The first five clips from the new version of Ben-Hur are now available via WingClips, a website that provides movie clips that pastors can use to illustrate their sermons etc. As you might expect, these clips focus on the religious themes of the film, rather than the action-packed spectacle that the trailers have tended to emphasize.
Four of these clips were posted to the ShareBenHur.com website a couple weeks ago but were not embeddable on any other sites at the time. I wrote some notes about those four clips back then and have copied-and-pasted them below, along with some new thoughts on the fifth clip (which is actually listed as Clip 2 below).
Clip 1 — ‘Jesus the Carpenter’
Summary: Judah and Esther are in the marketplace when the Romans reveal that they are about to crucify a Zealot. “Damn the Zealots,” says Judah. “All they want is freedom,” says Esther. “And at what cost?” asks Judah. “If they have their way they’ll bring all of Rome down on us. Then where will our freedom be?” At this point, a nearby carpenter pipes up and says, “There is freedom elsewhere. Love your enemies.” Judah scoffs, “That’s very progressive.” The carpenter continues, “God is Love. He made us to share that love. . . . Hate and fear are lies. They turn us against each other. Those are the lies that make us slaves. He has a path planned for you.” Judah replies, “If he has a path planned for me, how am I better off than a slave?” Jesus looks at Esther (who was born into slavery) and says, “Why don’t you ask her?”
Comment: Based on this clip, the Judah of this film comes across as a privileged and even complacent member of society who scorns the upstarts who would disturb his way of life, which is a significant shift from the Judah of the 1959 film, who advocated non-violence as a man of principle. Meanwhile, the Esther of this film sympathizes with the Zealots, whereas I believe she was pretty solidly on the side of non-violence in the 1959 film too. It is also hinted here that Judah, as a slave owner, may be prompted to rethink his relationship with slavery, whereas the 1959 film never challenged the way Judah spoke warmly about “inheriting” Esther’s father. Judah’s remark that Jesus’ teachings are “very progressive” sounds a bit modern to my ears, and reminds me of how Jesus told Peter they were going to “change the world” in The Bible.
Clip 2 — ‘Jesus Helps Judah’
Summary: Judah has fallen to the ground while being marched through the city by the Romans. Esther says tearfully, “Someone help us.” Jesus steps out of the crowd and takes a cup of water from a Roman soldier and offers it to Judah. “Thank you,” says Judah. “You’d do the same,” replies Jesus, who then helps Judah get back on his feet. Judah is marched away, as Esther cries out, “Where are you taking him?”
Comment: In all previous versions of the story, Jesus meets Judah for the first time in Nazareth, and gives him a drink of water there. But in this version, the drink-of-water scene seems to be taking place in Jerusalem and, as we know from the clip before this one, Jesus and Judah have already met at least once before. Most earlier versions of this scene emphasized the mystical nature of Jesus and his effect on other people, but this clip is filmed less formally and written more ambiguously: yes, the Roman lets Jesus take the cup, but Jesus’ suggestion that Judah would do what he is doing undercuts the sense that there is anything unique about Jesus here — and it seems at odds with the earlier clip, in which Judah didn’t exactly come across as the sort of person who would stick his neck out for any of the Romans’ victims.
Clip 3 — ‘Jesus Protects the Leper’
Summary: Pilate, Messala and some other Romans are riding their horses down the street when they see some Jews throwing stones at a leper, trying to kill him. Jesus rushes out of the crowd and embraces the leper, and some of the stones hit him, too, as he shields the leper. “Love your neighbour as we love ourselves,” says Jesus. The stones stop flying. Jesus stands up, holding the leper, and tells the crowd, “Hate, anger, fear — those are lies they use to turn you against each other. When you set aside the hate they force you to carry, that’s when you know love is our true nature.” Pilate tells Messala Jesus is more dangerous than all the Zealots combined.
