Friday, May 15, 2020

2005.06 Thoughts on Ben Hur

image from tumblr / Ben Hur 1959
My system for writing dates was inspired by Stardates (you Trekkies).  A post title starting with numbers thus indicates a private diary entry from my Notebooks, kept since 1977.  2005.06 translates to May 6, 2020.  It's time for some of my Notebook writings to appear;  I just can't decide whether here or on FaceBook.  Notebook entries are often written by hand in the middle of the night; this one was.
Despite the title  :)  this has nothing to do with horses.
image from pinterest /  Ben Hur 1959
"...for down in that haunted hell even time was lost ---"

This perfect quote comes from Ben Hur -- I think.  Oddly, the next quote that comes to mind is an entire story, Stephen King's novella about a jail break, out of Different Seasons.  Shawshank Rebellion? no, Redemption. ?!!?  Odd because I can't imagine 2 more opposite authors.  Yet they both have had tremendous influence on me...!!  I love them both, and rejoice in the variety of my collection.  :)   
Both the leprosy cell & the jailbreak are the same idea.  And both seem very appropriate right now.  We are in prison.  Like all prisoners we have come to an adaptation, an acceptance of our unnatural situation, and are putting in time.

image from pinterest /  Ben Hur 1959

On Ben Hur.

The book makes it clear that leprosy is very contagious and that there is no cure.  The reason Ben Hur must not find his mother & sister is the danger of infection, and all the consequences thereof.  "How much more painful if he became as we are!"  Yet the movie downplays this fact to the point where it is barely recognizable.  I don't recall hearing any mention of "infection,"  "contagious,"  "danger"  or even "catching"  !!  let alone "mortal"  !!!

As near as I can tell, in the movie Ben Hur's chief danger in visiting the lepers is seeing ugly people -- !!!!!! 
image from pinterest  /  Ben Hur 1959

Did Wyler (the director) think such distinctions too subtle to portray?  Did he believe leprosy could be cured, & therefore was not to be feared?  He tried hard to portray a noble & self-sacrificing woman, Esther, but again her chief danger appears to be witnessing disfiguration!!!!!   The actuality of polluted clothes, of a contagious environment, is shown only through the food-lowering device scene.   So much main action & emotion centers around merely seeing the lepers.  Touching them is (to me) [portrayed as] very casual.  I am left w/ the message that if you can bear to look upon a disfigured face, you are a noble Christian woman of great sainthood !!!!!

What a chance for the lesson of contagion -- passed up, passed by, turned down, left untouched.  It must have been too much for him.

Several days later.
I recall now the mother's efforts to escape from Esther and Ben Hur.  These were legitimate acknowledgements of the contagious nature of her disease.  But her weakness betrays her; she can't get away, and he touches her.
Esther's goodness and Ben Hur's stoicism are apparently enough to justify their sacrifice and gamble that Christ will heal them -- something the audience knows, but which they themselves could hardly count on.

In the book it is only Amrah, the old servant, who thus risks her life by going to be with (touching) the lepers.  Originally I was going to comment on Amrah's uneducated status and how she is guided and ruled solely and entirely by her feelings of the moment -- something so common today.  Then I recall I'm currently suffering a bad injury from having been guided and ruled solely by my own feelings of the moment.  Humans are such reactive creatures.

One of the most poignant and memorable scenes in the book, where the mother expresses her love of Ben Hur by kissing the sole of his sandal while he lies asleep, is completely missing in the movie.
But I understood her perfectly.

Whoever heals us will be as God.


  1. Interesting reflections. I admit, I only watched Ben Hur for the horses!

  2. Carrie Sloan MeyerJuly 6, 2020 at 10:31 AM

    I remember my mom making me see Ben Hur as a kid- I remember the horses and the lepers- the lepers scared me- for weeks I thought my fingers would just fall off. LOL