Follow TV Tropes

Following

Literature / Ben-Hur
aka: Ben Hur 2016

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/benhurbook.jpg
Advertisement:

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the ChristJesus does have an important role in this story, but it's often tangential — is a novel written by Lewis "Lew" Wallace, a Union general in the American Civil War and Governor of New Mexico, and published in 1880. It was later adapted for several media, starting with theatre as soon as it was published and later inspiring several epic movies.

The story concerns the adventures of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince from Jerusalem at the beginning of the 1st century AD, when Judea is under Roman domination. He is betrayed by his childhood Roman friend Messala, ends up enslaved by the Romans and, through several turns of fate, becomes a famed charioteer and, eventually, a Christian. Running in parallel with Judah's narrative is the unfolding story of the Christ himself.

Advertisement:

The novel reflects themes of betrayal, conviction, and redemption, with a revenge plot that leads to a story of love and compassion.


    open/close all folders 

    Adaptations 

Live Action Film

  • Ben-Hur (1907), a thirteen minutes-long silent film. It features William S. Hart, who would later become a major star of cowboy movies, as Messala.
  • Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), the classic MGM silent film starring Ramón Novarro as Ben-Hur and Francis X. Bushman as Messala.
  • Ben-Hur (1959), the classic Panavision extravaganza directed by William Wyler and produced by MGM once again, by far the best known, starring Charlton Heston as Ben-Hur and Stephen Boyd as Messala. It was a massive box office success and cleaned house at the Academy Award ceremony in 1960, being nominated for 12 Academy Awards and winning 11, missing only Adapted Screenplay. The film won Best Picture, Wyler won Best Director, Heston won Best Actor and Hugh Griffith took home Best Supporting Actor for playing Sheikh Ilderim. The 11 Oscars set a record, since matched by Titanic and The Return of the King but still not beaten. See here for a plot summary.
  • Ben-Hur (2016), starring Jack Huston as Ben-Hur, Toby Kebbell as Messala, Morgan Freeman as Sheik Ilderim, Ayelet Zurer as Naomi, Pilou Asbæk as Pontius Pilate and Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus. It ended up a invokedBox Office Bomb that contributed to nearly sink Paramount.

Live Action Television

Animation

  • Ben-Hur, a 2003 animated film. Charlton Heston invokedreprised his iconic role through voice acting, in the final performance of his career.

Theatre

  • The novel was adapted for theatre for the first time in 1899 in New York. It was dramatized by William W. Young.
  • Ben-Hur, a 2006 French live theatrical show/hippodrama directed by Robert Hossein and adapted by historian Alain Decaux.
  • Ben-Hur Live, a 2009 British live theatrical show/hippodrama, produced by Franz Abraham with music and narration by Stewart Copeland.

Advertisement:

Ben Hur provides examples of:

