Title: Lawrence of Arabia
Release Date: 10 December, 1962
Oscar Ceremony: 8 April, 1963
Director: David Lean
Starring: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn & Omar Sharif
Nominees: The Longest Day, The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty, To Kill a Mockingbird
“Truly, for some men nothing is written unless THEY write it.” – Sherif Ali
Another epic! I didn’t think it was possible, but Lawrence of Arabia was even longer than Ben-Hur. Thankfully though, it was nowhere near as painful to sit through. I honestly did not expect to like it, but somehow it ended up being totally fine. Same goes for the director’s other film I recently watched, The Bridge on the River Kwai. Maybe David Lean has special powers, because whatever he’s doing, it’s working.
The movie opens in 1935 with the death of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole). At his funeral, a reporter tries to gain more insight into his life, but gets conflicting reports from various guests. The story then takes a leap back in time when Lawrence was but a young British Army lieutenant in WW, and lets the viewers follow his exploits firsthand. Initially, he’s mostly regarded as insolent and insubordinate, but well-educated. The head of the Arab bureau suggests that he be sent on a mission to Arabia to find Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness), try to acquire his support, and serve as a liaison between the British and the Arabs. He is also asked to the look into the progress of the Arab Revolt against Constantinople (Turkey) and to report back on the strength of the Arab tribes for the British Political Bureau. Not really knowing exactly what he’s getting himself into, Lawrence accepts mainly because he’s bored and wants a big adventure in the desert. You picked a good one, British Army.
Lucky for me, Julian had a few things to say about the movie. He probably understood it better than me anyways, so why not let him review it himself? Here goes.
Lawrence of Arabia is a movie of 2 parts. The first, everything I wanted it to be: beautiful desert scenery, compelling characters, and a captivating storyline that draws you in to rooting for this unlikely and slightly odd hero, Lawrence. I’m a big fan of adventure movies, and part 1 sets Lawrence of Arabia up to be just that: the man that rallies the Arabic tribes against all odds to help defeat the Turks. At this point we are given some hints that Lawrence might not be as steadfast a hero as we want him to be, but those little bits of foreshadowing are easily forgotten next to his grit and bravery. As an added layer you also have the beautiful and iconic score, which would make the movie worth watching all on its own.
The second part, on the other hand, makes a break of “Lawrence the Hero” to focus more and more on Lawrence’s emotional state, as the war starts to take its toll on his sanity and he struggles to cope with the atrocities that he has witnessed, committed and suffered. And while I could easily appreciate what Lean was trying to accomplish in part 2, it really didn’t draw me in in the same way that part 1 did. The magic was gone, and in its place we were given turmoil and confusion. Instead of seeing Lawrence become progressively more disenchanted, we see him jump back in forth between complete opposite states of grief and love for the war. Feeling truly empathetic towards Lawrence is made difficult by the back and forth, and although I am to understand that it is done this way to show how troubled Lawrence is, I think that I would have enjoyed part 2 more if I could have understood Lawrence a bit better. Overall, despite my nitpicking, I do believe Lawrence of Arabia is a great movie. It is grand, it is beautiful and it’s a war movie unlike any other that I’ve seen, which gives it an A in my book.
Julian and I are often on the same wavelength, and our opinion of this movie is no exception. As a result, I don’t really have much to add. I think he might have liked it a bit more than me because I didn’t really care that much about the actual story; it got a bit too boringly complex for my liking. My knowledge of WW1 is also quite limited, so I didn’t manage to get very invested. I still found it really interesting that T.E. Lawrence was a real person and was pretty much the man he is portrayed to be here. Movies are always a bit more impressive when you think about the fact that the events they portray actually occurred in real life.
One element that really stood out to me was the cinematography. It truly made it all worth it in the end. So many of the shots were straight out of a painting… it was surreal. As opposed to many of the films I’ve seen for this project so far, this one was actually filmed on location and not on a set. That’s a BIG plus and you can really tell the difference. I also got to watch it on Blu-ray in super high definition. Gorgeous.
In the end, while this movie might not necessarily be my cup of tea, it was quite a unique experience to figure out such a complex protagonist. Even after you finish watching it, Lawrence still remains somewhat of an enigma not just to us viewers, but to many members of his entourage and country as well. As I pointed out at the start of my review, one of the characters in the movie says: “Truly, for some men nothing is written unless THEY write it.” Indeed, Lawrence was one of those people who unapologetically took control of his destiny, and the vast desert of Arabia was the canvas on which he painted his persona.