Ben-Hur (1959)

Movie: Directed by William Wyler.

Inciting Event: Roman soldier Messala comes to Jerusalem to make a name for himself and further his career ambitions of returning to Rome. Asks boyhood friend, Judah Ben-Hur, for help with rebels. Judah won’t go against his people.

First Plot Point: Roof tiles off Judah’s house fall on the new Roman governor during a parade. Messala arrests Judah, his mother, and sister. He admits to Judah that he knows it was an accident, but that he’s going to use the incident and punishment as a caution to others not to rebel against Rome. Judah and his family are imprisoned, ending the Normal World—boyhood friend is now enemy and no more nobleman’s life for Judah or his family. Judah is consigned to the galleys and hits a low point when he’s denied water on the forced march to the sea. Jesus intercedes, giving Judah water and the will to live.

First Pinch Point: The ship is Judah assigned to gets a new commander. When the two men first meet, the new commander pushes Judah hard to test his strength of character. Soon after, the commander calls for Judah to be presented to him at the end of his shift. The commander is asleep and easily could have been overpowered; he asks Judah why he didn’t try, again gauging his character. Judah survives being tested by Roman authority, laying the foundation for the turning point.

Midpoint: Judah’s ship is attacked and sunk in battle. Judah saves the life of his ship’s commander. When they’re rescued, it’s revealed Rome won the battle and the commander, who’d tried to drown himself in shame, was named a hero. The commander, who is also a Consul of Rome, is awarded Judah as tribute for the victory. The consul adopts Judah as his son, making Judah a high-ranking citizen of Rome. Judah is no longer a puppet reacting to others’ power; he’s free, with power and agency of his own. He leaves Rome for Jerusalem to find his mother and sister.

Second Pinch Point: Judah confronts Messala, demanding to have his mother and sister restored to their patrician life. When they’re located in the prison dungeon, they have contracted leprosy, and Messala exiles them to a leper colony. Judah is told they’re dead.

Third Plot Point: Judah and a local sheik plan a final showdown—humiliation and death—between Judah and Messala in the Circus chariot race.

Climax: Messala is defeated in the  race and dies from his injuries, but not before he tells Judah the truth about Judah’s mother and sister.

Climactic Moment: Judah feels he has nothing left to live for—he’s eaten up with hate and revenge, his family is gone, Rome is destroying his country and people. He’s so full of hatred toward Rome, he gives up his Roman citizenship. Since he has nothing to lose, he risks contagion to fetch his mother and sister from the leper colony and take them to hear Jesus speak, but arrives to witness the Crucifixion. Judah is able to offer Jesus water and share a moment of recognition.

Resolution: The encounter with Jesus heals Judah’s heart, the family’s leprosy, and Judah’s broken relationship with the woman he loves. Love and hope replace hatred and despair.

(Submitted by Teddy Hester.)

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