A love caught in the fire of revolution
A couple of weeks ago on the Weekend Open Thread there was a some discussion in regards to David Lean’s film Doctor Zhivago. I had briefly touched upon the movie on my post on David Lean a few couple of months ago but given the interest in the film, it is probably due it’s own review and discussion.
Released back in 1965, Doctor Zhivago was David Lean’s follow-up film to his magnificent masterpiece Lawrence Of Arabia. What Lean, and his cinematographer Freddie Young could do with sand they would do now with snow.
Based on the best-selling 1957 novel by Boris Pasternak which I have to admit I have not managed to read all the way through. I’ve tried but Pasternak frequently introduces a character by one of his/her three names, then subsequently refers to that character by another of the three names or a nickname, without expressly stating that he is referring to the same character. It just proved too much for me, but I am reliably informed that the film is relatively faithful to the novel.
The story is set in Russia during and post World War I where a narrative framing device set in the late 1940s or early 1950s, involves Zhivago’s half-brother, now a general, searching for the daughter of Zhivago and Lara where he believes a young woman may be his niece and where he tells her the story of her father’s life.
Omar Sharif plays the title role, a married physician and poet whose life is irretrievably changed by the Russian Revolution whilst falling in love with another woman, Lara Antipov played by Julie Christie.
interestingly Lean’s first choice for Zhivago was Peter O’Toole who turned the role down. Now O’Toole is my all-time favourite actor of but he wouldn’t have been right in the role. There’s an intensity, an almost manic aura with O’Toole which is not how I envisaged Zhivago. Omar Sharif was perfectly cast after he had initially sought the role of Pasha Antipov (Strelnikov).
Also Julie Christie was not the first choice for Lara. Producer Carlo Ponti wanted the role for his wife Sophia Loren but Lean persuaded him that Loren wouldn’t have been convincing playing Lara as a virgin early in the film !
Assembling most of the crew from Lawrence, including screenwriter Robert Bolt, production designer John Box and composer Maurice Jarre; the film was mostly shot in Spain and the production looks throughly authentic, as we see in the following clip, depicting the snow covered streets of Moscow.
When released the film went onto to become the 2nd highest grossing film of the year (behind The Sound Of Music) and is in the top 10 highest-grossing films of all-time adjusted for inflation. The public fell in love with the film although critical reaction was somewhat mixed, as if, they resented Lean’s success and ability to make both a popular and thought provoking dramatic film.
Critics have complained that Lean had romanticised the drama over the politics of the Russian Revolution, which I have always totally disagreed with.
Lean was always a subtle film-maker and there are many touches and scenes where he under-scores the conflict between the human condition and the devastating impact of socialism/communism that was imposed upon them.
No scene better demonstrates this when Zhivago, on his way to Varykino in the Urals, is caught and is interrogated by Strelnikov. The dialogue exchange between the two is striking and is superbly acted by both Sharif and Tom Courtenay as Strelnikov.
One of the things that also strikes me with the film is that Zhivago’ wife, Tonya, is not an unsympathetic shrew but a likeable and strong woman. Yet despite that, I am always hoping against hope that Yuri and Lara can find lasting happiness but knowing that ultimately their love affair would end with their parting, which we see in the desperation of Yuri in trying to get his final glimpses of Lara as she rides off into the distance.
Nearly 60 years after it was first released and at just over 3 hours long, Doctor Zhivago is not only one of cinema’s great epic historical romantic dramas it is also, IMO, the best cinematic depiction of the Russian Revolution, a seismic event which caused untold misery, suffering and death to tens of millions of Russians.
Doctor Zhivago sits amongst one of my favourite 50 films of all-time.
and the tease for next weeks post . . . A nation awaits its . . .
26 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #57”
Love this movie…and Sir Ralph Richardson’s incredulous, “They’ve shot the Czar!”.
And the tease…the birthplace of a thousand spoofs! Excellent!
Wonderful movie. As mesmerizing now as when I first saw it over thirty years ago. Interesting tidbit, I was watching a film recently on World Movies. I thought I recognised the actor who portrayed an old revolutionary but did not know who it was until the credits. Tom Courtenay. He has been around a long time. Excellent character actor. The film was Night Train to Lisbon. I recommend it.
Wolfman, while you are on a roll with David Lean, how about a look at Ryan’s Daughter? Another of my all time faves. You have such a great way of describing films. I can’t decide between you and CBD over at Ace, so you are both number one.
“The Private Life is Dead.”
This comment is completely unreconstructed … by golly and gosh !
Zhivago is memorable for the developed theme of growing, then overwhelming, sexual attraction inextricably bound with the clear, brightly burning, clean passion of romance. Sharif and Christie playing this out across the snowy wastes of Siberia were perfectly cast.
A middle-aged lady of my aquaintance once remarked that she had a good family life, unremarked perhaps, but contented enough – and then one day completely unexpectedly into her life walked Heathcliff. Boom !
Similarly for men … when without warning in walks Lara.
No flies on you calli.
Pogria – might be a few months before I review Ryan’s Daughter. I haven’t seen it for years so I’ll need to re-visit it again.
I can wait!
As most of you know, I watched Dr Zhivago again only a month ago. There are some films I like to watch every year or two, Dr Zhivago, The Wizard of Oz, The Searchers, The Great Escape, and Rear Window are perhaps my favourite films of all time.
Every time I watch Zhivago, I’m reminded at how utterly majestic, haunting, romantic and chilling the film remains. It’s lost nothing in the decades since it was made and if anything, given the woke revolutionary times we’re living in (and make no mistake, we are living in revolutionary times), the film provides us with a clear window as to just how catastrophic revolutions and totalitarian ideology is on societies and in particular the individual, on the family and the soul. I received a portent of this last Thursday, outside St Mary’s Cathedral, make no mistake, the left are on the march and they will use violence and intimidation to achieve their goals.
