love to be the default behavior of mankind, and perceiving the apparent lack of it has jaded me. Instead I should have realized that the natural man really is not a noble creature and that I should be amazed by the amount of love that actually can be found in the world. It’s the glass half full or empty paradigm. Instead of mourning that there is so much evil in the world, I need to rejoice that there is so much good and brotherly love. And thus this movie did for me what all great movies must do, adjust perspective to clarify and correct worldview myopia.
This movie has a distinct theme, which is hammered home with a powerful ending. Despite the plethora of bloodshed, this was not a movie that glorified aggression. It demonstrates that violence begets violence, hatred begets hatred, but on the other hand love can engender love. We humans make the choice what we will embrace and reproduce. If we live by the “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” paradigm, we’ll have a bunch of blind and toothless homo sapiens populating our planet. A person of intelligence can only observe this gore and arrive at the conclusion that forgiveness and love must win this battle between love and hatred, or our world is going to be a miserable place and perhaps will destroy itself. And that takes us back to God, the author of love, and the light and hope of the world, a revelation that makes many movie critics very uncomfortable.