Saturday, November 29, 2014


It is regrettable that the Cold War nazified the Romans and holified the Jews

BEN HUR – 1959

This is a mythic film and yet most of the time considered as a peplum film whereas it is one more film about Christ, about the relations of Jews and Romans in Judea in the first third of the first century of our CE.

The originality is to center the story on two men, a Jew and a Roman who grew up as mates in their childhood but are torn apart by adult age. Ben Hur is a rich Jew and he represents the desire for peace but without any betrayal of his people, community, religion, culture, God. Messala is the top officer of the Roman legions who gets his dream realized, to be the governor of Judea. When Messala comes to Jerusalem to take his post he at once gets in contact with Ben Hur but since he wants Ben Hur to give the names of the rebellious Jews, hence to be an informer, Ben Hur refuses and they become enemies. Due to some accidental event interpreted as an attack on the governor, Messala has Ben Hur sent to the gallows where you only survive one or two years. He has the mother and sister arrested and put in prison in some deep underground cell where they will in four years turn lepers.

For reasons beyond real understanding during a battle the top officer (and consul) of the Roman fleet has Ben Hur on his flagship. When a battle starts all the slaves are chained to their oars. The consul orders Ben Hur not to be chained. The flagship is rammed but Ben Hur is able to overpower the Roman who has the keys to the chains, to unchain the slaves, which will not be of much benefit to them, and then to save the life of the consul twice, in battle and in the wreckage of his flagship. When they are found alive on some floating wooden piece of ship they learn the battle had been a complete victory. It is as victors they come back to Rome. Ben Hur is emancipated, adopted by the Consul and he becomes a horse-race champion for his adoptive father in Rome’s circus. But he decides to go back to Judea before the announced Pontius Pilate arrives there. He wants a vengeance.

That’s when his desire to get avenged is confronted to the horrible situation of his mother and sister who he has difficulty finding because Esther, his freed slave, who met them when they were freed from the dungeons where they had been imprisoned, swears to them not to tell. In the meantime the Arabs Ben Hur had had contact with when coming back to Judea try to use him to get even, peacefully, with Messala. One of them has a team of horses and Ben Hur accepts to drive in the circus them against Messala who is a vicious driver. But of course Ben Hur will win and Messala will die after a very serious accident during the race. That’s how and from him Ben Hur learns about the fate of his mother and sister, on dying Messala’s deathbed. He finds them and retrieves them out of the valley where all lepers are kept. With the help of Esther he brings them out back to Jerusalem and that’s when Jesus’ passion crosses Ben Hur’s story. He and Esther arrives in Jerusalem on the very hour when Jesus is walked carrying his cross to Golgotha.

He recognizes Jesus as the man who had given him water when he was taken to the gallows, water without which he would have died before reaching the gallows. He tries to do the same on this way of the cross but he is pushed back by the Roman soldiers. Then we experience the crucifixion from afar since Ben Hur and Esther are taking care of Ben Hur’s mother and sister: they take them to their old home. They then live the eclipse and the storm on their way home and the rain produces the miracles we all expected: the mother and the sister are healed.

This old film made in 1959 is a typical un-historical saga about Jesus and the Jews in Judea. The film over-charges the Romans. The Jews are shown absolutely pure and clean, and their violence is nothing but patriotism and it is never shown. We see them having perfect relations with the Arabs, the Semitic people around them who are not Jews and are at best their servants and most of the time their slaves, like Esther. Actually the limit between Jews and Arabs, servants and slaves is not always very clear. The objective is to show the Romans as tyrants, violent dictators, and even their saluting gesture looks like Hitler’s. The Romans are depicted as fascists in all possible ways. The Jews are their victims, enslaved on their land or deported to die working because “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” as the famous motto said.

The film is well acted, the scenery is often beautiful and impressive, the mass of people in Jerusalem or Rome is enormous, the reconstructions of Rome and Jerusalem are brilliant and finally the circuses are outstanding. But the systematic nazification of the Romans and total vindication of the Jews living in perfect harmony with the Arabs, even when these Arabs are their slaves is un-historical if not anti-historical. The good critics are going to tell me that this is only a film for entertainment. But Hollywood knows better. The entertainment the film is bringing is nothing but a means to develop and impose a clear ideological if not political message. The fact that the Roman legions are always dressed in red is maybe historically true but it is also in perfect unison with the standard campaigns against the “Reds” in the 1950s, at the heart and core of the Cold War.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?