Chelsea, Jesse, Phil
The 212-minute Biblical epic Ben-Hur (1959) was the most expensive film made up to that point, with a budget of $15 million. MGM gambled on the expensive film, which eventually saved them from bankruptcy, trying to capitalize on the success of The Ten Commandments (1956) and reprise Charlton Heston as a Moses-figure. The film grossed $147 million on its initial release, making it the second highest-grossing film at that time. The nine-minute chariot race sequence is still revered as one of the most technically impressive film scenes of all time; the scene is also a testament to the amount of work that went into the film, requiring an eighteen-acre lot, $1 million, a year of pre-production work, and five weeks of shooting. Winning 11 of the 12 Academy Awards it was nominated for, Ben-Hur remains one of the most successful films of all time. Over the course of the film, Prince Judah Ben-Hur of Judea grows angry with his childhood friend Messala, now a Roman garrison commander, who tries to use Judah to put down the Jewish religious rebellion beginning in Judea. When Judah chooses his people over Messala, Messala becomes vindictive and imprisons Judah, his sister Tirzah and their mother Miriam, for trying to kill a Roman guard when he knew the situation was an accident. Messala condemns Judah to life rowing in the galleys of a ship so that he will be seen as ruthless; however, when the enemy rams the ship, Judah saves the new commander after he went overboard. As repayment, the commander, Quintus Arius, adopts Judah as his son, giving him his name and inheritance. Now that he is free and rich again, Judah returns to Judea to enact his sworn revenge on Messala and to discover the fates of his sister and mother. Judah is told his mother and sister are dead, but after defeating Messala in the epic chariot race, Messala on his deathbed tells Judah that Tirzah and Miriam are alive in the Valley of the Lepers. After finally being persuaded by his love interest and former slave Esther who attended Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Judah tries to bring Tirzah and Miriam to see Jesus but they arrive as Jesus is carrying his cross to the spot of his crucifixion. When Jesus falls, Judah tries to give him water, the same way Jesus had when Judah fell in the desert on his march to his ship. When Jesus dies, a great storm comes, bringing life to the desert, curing Tirzah and Miriam of their leprosy, and Judah of his desire for revenge by killing Pontius Pilate, the new Governor, who had offered Judah Roman citizenship following his victory in the chariot race, which Judah had found disgusting.
This movie has two topics that it mainly focuses on. The first of the topics dealt with is conformity. Through out the movie Judah finds himself being constantly being pressured into accepting Roman culture over his Jewish heritage. This is similar to and it was believed to be commentating on how conforming to the ideals of American society was strongly encouraged during the decade leading up to the release of the film. The second topic is the necessity of faith to save yourself. This topics presents itself in multiple instances throughout the course of the movie; several examples include when Christ gives Judah water while he is heading to the galleys, or when Judah's family is cured of their leprosy through Judah's faith in God and Christ. This trend of necessity of faith is a core ideal of what America was during the Cold War, and the active encouragement of the faith we observe during the film.
The film Ben-Hur relates to the Cold War through several ideologies. Throughout the movie, a resistance to the conformity of Rome is strongly promoted, a parallel to the American people's own resistance to the conformity of the Soviet Union. Judah Ben-Hur argues on behalf of his people for religious freedom, a cause that hits close to home for any American. The film also shames some elements of McCarthyism from the previous decade. When Masala demands the names of the Jewish patriots, Judah resists and this is shown to be a heroic action on his part. The film goes on to showcase ideas also supported in the books The Ugly American and The Spiritual-Industrial Complex. These readings argue that religion and Communism are mutually exclusive, and that the best way to defeat the Communist threat is through faith. Finally, we asked the class if they think that America remains religiously focused and whether or not such a film could push America to return to such a religious bend. The class seemed to agree that America was not nearly as religious as it once was, and that it would be less impacted by such a film now as the morals were less powerful in our society as they once were.