Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Perhaps the last, the greatest, and the most complex of all of the Hollywood epics, "Lawrence of Arabia" is David Lean's finest movie and also one of the best character studies available anywhere in cinematic history. It manages to make the desert look appealing, while glorifying the man who may not deserve the center stage. At its center is its titular figure who commands the screen, there is no scene that passes without his presence.
With this focused narrative, Lean's picture still manages to feel spectacular. There is no comparison of its contemporaries for how influential the movie was. "Lawrence of Arabia's" technological advancements seem less flashy in today's CGI obsessed culture, but the sight of a mirage appearing over the horizon as a figure materializes is just as impressive as anything Michael Bay can do. The film's wide scope, the large angles and panoramic views of nature make "Lawrence" breath takingly beautiful, if a little dated.
There's something about the Hollywood epics that make this genre well in the past. No one wants to sit through a four hour movie anymore only to have history rehashed in colorful ways about characters that they may not be familiar with. Then again, those who say that film was catered for the critics are wrong....it was always a popular medium. So what am I trying to say?
This: watch "Lawrence of Arabia" as you would with any movie but expect the old epic style, and expect to be dazzled by it.
For as long as the movie is, there is not a scene wasted, nor a moment that goes by that feels unnecessary. Its plot movies along steadily and it never outstays its welcome. It is a class act in film making and in screen writing.
The movie concerns Lawrence (Peter O'Toole in his breakout role), a young officer who is sent into the deserts of Arabia to simply observe and then report back to headquarters after three months. After just entering the desert, Lawrence falls in love with the landscape and the way of life. He finds himself some measure of peace which he then decides to shatter by invading a neighboring city.
For a character study, you'll find that this film is the most frustrating. If you can successfully write an essay about Lawrence himself that leaves all questions answered, I will be immensely impressed. This is a character that has a moral high-ground rooted in a sense of masochism that frightens him. He is terrified by what he may become and at the end of the movie, we have to ask ourselves if he really did turn into that.
If "Gone With the Wind" was one of the first commercially successful movies that had a antihero at the screaming center of the drama, "Lawrence of Arabia" is the one that defied such easily explainable character quirks. He is ethereal, educated, wily, and emotionally vulnerable.
As such a complicated character would demand, Peter O'Toole is nothing short of perfection. When we look back at Oscar history, it's always this movie that makes me wonder why O'Toole never won an acting Oscar...but I don't make the rules or give out the awards.
Lean's eye for the dramatic and epic do not go to waste here and it serves as a firm reminder that "Lawrence" will always have a place in Academy canon. There has never been a film like it, and it proves that the 60s gave way to amazing technological feats. What starts out in 1962 as a mirage on the edge of the horizon becomes a space opera in 1968 when "2001: A Space Odyssey" is released. The movies keep improving...
The story may be both too simple and too complex to put into words. "Lawrence of Arabia" follows the adventures of a man as he tries to bring freedom to a group of people while maneuvering considerable political red tape.
Is it perfect? Maybe as close as it could have been.
Is it timeless? I think so.
Beyond all of that, it is the perfect platform for one of film's best performances and a definition (now a redefinition) of the idea of "epic".
Posted by Micah Jones