    Tropes featured in the novel and most adaptations 
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • In the novel and the 1925 film, the plot is kicked off when Judah accidentally knocks a roof tile on the head of a Roman centurion and gets arrested. In the 1959 movie, Judah's sister is the one who dislodges the roof tile, but Judah deliberately takes the blame in an attempt to spare his sister.
    • In the novel, when Judah is on a sinking slave ship, and finds himself unchained, he gets off the ship. In the movie, Judah takes the opportunity to punch out a guard, steal his keys, and free all the other slaves on the ship, before escaping himself.
    • In the 2016 film, Messala gets this, because the incident that kickstarts the plot is not a dislodged roof tile but an arrow fired by a zealot from the top of the House of Hur as an actual assassination attempt on Pontius Pilate. Messala even finds evidence that the Hurs had been harboring the zealot and nursing his wounds for some time. This means that he actually has valid reason to do what he does to Judah and his entire family. On top of that Messala is also shown questioning some of the orders of his superiors both in the Jewish revolt and other wars he is shown participating in against enemies of Rome and even does his best to find a favorable settlement between the Jews and the Romans. Also he is shown saving Ben-Hur in his childhood and later truly begs for forgiveness from Ben after the climatic chariot race that Ben chooses to rescue him in his crippled condition.
  • Adapted Out: The novel featured another love interest for Judah besides Esther - Iras daughter of Balthazar (one of the biblical Magi). She never appears in any of the film adaptations.
  • Ancient Rome: Or rather the backwater Roman province of Judaea.
  • Arab Oil Sheikh: Ilderim, if you replace oil with gold and horse races.
  • Artistic License – History: Roman war galleys typically used teams of professional rowers or even ordinary soldiers to man their oars, rather than slaves or condemned men.
  • Badass Israeli: Judah definitely fits the bill.
  • Betty and Veronica: In the novel, Judah has two love interests: Esther, who, as in the films, is the quiet gentle Betty, and Iras, Balthazar's mysterious but alluring daughter, who serves as the Veronica. Iras is actually in the lead for most of the book but she turns out to have been working for Messala all along, deliberately bludgeoning him with the worst part of her nature as she reveals this.
  • Been There, Shaped History: In the novel and 1959 and 2016 films Jesus gives Judah water when the latter is a prisoner. In the films Judah repays this by giving Jesus water as he is taken to be crucified. The novel goes further and makes Judah the man who gives Jesus sour wine on a sponge, mentioned in the Gospels.
  • Bible Times: Set right during the time of the Gospels.
  • The Big Race: Judah Ben-Hur and Messala play out their conflict in a famous Chariot Race.
  • Call-Back: Judah paying back that long-ago cup of water by giving one to Jesus as he walks to his crucifixion in the 1959 and 2016 films.
  • Chariot Race:
    • The race is the Trope Codifier featuring Spiked Wheels (Messala's "Greek chariot"), Messala whipping his horses and any driver within range. If you're tossed from the chariot, there's a token attempt at retrieval.
    • In the silent 1925 movie, apparently one of the more spectacular accidents in the chariot race wasn't staged, invoked and the stunt driver only barely escaped with his life.
      • This also happened with stuntman Joe Canutt in the 1959 version. See the Trivia page for details.
  • Clear My Name: Judah has to restore his standing after having been falsely accused of trying to assassinate the governor.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • In the novel Messala survives being crippled at the race and remains a thorn in Judah's side for years (like sending assassins after him), and lives past the Crucifixion, but is murdered by a rejected love interest of Judah. He dies after being trampled by his horses in the 1959 film.
    • In the 2016 film Quintus Arrius doesn't survive the naval battle where Judah gains his freedom. Not only does Judah not rescue him like the previous versions, but he also makes sure Arrius dies.
  • The Faceless: Jesus, in the first two film versions (in the 1925 version, we never see anything except his arms). By contrast, he is both seen and heard in the 2016 film, played by Rodrigo Santoro. In the stage production of the novel, Jesus wasn't even portrayed by an actor — he only appeared as a beam of intense white light.
  • Hero of Another Story: The story happens in the background of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, arguably a more important series of events.
  • Made a Slave: Judah is arrested and made a galley slave.
  • Occupiers out of Our Country: The point of view of the zealots concerning the Romans, especially in the 2016 film.
  • The Queen's Latin:
    • In the 1959 film, Roman characters are mostly played by Brits, and speak accordingly.
    • In the 2016 film, the only Latin spoken is the Legion's marching song as they enter Jerusalem.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Judah is a Badass Israeli, and devout in his Jewish faith. In the end, he embraces the teachings of Jesus as a miracle saves his family.
  • Recycled In Space: The novel has often been referred to as "The Count of Monte Cristo meets Quo Vadis" or "The Count of Monte Cristo in the first century AD".
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Judah's not exactly roaring with it when he returns demanding his family's release, but he's close, and by the time of the Chariot Race, this trope is in full effect.
  • Sidelong Glance Biopic: A borderline example, since the places the story of the Gospel in the background of Judah's adventures.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • In the 1925 film, although Messala disappears after the chariot race, he is said to have survived and lost his fortune to Judah after betting on himself to win the race.
    • In the 2003 film, Messala lives on as a cripple and is healed at the death of Christ where he reconciles with the House of Hur.
    • In the 2016 film, Messala is shown escaping Jerusalem alongside Ben and Esther after he reconciles with the Judah household.
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: A key point in most versions of the story. Judah revenges himself on Messala, but, finding it does not bring him peace, he decides to revenge himself on all of Rome. Only witnessing the crucifixion of Christ convinces him to instead devote his life to his family and faith.
  • We Used to Be Friends: The basis for the conflict between Ben-Hur and Messala.

