Christian Movie Producer Mark Burnett On Ben Hur And The Forgiveness Of Christ

Mark Burnett, Ben Hur producer, at the LA premiere with his wife Roma Downey (left), who is also a producer on the film, and also the chairman and CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Gary Barber and his wife Nadine Barber.

The Christian producer of the historical epic Ben Hur has described how the Crufixion of Jesus inspired the classic tale of tragedy and forgiveness.

"Ben Hur is a completely unique story and the you have a emotional gut wrenching adventure epic with an underlying story of Jesus and forgiveness," said Mark Burnett, who has worked on other religious titles including Son of God.

The story of Ben Hur and his brother Messala is set historically at the same time as the Crucifixion.

Burnett, British-born head of MGM Television and Digital Group, said: "And Ben Hur witnessing the crucifixion and hearing Jesus forgive those who crucified him. It made him realize, what am I doing?

"What is Messala doing, my own brother? My adopted brother but my own brother? And he goes and they forgive each other as a result of that. It's completely unique."

The film, released in cinemas last year and out today on DVD and for digital download, is the fifth film adaptation of the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ  by Lew Wallace. Burnett said it is arguably the most Christian novel ever written. "It so seamlessly weaves a story of Jesus into this adventure. It's great storytelling, great, inspired storytelling."

The film tells the story of Judah Ben Hur and his brother. One brother ends up being sent to the slave galleys and returning for revenge on the other brother, who was instrumental in him being sent away. He finds out that his mother and sister were sent to a leper colony and had caught leprosy. 

"The worst of the worst," said Burnett. "The chariot race is a combination of this but at the end it becomes a story of forgiveness because it coincides with the crucifixion of Jesus.

"And Jesus's words of forgiving those who are crucifying, father, forgive them they know not what they do."

The film stars Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell, Nazanin Boniadi, Haluk Bilginer and Rodrigo Santoro.

In making the film, he was inspired by the knowledge that his own teenage children had never heard of Ben Hur and its famous chariot race.

"Ben Hur at its essence is a story of pain, of emotional pain. And very cleverly written handwoven and exhibited in the film is physical pain representing emotional pain. There's the physical pain of the aftermath of the chariot race. There is the physical pain seen on the leper that Jesus saves or the leprosy that his mother and sister have.

"And the healing that comes about physically and emotionally as a result of the crucifixion of Jesus. This is astounding. It's hard to know that someone created the story inspired creation through General Lew Wallace his own pain of his life's journey. And probably some of the greatest art in the history of the world comes from a deep place of pain turning the darkness into light.

"And Ben Hur is a movie which has bright lights, very, very dark times and back at the end to light which is what we are all looking for. It comes in one word, hope."

In his 1959 film, William Wyler decided that Christ would be neither heard nor seen.  

Burnett said: "On Ben Hur 2016, we have chosen to show Jesus and have the emotional connection between Ben Hur and Jesus. We've chosen Rodrigo Santoro to play Jesus.

"A fantastic Brazilian actor to portray Jesus. And it really works. You so feel the connection between Jesus and Judah Ben Hur. When they first meet it's when Jesus is doing carpentry. He's working and making some comments to Judah about life, about slavery.

"The next time they meet is when Judah is carrying a wooden cross bar on his way to the slave galleys. So there's a mirror of what's going to happen later because Jesus it's water. The next time you meet the roles are reversed. Jesus is carrying his cross and falls. And Judah tries to give Jesus water. And they end up the final scene is at the crucifixion.

"So the stories are interwoven so well. And Rodrigo Santoro portrays Jesus Christ so beautifully in such a deep, gritty organic way, it just makes a real connection. I watched yesterday a 15 minute segment of this from the movie, already. And it made me cry. It made me cry."

More than 2.5 billion humans on the planet live for Jesus, he said.

"Yet millions died for his message and billions live for his message. It is critical to treat it with reverence, with accuracy and the correct content and emotional outcome. Ben Hur achieves all of those things."