This 1959 version of Lew Wallace's best-selling novel, which had already seen screen versions in 1907 and 1926, went on to win 11 Academy Awards. Adapted by Karl Tunberg and a raft of uncredited writers including Gore Vidal and Maxwell Anderson, the film once more recounts the tale of Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), who lives in Judea with his family during the time that Jesus Christ was becoming known for his "radical" teachings. Ben-Hur's childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) is now an ambitious Roman tribune; when Ben-Hur refuses to help Messala round up local dissidents on behalf of the emperor, Messala pounces on the first opportunity to exact revenge on his onetime friend. Tried on a trumped-up charge of attempting to kill the provincial governor (whose head was accidentally hit by a falling tile), Ben-Hur is condemned to the Roman galleys, while his mother (Martha Scott) and sister (Cathy O'Donnell) are imprisoned.
What matters is the film. Is it a work of art worthy of our attention? Such a question has much to do with the plot and the theme, which is why some Objectivists might be disturbed by my selection of a film explicitly subtitled "A Tale of the Christ."
But as Ayn Rand tells us, there are many levels on which we can appreciate art. Rand lists four dimensions of appreciation: the literal (which pertains to the specific events of the story); the connotative (which pertains to the values portrayed or suggested through the events); the symbolic (which operates on a deeper level of meaning); and the emotional (which encapsulates our spiritual response to art).
"Ben-Hur" is based on the post-Civil War novel (1880) written by General Lew Wallace. Translated into a well-known play, and into three cinematic versions (the one-reeler 1907 version, the sprawling 1925 MGM version with Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman, and the 1959 MGM epic), the book, says C. L. Bennet, is "one of the most successful works of fiction ever written in any language." As a film, it is at once passionate and subtle, both action-packed entertainment and a testament to aesthetic symbolism. No brief summary of the story can do it justice, for there are many interconnected characters and subplots. Here, I present the essentials.
The film tells the story of a wealthy Jew, Prince Judah Ben-Hur, who is reunited with his boyhood friend, Messala (played by Stephen Boyd), who saved Ben-Hur's life when they were boys. The strong emotional ties between these two characters have been described as "homoerotic" by Gore Vidal, who had a small hand in the script. Upon their meeting, they hug and laugh, and, arms intertwined, drink to their mutual happiness. They throw spears in friendly competition, hitting the same target ("where the beams cross"--an omen of the crosses to come), "still close in every way"--except one: Messala is a Roman in a Roman world...Ben-Hur is a Jew.
THE LAST SAMURAI
The movie I picked from the Asian History category was “The Last Samurai”. The Last Samurai is a 2003 American epic war film. The movie was directed and co-produced by Edward Zwick, who also co-wrote the screenplay with John Logan. The film stars Tom Cruise, who also co-produced, as well as Ken Watanabe, Shin Koyamada, Tony Goldwyn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Timothy Spall and Billy Connolly. The movie is about a war set in Japan during the 1870s which centers on Captain Nathan Algren. Captain Algren is hired by the Emperor of Japan to train the country's first army. As the Emperor attempts to battle the ancient Samurai warriors, the general ends up be caught and held captive by samurai. Algren finds himself unexpectedly impressed and influenced by the Samurai. This tension places the colonial officer at the center of a struggle between two worlds.
This movie is told from the point-of-view of one character. General Nathan Algren. The movie follows him throughout the movie learning about his participation in the killing of Native Americans…