    Tropes specific to the 1907 film 
https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/1907benhur.png

  • The Mockbuster : It was actually an unauthorized adaptation that provoked a successful lawsuit by the book's copyright holders. Silent film blogger Fritzi Kramer makes the case that, as a low-budget production meant to ride on the coattails of a more famous property (in this case, the book and its authorized stage adaptations), that film should be regarded as an early example of mockbuster.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The film runs for only thirteen minutes. How do you cram Ben-Hur into only thirteen minutes? Well, you omit the backstory with Ben-Hur and Messala entirely, you cover with a single title card the whole section with Ben-Hur as a galley slave who is eventually adopted by Arrius, you omit Ben-Hur's romance with Esther, and you end the movie with the chariot race.

    Tropes specific to the 1925 film 
https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/benhur1925.jpg

  • Cool Helmet: The leather helmet with small Mercury's Wings Messala wears during the Chariot Race.
  • Epic Movie: It was the most expensive movie ever made at the time, and one of the most expensive silent movies ever made.
  • "Last Supper" Steal: The film recreates the painting — but since Jesus must remain The Faceless, the shot has another disciple sitting directly in front of him.
  • Property of Love: Esther is deemed to be Judah's slave, since her father was. She even makes a pose of submission before him. They declare their love for each other, but he never actually frees her, unlike what he does in the 1959 film.
  • Splash of Color: Most of the film is shot in black and white, but most of the scenes that deal with Christ are colorized, as is Ben-Hur's triumph and the final scene.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Messala is shown being taken away from the chariot race injured but alive, and is described as "broken" after losing his fortune to Judah. He is never mentioned again.

    Tropes specific to the 1959 film 
https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/benhur1959_9.jpg

  • Adaptational Sexuality: YMMV. There is nothing in the book to imply that that Judah and Messala were ever lovers. Of course this applies only to Judah, in the case of Messala it is a completely different matter entirely as neither "heterosexual" nor "homosexual" formed the primary dichotomy of Roman thinking and no Latin words for the words exist so in keeping with his culture he may have had lovers of both genders.
  • Arranged Marriage: Esther. She doesn't go through with it.
  • Brownface: Welsh actor Hugh Griffith playing the Arab Sheik Ilderim.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Ben-Hur's spear throwing skills.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: During the chariot race, Ben-Hur gets white horses, while Messala gets black horses.
  • Cool Horse: Ilderim's "children" are supposed to be Arabians, but are played by Lipizzaners, which are descended from North African Barbs. The sorrel horse Ilderim rides is an Arab; she shows the characteristic "flagging" of her tail as she runs.
  • Depraved Homosexual: The film had Messala be played as if he and Judah had been lovers as youths. As the antagonist, Messala ends up as this as well as other villain tropes. Of course, it should be noted that Messala is only this trope by a modern dichotomies as neither "heterosexual" nor "homosexual" formed the primary dichotomy of Roman thinking and no Latin word for either exists.
  • Determinator: Messala after being trampled by horses in the chariot race. HE is determined to stay alive so he could speak to Judah one last time.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Judah refusing to be an informant for Messala and betray the confidence of those unhappy with the Roman rule of Judea, since he also desires freedom for his people. Messala responds to this slight by invoking that he's either With Us or Against Us and then declares Judah to be his sworn enemy when he still refuses. It becomes truly disproportionate when Messala arrests Judah and his entire family for a crime he knows was an accident, consigning him to life as a slave and his family to the Citadel.
    • Judah feels this happened to Messala during the chariot race when the latter got trampled to death when all Judah really wanted was to humiliate his former friend by defeating him in front of the Roman government and population of Judea.
  • Dutch Angle: An extremely powerful one that shows Jesus on the cross.
  • Drone of Dread: The rowing scene uses gradually-accelerating cellos.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: Ben-Hur makes use of this when showing up at Messala's door after his return from Rome.
  • Empathic Environment: The literal house that Judah's family lives in mirrors the fall and eventual return of its owners; the crucifixion takes place in the middle of a huge storm.
  • Epic Movie: Spars with Gone with the Wind, The Ten Commandments, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago as the quintessential example of the type.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: Quintus Arrius, as he looks at the galley slaves dropping.
  • Funny Foreigner: Sheikh Ilderim is the movie's resident Plucky Comic Relief.
  • Harsh Word Impact: Ben-Hur visibly reacts when Esther accuses him of becoming like Messala.
  • Hell Hole Prison: What it says on the tin when we see scenes of "the citadel".
  • Homoerotic Subtext: A deliberate example. Director William Wyler and co-screenwriter Gore Vidal told Stephen Boyd, the actor portraying Messala, to play him as if he and Judah had been lovers as youths and that his vindictiveness is therefore motivated by a sexual and romantic rejection as much as a political one. They did not, however, tell Charlton Heston, who found out years later and was not pleased. This did add an interesting dynamic to the scenes between Judah and Messala, since Heston's uncomfortable reactions to some of Boyd's behavior came off as reluctance towards his former lover.
  • Insistent Terminology: Pontius Pilate insists on referring to Judah by his adopted Roman name of Arrius the Younger, as part of his attempt to civilise him into the Roman way of life. Judah eventually snaps and demand he be called by his real name.
  • Ironic Echo: "We keep you alive to serve this ship. Row well, and live."
    • As Judah is dragged off to the slave ship, Jesus gives him much-needed water despite the Roman guards threatening to stop him. Later, when Ben-Hur sees that the "miracle healer" is Jesus, he tries to return the favor of offering Jesus some water during his tribulation only for the Romans to successfully stop him.
  • Irony: Judah being a slave on a galley ship, surrounded by endless water that he cannot drink.
    • Additionally, the ocean symbolizes death for the Jewish people (being desert peoples, they never learned to swim), so it's also symbolic of how he "died" and was later "reborn".
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: Sheik Ilderim does this. "One God, that I can understand; but one wife? That is not civilized. [nudges Judah] It is not generous!"
  • Knights and Knaves: Ben-Hur deduces that whatever Messala says about his mother and sister, he will mean the exact opposite.
  • Large Ham:
    • You can tell Hugh Griffith is enjoying himself as Ilderim. Heston as Judah has a few moments as well.
    • The hortator, as part of his job. "RAMMING! SPEED!"
  • Letterbox: The chariot sequence is ALWAYS presented in letterbox, even if the rest of the movie is a Pan and Scan format.
  • Manly Gay: Messala (see Homoerotic Subtext above).
  • Mr. Fanservice: Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd both get shirtless scenes.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The HUAC Hearings moment as Messala demands to know who the Jews are who didn't like his "no grumbling about the Romans" request, and Judah won't tell him.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Judah sums it up beautifully in this exchange.
    Messala: By what magic do you bear the name of a Consul of Rome?
    Judah: You were the magician, Messala. You had me condemned to the galley. When my ship was sunk, I saved the Consul's life.
  • Not So Different: At one point, Esther lampshades that Judah's hatred of Rome has made him just as bitter as Messala.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Judah looks for Miriam and Tirzah in the leper colony, he runs into Esther bringing them food and water. She has a quietly horrified "Oh Crap!" look as she has previously told him (by their request) that they were dead.
    • The Roman soldier when he realized he almost cussed out Jesus for giving Ben-Hur water. He doesn't know who this guy is, but it's clear he's sheepishly reacting to the way Jesus must be looking at him (since we only see Jesus from behind) as if he went against something he can't comprehend or go against.
    • Messala's stunned reaction when a very much alive Judah shows up to challenge him.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality:
    • Quintus Arrius is a slave-keeping imperialist just like Messala. But because he adopts Ben-Hur, he's considered a good guy. Even Pontius Pilate gets off relatively lightly.
    • After being accused of attempting to assassinate the governor and trying to escape from custody, Judah claims that he is no murderer... despite having been just shown strangling one of the guards with his chains and the film never revealing whether or not he actually did kill him or just choked him unconscious?
  • Reaction Shot: In the scene where Jesus offers the enslaved Judah water to drink, the Roman centurion rushes forward to confront him... and halts in his tracks when Jesus turns to face him, as we see a whirl of emotions (anger, confusion, fear, shame) flicker across his face as if he saw something he shouldn't go against.
  • Redemption in the Rain: A huge thunderstorm whips up during the crucifixion and the healing of Judah's mother and sister takes place at the same time Judah himself gives up on vengeance.
    • Jesus is still up on the cross; the rain washes his blood down along the ground and into the cave where the women are sheltering, and so they are healed and "reborn".
  • Remake Cameo: Various sources indicate that May McEvoy, who played Esther in the 1925 film, appears as an extra in a crowd scene somewhere in the 1959 film.
  • Slave Galley: Trope Codifier. Chained rowers, brutal overseers with whips, and a drummer.
  • Sistine Steal: The movie popularized the use of The Creation of Adam in mainstream media (although not a parody here).
  • Time-Passage Beard: Judah grows one during his years in the galley.
  • Trauma Conga Line: What's worse than death? Knowing your sister and mother are wasting away in the Valley of the Lepers.
  • Undying Loyalty: Simonides, Judah's father's life-long financial minister and willing slave. Even after being brutally tortured and "beaten out of human shape" by the Romans seeking to claim the family's wealth, he gives them nothing, and when Judah returns he is able to give him access to tremendous wealth necessary to finance his revenge.
  • You Are Number 6: Ben-Hur being called "Forty-One" on the Galley.