Comment: The biblical Jesus healed lepers on at least two occasions, but didn’t use the healings as an opportunity to teach others; in fact, on one of those occasions, he explicitly told the leper not to tell anyone about the healing, except for the priests who were supposed to oversee the ritual of cleansing required by the Law of Moses (Mark 1:44, Matthew 8:4, Luke 5:14). It is also striking to see the Jesus of this film physically attacked (albeit by stones that were intended for someone else) long before his crucifixion; most films, including most earlier versions of Ben-Hur, have imagined that there was something rather imposing about Jesus that caused people to back down when he confronted them. (Note, incidentally, that there is no indication in this clip that Jesus actually heals the leper being stoned; the clip’s primary focus is on social restoration rather than on physical or biological restoration.)Clip 4 — ‘Judah and Esther’
Summary: Esther tells Judah that twenty people are being crucified in retaliation for Judah’s recent effort to kill Messala. (Said effort was glimpsed in the movie’s first trailer.) Judah says Rome is responsible for those deaths, not him. Esther mentions that her father was killed, too, and Judah says he won’t let Messala go unpunished. Esther replies, “There’s nothing here for you any more,” and walks away.
Comment. It’s interesting to see how Judah blamed the Zealots for the actions of the Romans against the Jews in the earlier clip, but now that he’s consumed with revenge he blames Rome rather than himself for the deaths of these other people. Esther’s father was crucified in the 2010 miniseries as Judah was being led away to the galleys, but he was only tortured and crippled in the 1959 film. In the original novel, Esther’s father lived much longer and helped Judah to support the early church while Nero was persecuting the Christians in Rome, over 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus.
Clip 5 — ‘Jesus’ Crucifixion’
Summary: Jesus is being led down the street, forced to carry his crossbeam. He falls to the pavement, and Judah brings him a cup of water. A Roman soldier whips Judah, and Judah grabs a stone to throw at him — but Jesus takes Judah’s hand and says, “My life, I give it of my own free will.” Judah goes to Golgotha and sees Jesus crucified between the two rebels there. One of the rebels asks Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, and Jesus says, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus looks at Judah and says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Judah has flashbacks to happier times with Messala, and then remembers how Messala’s battered body was carried after the chariot race. Jesus says, “It is finished,” and dark clouds appear as his head falls against his chest, lifeless. A soldier stabs Jesus’ side with a spear. Judah falls to his knees and drops the stone that was in his hand.
Comment: Is that the same stone? Has Judah been carrying it all this time, as Jesus carried his cross, was crucified, and spent hours suffering up there? (Note: Judah originally picked the stone up with his right hand, and he drops it from his left hand.) The example Jesus set by forgiving the people who killed him is, of course, meant to be followed by all who believe in him. But there’s something about the juxtaposition of his words with Judah’s flashback that reminds me of the 2010 miniseries, where Jesus walked right up to Judah while he was in chains and told him to forgive the Romans, “for they know not what they do.” Can the saying be generalized to that extent? Are all sins rooted in ignorance? What if the offenders do know what they are doing?
So, those are our first clips from the film. Ben-Hur comes to theatres August 19.
Check out earlier trailers and other videos here:
- The first domestic and international trailers, the ‘Welcome to ShareBenHur.com’ video, and the Entertainment Tonight promo (March 16, 2016)
- The ‘Epic Faith’ trailer (March 23, 2016)
- The ‘Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus’ featurette (March 25, 2016)
- The second faith-based trailer (June 8, 2016)
- The Entertainment Tonight reports (June 11, 2016)
- The ‘Chariot Race’ featurette and Entertainment Tonight report (June 13, 2016)
- The ‘Epic’ featurette (July 6, 2016)
- The ‘Ceasefire’ music video (July 13, 2016)
- The ‘Revolution’, ‘Spark’, ‘Legend’ and ‘Combo’ TV spots (July 18, 2016)
- The ‘Back to You’ music video (July 21, 2016)
- The second domestic and international trailer (July 25, 2016)