Ben Hur

Genre: Drama | Age: 10-12


Ages 4 & Under -- No
Ages 5 to 7 -- Probably Not
Ages 8 to 9 -- With Guidance
Ages 10 to 12 -- Yes
Ages 13 to 15 -- Yes
Ages 15 to 17 -- Yes

Ben Hur

BOOK: General Lew Walace, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.”

Historical Drama (1959, NR.) (3 hr, 22 min) In 36 C.E., Palestine is under the rule of the Roman Empire. Roman Tribune Messala arrives in Jerusalem, and, having been brought up there, visits the friend of his youth, the Jewish prince, Judah Ben-Hur. Messala asks Ben-Hur to speak out against the growing rebellion against Rome. When he refuses, they become enemies. When a roof tile accidentally falls and hits the new Governor, Judah and his family are arrested. Judah is sentenced to be a galley slave without a trial. He tries to escape, but is recaptured after a useless appeal to Messala for the freedom of his family. On a tortuous trek through the desert, Judah is given water by Jesus. When he saves the life of Consul Quintus Arius after a naval battle, he goes to Rome and becomes a successful charioteer. Quintus makes him his adopted son. Pontius Pilate is to replace Gracus as governor of Judea and Judah returns to find his mother and sister. He meets sheik Ilderim who asks him to drive a race team against Messala. He refuses and returns to Jerusalem where he finds Ester, the daughter of his steward. They discover their mutual love. Miriam and Tirzah are lepers and leave the city. Ester tells Judah they are dead. Judah enters and wins a chariot race against Messala. He goes to search for his mother and sister in the Valley of the Lepers. He sees them from a distance. Miserable, he refuses to hear Jesus’ teachings. Esther convinces them to seek Jesus. They find Jesus on the way to his execution. Judah witnesses the crucifixion and is cured of his hate and Miriam and Tizrah are cured of leprosy.

VIOLENCE/SCARINESS: Sword, arrow, javelin, and spear battles with some blood. Judah is beaten and whipped. The Romans treat the Jews unfairly and brutally. Some galley slaves have bloody ankles from their chains. Judah kills a galley guard in order to free the slaves from a sinking ship. Several men are injured or killed during the chariot race. During the chariot race, Mesalla whips his horses mercilessly while Judah does not. Messala is thrown from his chariot and is rather bloody. He dies on-screen. We see Jesus being crucified, not very graphic, but slightly bloody.

CRIMES: Perjury (P), False Imprisonment (P).

MORALS, ISSUES & VALUES: The formation of Christianity is at the center of this film; the face of Jesus is never seen. The Romans believe that divinity only resides in Caesar while the new Jewish sect led by Jesus believes that God lives in every man. Messala’s blind allegiance to Rome turns him against his boyhood friend. Judah begins non-violently but finds that violence is the only way to gain freedom. Judah refuses to betray his people. He prays at meals. Judah, as is the custom of the day, is a slave owner, but he is very kind to them. Messala knows that Judah is innocent, but, to protect his career, does nothing. All the Jews retain their religion. Balthazar argues with Judah against killing Messala because his punishment will be a miracle of justice performed by God. Judah prays for forgiveness for seeking vengeance. Judah’s victory in the chariot races has broad political consequences. The Roman way of conquest is to totally destroy a city.

SEXUALITY & GENDER ISSUES: Single parent family. Traditional gender roles. Women are subjected to arranged marriages. Judah goes to great lengths to reunite his family.

SUBSTANCES: Wine with dinner and at celebrations.

COMMENTS: Huge, epic, winner of 11 Academy Awards, a story of indomitable spirit at many levels. The themes of family, freedom, and belief are beautifully developed in an exciting and gripping story. Parents will probably have to explain about leprosy. (Reviewed Dec. 2001)

STARRING: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O’Donnell, Sam Jaffe.

ALTERNATES: Other films about early Christianity are “The Robe” and “Quo Vadis.”


Nudity -- 0
Sexuality -- 1
Physical Violence -- 4
Emotional Stress -- 3
Blood or Gore -- 3
Language/Profanity -- 0
Immorality -- 3
Parental Guidance -- 3
Watchability for Adults -- 4
Overall (For Kids of the Appropriate Age) -- 4
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Copyright Arthur Taussig 2022