    Tropes specific to the 2016 film 
https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/2016benhur.jpg

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Messala is truly remorseful for his betrayal and he suffers elements of PTSD from the wars he fought in for Rome.
  • Adaptational Badass: Messala's wartime experiences are shown via flashbacks and he is shown as a skilled swordsman and also a competent commander. He is so good that in one battle the panicking Roman general in charge even gives him direct command of the Roman army.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Quintus Arrius is a total and complete bastard in this version. He abuses the galley slaves so badly Judah doesn't lift a finger to save him.
  • Badass Pacifist: Jesus. Two Romans comment to each other that his peaceful preaching and messages are far more dangerous than the zealots themselves.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Invoked by Pilate after the climatic Chariot Race. Pointing out how the crowd enjoyed the (arguably horrific) spectacle, he notes that they have clearly started to accept and adhere to those Roman values they had despised and rejected as barbaric until very shortly before. Of course, this is before a certain Nazarene dies on the cross, blessing his murderers...
    Pilate: Look at them. They all want blood. They're Romans now.
  • Composite Character: Quintus Arrius does not appear again after his Death by Adaptation in the galley scene, so Ilderim takes some of his role as Judah's mentor and benefactor.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The film omits Judah's time in Rome entirely (what with Quintus Arrius being an irredeemable bastard who dies early on) and goes straight from his galley ordeal to him meeting Sheik Ilderim.
  • Day of the Jackboot: There are hints at this trope when Legio X Fretensis marches into Jerusalem, chanting "Legio Aeterna Victrix" note . There is even a short scene with a soldier inciting a black dog to attack the stunned citizens.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Messala survives his crippling in the arena and makes peace with Judah, becoming his brother once more. It's implied that he even gets together with Tirzah.
  • Honor Before Reason: Judah causes his mother and sister to be crucified and himself to be enslaved because he takes responsibility for an assassination attempt on Pontius Pilate by a Jewish assassin, rather than turn in a fellow Jew.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Romans behave like this.
    • Marcus Decimus dresses Messala down for having subjugated a village without razing it to the ground and killing all the inhabitants.
    • The Romans desecrate an old Jewish cemetery by stealing the tombstones and using them to build their circus. The zealots are not happy...
    • When the X Legion enters Jerusalem, it is preceded by soldiers who incite black dogs against the citizens.
    • After Judah attacks Massala in the old Ben-Hur's house, Pilate orders a brutal reprisal. Twenty Jews are taken in the road and crucified.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Judah is openly skeptical about the zealots' actions, even if he does not hand Dismas over to the Romans and hide him in his house (possibly, out of loyalty for his sister who has apparently joined them). He repeatedly points out that it is unlikely that they will ever be able to drive the all powerful Roman legions out of Judea and that, as a matter of fact, they are only making the Roman rule more oppressive and ruthless. He is dramatically proven right when the Roman High Command orders an entire legion into the sacred city of Jerusalem as a show of force.

Alternative Title(s): Ben Hur, Ben Hur 1959, Ben Hur 2016, Ben Hur 1925

Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report