"Can a man live without honor?"
This is a question without meaning to our nation's intellectual class, to whom all is conditional, and their only eternal truth is that there are no eternal truths.
Yet it's a question which obsesses "El Cid"'s hero, Rodrigo, played by Charlton Heston. Moderate though he is, he's no less a warrior, no less imbued with the knight's code, than the two Spanish champions he kills. The first, his lover Chimene's father, is a rigid ideologue. The second, Don Martin, is a professional killer. Neither is capable of a strategic vision of Spain. They are the two strongest men in Christian Spain, yet are inadequate to face the threat of Ben Yussuf.
The young king, Alfonso, has neither vision nor strength. There are three main storylines to "El Cid." One is the battle for Spain between Christians and Moors. The second is the love story of Rodrigo and Chimene, which isn't much about love when all is said and done, but something more. The third storyline is the education of a king, who begins the movie as a weak and neurotic prince, but by the end is able to credibly speak the film's final powerful sentence.
Setting the storylines into action is Ben Yussuf, who is fully Bin Laden's "strong horse"; for whom all questions of strength and weakness have been resolved. He holds Spanish Moors in more contempt than he does the barbaric Christians he's come to conquer. An example of the movie's use of strong contrasts is when Ben Yussuf barges into the sybaritic salon of the soft Moorish prince who holds Valencia. Yussuf's eyes express all.
Underlying all the action in the film is the contrast of strength and weakness. The ultimate attraction between Rodrigo and Chimene is because they're the two strongest individuals within Christian Spain. As much as Chimene hates him, he's the only man who can live up to her image of her uber-strong father. Other men-- especially Alfonso-- she holds in contempt.
Which brings us to the film's love story. . . .