I have lost count of the times I've seen this movie, and have lately sat through yet another viewing. As it is deep, exploratory and powerfully moving, I make no apologies for still finding something in it. I may even be preaching to the nostalgically converted when, as a boy, I grew up with it, seeing it on its territory, the 'big screen.' Having felt the same satisfaction then, I now find the space to appreciate it at a deeper emotive level. Those timeless emotions of thought and feeling in it, are layers I continue to find and appreciate. Why does this film continue to stand the test of time? Because of its eloquent handling of feelings and conditions everyone feels, from the brutality of tyranny to subsequent reconciliation. I have read some overtly
critical opinion about Heston's acting being 'wooden,' 'overblown,' 'pretentious.' If his is bad acting, what do you consider good? Isn't it just a case of appropriate or straight acting?
I think Heston's performance is sedate, solemn, deep with meaning, as is the case with most of the other stars who compliment his. William Wyler judges walking towards doorways and entrances, standing in them, turning up unexpectedly, with
classic precision which is almost theatrical.
The scene where Hur meets and crippled dying Messala learning his mother and sister have become lepers, is one of my favourites, dealing with the theme of human intimacy and tragedy in a moving way. Heston's shadowy figure standing in the doorway at Boyd's assertion, 'there Drusus, I knew he'd come,' is beautifully harmonised by Miklos Roza's music. I therefore agree with a comment that Boyd is Heston's foil dominating every scene he's in, making Hur see the incompletness or hollowness of his chariot victory. I see no enemy, a sweat-glistened Heston admits. Then Boyd rasps, 'is there still enough of a man left here for you to hate? Let me help you,' struggling in his crippled body. Wyler folds over this scene beautifully. Hur pulling Messala's dead hand grasp from his leather shirt, then walking into a deserted stadium looking yonder, languishing, yet not languished. As all the other stars in the picture bridge the gap of Heston's at times stylised or dull acting, there are many scenes like this one. But I think Boyd, not Hugh Griffith, should have received the oscar for best supporting actor. He went on to play a 'nicer' Roman officer named Livius opposite Sophia Loren in samuel Bronston's THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
BEN HUR, because of its long-term devotion to the timelessness of psychological pain, misery, devotion, loyalty, healing, reconciliation and ultimate fulfillment, are what set it apart from today's generation. It belongs to a different era, one which had the space to explore those themes of humanity, lost today. Like comparable epics, such as SCHINDLER'S LIST or THE LAST EMPEROR, it has the strength to move. But despite obvious artifice and incorrect historical detail which don't measure up to the book, it is more lasting than the present materialist mediocrity. What is more enduring; that or something richly achieved with conviction, purpose and
quasi-Shakesperean? I know which I would choose.