Story

Ben-Hur opens with a scene of a Roman circus arena in Jerusalem. Two men are standing on the back of chariots. One man looks at the other and says, ‘You should have killed me’. The second man says, ‘I will’. The story then jumps to eight years earlier, where we see the same two men on horseback, racing each other across the desert. One of the men is Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), who is Jewish. The other is his adopted brother, Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell), who is Roman.

Disillusioned with his life as Judah’s adopted brother, Messala decides to make his own way in the world and joins the Roman army. After fighting in various wars for the next three years, Messala rises through the ranks to become a tribune. He returns to Jerusalem escorting the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

After an attempt to assassinate Pontius Pilate, Judah Ben-Hur and his family are wrongly accused and imprisoned. Judah is betrayed by Messala, who sentences Judah to be a galley slave for the rest of his life. Judah spends the next five years as a slave chained to a war galley until one day the ship sinks and Judah is the only survivor.

After being washed up on beach, Judah is found by Sheik IIderim (Morgan Freeman), who befriends him. IIderim has a passion for horse and chariot racing, and wants to race his horses in Jerusalem. After hearing that Messala is now a champion chariot racer, Judah decides to drive IIderim’s chariot, so he can race against Messala in the arena where there are no rules and where the two brothers are intent on destroying each other. 

Themes

Family relationships and rivalry; religion; the Roman Empire; blood sports; executions including crucifixion; war

Violence

Ben-Hur contains scenes of intense action violence, blood sports, cruelty and executions, including crucifixion. For example:

  • In the movie’s opening scene there’s a monologue describing the Roman Empire as nourished by blood and secured by fear, holding games so that spectators can watch as others suffer.
  • The move has several flashback scenes of battles between soldiers with swords and spears. These scenes show the soldiers stabbing, slashing, hacking and bashing each other. In one scene a battle axe-wielding assailant stands over an enemy soldier with his axe raised above the man’s head. Before he can bring the axe down, he’s run through with a sword.
  • Ship scenes show guards whipping and kicking galley slaves below deck. A slave who dies is dragged away and replaced by another.
  • There is an intense naval battle during which terrified, screaming chained slaves are thrown around below deck as flaming arrows hit the ship. One man is hit in the back and dies in flames. The sea water is red with blood. Slaves are thrown into the water to drown.
  • Thousands of soldiers march into a city. A man standing on a rooftop with a bow and arrow takes aim and fires his arrow at the army’s leader. The arrow misses the leader and shoots a soldier through the neck. The soldier falls to the ground and dies, and a bloody neck wound is visible.
  • The movie’s most intense scenes involve chariot racing. In these scenes both horses and men are injured as chariots drive recklessly around the arena. During a race, a team of horse crashes into the stadium, breaks free and leaps into the crowd in a state of panic. Charioteers whip each other and a man drives his chariot into a man standing on the race track. The man gets caught underneath the chariot and is dragged along until he lets go and the chariot drives over him. A charioteer lies on a stretcher, missing one of his legs and covered in bloody cuts and scrapes.
  • A man lies on the ground surrounded by dozens of people who are all shouting and hurling rocks at him. Rocks hit the man in the head and body and we see bloody cuts.
  • There are violent scenes of the crucifixion of Jesus. One scene shows Jesus being forced by Roman soldiers to carry a heavy wooden cross over his shoulders. He has bloody cuts and scratches covering his feet and face and wears a crown made from thorns on his head. Jesus collapses and, after guards refuse him water, struggles back up. In a later scene Jesus and two other men hang from wooden crosses. They have bloody cuts to their faces, body, arms and legs. Jesus dies and is speared in the side by one of the guards. The sky becomes dark, rain pours down and blood streams down the wooden cross.

Content that may disturb children

Under 8
Most of Ben-Hur is likely to disturb children under eight years. In addition to the violent scenes described above, examples of disturbing scenes include the following:

  • A man uses a knife to perform surgery on a wounded man’s arm. The scene doesn’t show the actual surgery, but in his blood-covered fingers, the man holds up something that he has removed from the wounded man’s arm. He heats a knife in flames and uses it to cauterise the wound. There is the sound of sizzling and the muffled screams of the injured man.
  • A man talks about how he watched Romans drag his son through the streets and slit his throat like a pig.
  • Injured and dead horses lie on the ground.

From 8-13
Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the violent and disturbing scenes described above.

Over 13
Younger children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the violent and disturbing scenes described above.

Sexual references

Ben-Hur has occasional mild sexual references. For example:

  • A man asks a woman to dance with him at a celebration, but the woman tells the man that it isn’t allowed. The man tells the woman that it would give people something to talk about.
  • An older woman tells a younger woman that she spends too much idle time with a young man.
  • A man talks about a woman’s father finding her a wealthy Roman to marry.
  • A soldier jokes to another soldier, ‘She wants you’. Other soldiers snigger and cheer. The soldier argues with the woman (his sister) and then tells the other soldier, ‘She’s asking too much’, jokingly implying that the woman is a prostitute. 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

Ben-Hur shows some use of substances. For example, a couple of scenes show celebrations where guests hold drinks. One party-goer seems to be drunk and is later seen draped, either asleep or unconscious, over a table. 

Nudity and sexual activity

Ben-Hur has some nudity and sexual activity. For example:

  • Characters kiss and embrace.
  • A married couple are seen in bed.

Product placement

None of concern

Coarse language

None of concern

Ideas to discuss with your children

Ben-Hur is a remake of the 1956 classic and might appeal to those who like action adventure movies. It might also attract young teenagers, but there are many intense violent and disturbing scenes so we don’t recommend it for viewers under 15 years.

These are the main messages from Ben-Hur:

  • Hatred and revenge are damaging to everyone.
  • Compassion, forgiveness and understanding lead to hope and promise.

You could talk with your children about the movie’s historical background, the nature of the Roman Empire and Jesus as a historical figure.