Australian Council on Children and the Media

Ben-Hur

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Not recommended under 15 due to intense violence and disturbing scenes.

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Ben-Hur
  • a review of Ben-Hur completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 3 September 2016.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 15 Not recommended due to intense violence and disturbing scenes.
Children aged 15 and over OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Ben-Hur
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Mature themes and violence
Length 123 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

The film opens with a scene of a Roman circus arena in Jerusalem and two men 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 film 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 Jewish, Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and the other is his adopted brother a Roman, Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell).

Dispirited 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 and 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 then 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 and race against Messala in the arena where there are no rules and where the two brothers are intent on destroying each other

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

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

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

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

  • In the film’s opening scene we hear a monologue describing the Roman Empire as being nourished by blood and secured by fear, holding games so that spectators can watch as others suffer.
  • The film contains several flashback scenes of battles between soldiers wielding swords, and spears. We see lots of sword stabbing, slashing and hacking as well as soldiers bashing each other with shields. In one scene we see a battle axe wielding assailant standing over an enemy soldier with his axe raise above his head but before he can bring his axe down, he is run through with a sword.
  • Scenes of galley slaves below deck being whipped and kicked by guards, A slave who dies is dragged away and replaced by another.
  • There is an intense naval battle during which terrified screaming slaves, who are chained together, 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, chained together are thrown into the water and 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 film’s most intense scenes involve chariot racing during which both horses and men are injured as chariots are driven recklessly around the arena.  During the race, a team of horse crashes into the stadium, break free and then leap 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 and the man gets caught underneath the chariot and is dragged along until he lets go and the chariot drives over him. A charioteer is shown lying 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 has a crown made from thorns place on his head. Jesus collapses falls down and, after being refused water by guards, 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 we see blood streaming down the wooden cross.    

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

Much of this film is likely to disturb children under five. In addition to the violent scenes described above, examples of disturbing scenes include:

  • A man uses a knife to perform surgery on a wounded man’s arm. We do not see the actual surgery performed, but the man, in blood covered fingers, holds up something that he has removed from the wounded man’s arm. He then heats a knife in flames and then uses it to cauterise the wound; we do not see the actual cauterisation but hear sizzling and the muffled screams of the injured man.
  • A man talks about how he watched Romans drag his son through the streets and then slit his throat like a pig. 
  • Injured and dead horses lying on the ground 

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the scenes described above

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the scenes described above

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Younger children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the scenes described above

Product placement

Nothing of concern

Sexual references

The film contains occasional mild sexual references. Examples include:

  • A man asks a woman to dance with him at a celebration but the woman tells the man that it is not 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 implies in jest to another soldier “She wants you,” and we hear other soldiers sniggering and cheering. The soldier argues with the woman (his sister) and then tells the other soldier “She’s asking too much” implying in jest that the woman was a prostitute.  

Nudity and sexual activity

  • Kissing and embracing
  • A married couple seen in bed

Use of substances

  • A couple of scenes depict celebrations where we see guests holding drinks.  One party-goer appears to be drunk and is later seen draped, either asleep or unconscious, over a table.

Coarse language

None of concern

In a nutshell

Ben Hur is a remake of the 1956 classic and may appeal to those who like action adventure films. It may attract young teens, but there are many intense violent and disturbing scenes so the film is not recommended for viewers under 15.

The main messages from this movie are that:

  • hatred and revenge are damaging to both sides
  • compassion, forgiveness and understanding lead to hope and promise.

Parents may wish to discuss the historical background to the film, the nature of the Roman Empire and Jesus as a historical figure.  

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