Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every Friday, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.
The (Very) Long Stare: Ben-Hur
Director William Wyler pushed the sword & sandal/Biblical epic to new extremes with this 1959 opus, which ties with Titanic and The Return of the King for most Acadamy Award wins in history. The film stars Charlton Heston as the title character, a Jewish prince living under Roman rule in the first century. Judah Ben-Hur has just about all the comforts he could want until he runs afoul of his childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd), who–for reasons never expressly said–turns on Judah, stripping his family of wealth and condemning him to servitude. Several years pass, and Judah plots to avenge his family name first as a soldier, and later, as a charioteer. His rising celebrity brings Judah back into conflict with Messala, as well as the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Ben-Hur begins to have a religious awakening thanks to his interaction with the preacher Jesus of Nazareth, as he squares off against Messala in one final chariot race.
So where’s the gay, you ask? The late, great Gore Vidal penned the script to Ben-Hur, and in the 1990s revealed that he’s written the Judah/Messala relationship to have overt homosexual overtones. In Vidal’s backstory, the pair had been gay lovers as teens. When they reconnect years later, Judah spurns Messala’s advances, prompting the latter’s petty dismantling of Judah’s life and family. Star Charlton Heston always denied Vidal’s story, though William Wyler’s direction and Stephen Boyd’s performance certainly suggest a gay affair between the two characters. Contemporary writings from other production personnel would seem to confirm Vidal’s version of the story: Judah jilted his ex-boyfriend Messala.
In other words, Ben-Hur is a Christian epic that also happens to be gay AF.
We’re sure here for it. Besides the gayness, Ben-Hur offers much more to enjoy, including terrific performances by Heston (who won an Oscar), Boyd, and Hugh Griffith (who also won an Oscar), heart-pounding action in the chariot scenes, and some of the lushest production designs Hollywood ever created. In a medium known for ambitious epics, Ben-Hur ranks among the finest ever produced.
Normally we recommend a series as part of our Weekend Binge feature, but at over three and a half hours long, Ben-Hur is a binge unto itself. We recommend it as a way to celebrate Easter, queer style…at least until someone makes a movie where Jesus is actually gay. Nobody has adapted Terrence McNally’s “gay Jesus” play Corpus Christi yet! We’re just saying…
Streams on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube & VUDU.