David Lean is a master of the “epic” genre of cinema. He has three huge pictures under his belt and each one of them was nominated for a plethora of Oscars and each one won several. These films are “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Bridge on the River Kwai”, and “Doctor Zhivago”.
“Zhivago” is set in the times of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. My first impression of the frozen land was that Lean must have really hated filming in the desert, (his previous big picture was “Lawrence of Arabia”) and moved to the icy scape of Russia. But what I didn’t realize was how similar the desert and the arctic are in filming. The ever shifting snow is reminiscent of the sands that blow over the landscape in “Lawrence”.
Unfortunately, I was making comparisons with the two movies all throughout “Zhivago”.
Zhivago is a good man, he’s got such an innocent face that it’s hard to believe that he’d do anything wrong. Played by Omar Shariff, Zhivago is a man who can’t really decide what he wants to do in life. He wants to just live it to its fullest. Then comes the war and then the revolution. Here, Lean is the best at making these scenes work. There’s nothing quite as exciting as watching the huge camera angles soak in a battle scene. No one can do it like Lean can.
So Zhivago gets married and has a kid and meets up with Lara, who is played by Julie Christie in an iconic role. Lara is the anti-Zhivago. She doesn’t always stand up for what she believes in, if it’ll hurt her and she’s on the opposite side of the social class.
But don’t mistake Lara, she’s got guts and she won’t be walked over. Don’t cross this lady.
The first third of the movie seems to be a contrast between the high class and the low class with rebellion scenes that are strikingly familiar to that from “V for Vendetta”. The second third of the film is more romantic, shots of flowers and Maurice Jarre’s incredible score swells in the background. The last third is the true last act of a play. It concludes everything so nicely and leaves everything wrapped in a very satisfying ending.
This films sees Alec Guiness playing Yevgraf—his character begins and ends the film.
Guiness oozed charm and confidence as this military character. He can snap his fingers and clear a room.
Guiness as with Shariff, were both in “Lawrence of Arabia” but what “Zhivago” lacks that “Lawrence” had is utterly simple to name: Peter O’Toole.
You can’t beat the man when it comes to best lead actors. He is flawless and a delight to watch. Shariff is a step backwards.
Yes, “Zhivago” isn’t as exciting as “Lawrence”. Yes, Shariff isn’t a good as O’Toole. But that doesn’t stop Lean from making a thoroughly stunning picture that has stood the test of time. It really is something else.
It’s political, romantic, edgy in parts, and above all a staggering achievement in film.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars