Ben-Hur: Everyone Must Choose

First to finish, last to die. - Sheik Ilderim

Director Timur Bekmambetov’s 2016 action/thriller Ben-Hur is the fifth adaptation of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Produced by Lightworkers Media and distributed by Paramount Pictures, the film tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and his Count of Monte Cristo-like lust for revenge against his adopted brother, Messala (Toby Kebbell). What occurs is a story that will excite - and challenge - viewers from its wild chariot race to its exploration of Jesus’ teachings.

Death or peace? There is no other way - Messala

Ben-Hur’s Jewish family adopts the Roman orphan Messala when the boys are children, as Ben-Hur’s father hopes that a real-life merging of the two cultures will serve as an example of peace. But when Messala leaves Jerusalem to find fame and fortune, he returns as a Roman officer hellbent on destroying the Zealot uprising. After a Zealot seeking sanctuary in Ben-Hur’s home attempts to assassinate Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbaek), Ben-Hur’s family is imprisoned, and Ben-Hur is condemned to the life of a galley slave.

If there is a god, why doesn’t he do right by the world? - Ben-Hur

We see and understand the anguish that Ben-Hur experiences as his wife and sister are ripped away from him, as he’s whipped and strapped to the Roman galley. Suddenly, a once faithful man who strove to remain ‘above the fray’ of disobedience toward Rome, finds himself stripped of faith and place in the world. We see that he has become a man without purpose other than vengeance and anger, a man whose very reason for existence is vengeance.

God punishes, just as God forgives. - Esther

But this is a tale of the Christ, remember? In this version, the parallel story of Ben-Hur crosses and intersects with Jesus of Nazareth (Rodrigo Santoro) several times in the course of the film. Ben-Hur’s wife, Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), is the first to adopt Jesus’ teachings, believing that there is a way to peace even in the midst of Roman oppression. But Jesus also ministers to Ben-Hur in the midst of his suffering, and shows mercy to various characters throughout the film. (The best description I heard of this crossing of Ben-Hur and Jesus’ story is this: that the story of Ben-Hur takes place on a side street, and as it continues forward, through alleyways one can see the path of Jesus to the cross on the main street through Jerusalem.)

This Jesus of Nazareth is more dangerous than all of the zealots combined. --Pilate

Of course, the film itself was far from a box office success - and that seems to me to be a shame. From the frenetic battle scenes to the glorious pinnacle of the chariot race, director Timur Bekmambetov’s update to the Charlton Heston version is incredibly exciting, and rich with Christian imagery. For a world broken by struggles between races, religions, ideals, and creeds, Ben-Hur is a reminder that Jesus presents a different way, a better way. Will you choose forgiveness or vengeance? Will you choose faith or nothingness? Will you choose Christ or not?

Ben-Hur demands you choose.

On the Blu-ray combo pack, viewers will receive three discs. THe first includes the high definition version of the film plus music videos, extended scenes, and a series of special features, like “Ben-Hur: The Legacy” and “The Chariot Race.” The second simply contains the DVD version of the film, but on the third disc containing nearly an hour’s worth of additional material, executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey discuss the film’s impact with noted pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, and Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer of Faithful Central Bible Church also shares his thoughts. The Blu-ray combo pack also includes the digital HD version for on-the-go viewing, and a ten dollar movie card good toward any film in the theater.