“the best cinematic depiction of the Russian Revolution, a seismic event which caused untold misery, suffering and death to tens of millions of Russians.”
Correct, there is no better film that captures the chaos that ensued after the Bolsheviks seized power. Russian society fractured and broke down completely, families were destroyed, mothers and fathers lost children, children were abandoned, children roamed the country in gangs, people starved, privacy and intimacy was destroyed, the individual was crushed. Totalitarianism, in any of its guises, is a war against the individual and the private life which is why the scene between Zhivago and Strelnikov remains utterly chilling. The story of Zhivago and Lara’s love child being lost amidst the endless chaos and violence is exactly what happened, in Russia, in China and everywhere that’s been subjected to totalitarianism, be it Nazism or Communism.
One of those films I have never seen through, and never formed a view about it. But the theme is beautiful.
Up until about two years ago, Casa Blanca fitted the same category, but I got to watch it, uninterrupted on a quiet covid Saturday afternoon, and discovered one of the most magnificently crafted movies I have ever seen.
The doctor is going on my MUST WATCH list. it may be nice to discover something else 60 years later
A nation awaits its …
Hmm. Bequest To The Nation?
Similarly for men … when without warning in walks Lara.
There aren’t that many Julie Christies around, and since that type are “dag magnets” (they have to fight the on-the-make men off with any blunt weapon they can lay their hands on) I really don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of having that happen.
My brother-in-law’s mother is White Russian. She was born in Konigsberg in 1937 to White Russian emigres. Like other aristocrats, they’d fled fled Russia in 1919 as the Red Terror was ramping up and disappearing people, mainly clerics, the middle class and aristocrats. Between the two world wars, European countries such as the Baltic States, Finland, Denmark, Germany and France, were havens for White Russians and thus over a million restless and impoverished White Russian emigres roamed across Europe, like gypsies. My bil’s mother’s first language, until she came to Australia in the late 1940s as a young child, was Russian. She still speaks Russian however her children had no desire to learn the language. She only returned to Russia in 1998, when she travelled to Moscow, St Petersburg and Novgorod. She found her family’s former home in Petersburg. It was only then she felt safe to return, almost eighty years after the revolution. In late 1944 and early 1945, as the Soviets were approaching the Baltic States and what was then “East Prussia”, she and her mother fled west, because her mother was terrified of the Soviets, and because she knew that one of the first things the Red Army would do on arrival was to hunt down White Russians, who were sent packing back to the Soviet Union, to die in gulags.
My bil’s mother’s mother had lived with her parents in a mansion in Petrograd/St Petersburg which was, like all private property, requisitioned by the new Bolshevik government. As Dr Zhivago shows, her family were then made to share their homes with other families. It was dismal. Privacy and intimacy was eliminated, destroyed. My bil’s mother’s father lapsed into a severe depression and committed suicide in the house in early 1919. After that, the rest of the family fled west, first to Finland.
Looks like I’m going to be the sole dissenter here…
I could never suspend disbelief with this film.
Visually stunning, yes (too much, perhaps?), but it trivialises the novel’s themes and the revolution and its aftermath simply becomes background for a love story.
It’s also worth noting that the soundtrack, by Maurice Jarre, is superb.
The album sold very well indeed and Lara’s Theme (Somewhere My Love) was a huge hit all over the world as a single.
Lean certainly had a knack for putting a good team together – and all movies are ultimately about teamwork.
I love the movie but love Pasternak’s book even more. I reread it every so often; my original battered paperback edition. It does have a list of personages at the front, with their various names so it is easy to check who is who.
The movie is visually stunning but a couple of things about it grate. How does Tonya manage to remain so clean and fresh on the long train journey?! Secondly, the end of the story is markedly changed (it made it neater I suppose). Zhivago actually took up with another woman, with whom he had further children.
Another favourite book of mine is Zorba the Greek. Once again the movie is good, with marvellous music by Mikis Theodorakis, but the story has been much abbreviated and changed in places.
Yes there’s a few scenes showing Zhivago sharing his house with other families – of greater concern was the petty tyranny of the Soviet commissars who kept on saying “it is noted” in regards to any perceived transgression Zhivago and his family may have made.
We have seen this in our country only just recently with the Karens of this world and their finger-wagging and dobbing in of people not conforming to the govt. COVID infantile dictates.
Good to hear Boxcar.
I will do a review of that all-time classic Casablanca one day.
Cassie at 10:13
One of my favs, along with 23 Paces to Baker Street. Saw them both in my teens.
Wolfman, thanks for a great summary and assessment – thoroughly agree.
In one of my alternative careers I taught Modern History to Year 11/12s. One of the six-month themes was “Revolution” and I usually chose the Russian one. I used Dr Zhivago as an introduction. The method was to watch 30 minutes or so, and then stop the film, and have the students write down my dictated notes.
It seemed to work as an instructional technique, and several commented later they had learnt a lot about the world in the 20th century as a whole from it.
Indeed – a scene from the Death of Stalin when the pressing of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 is finally delivered to Comrade Stalin’s quarters – Commissar to Director Andreyev, “the delay has been logged … note the time”, shortly before the legendary put down of the Commissar from Uncle Joe himself …
Ah which is the greater love. Love in a desolate place you don’t need anything but eachother. And the ending.
SympAthies to Tonya – what she had to live with, but still loved the doctor
Downfall- The nation awaits
Between the two world wars, European countries such as the Baltic States, Finland, Denmark, Germany and France, were havens for White Russians and thus over a million restless and impoverished White Russian emigres roamed across Europe, like gypsies.
I have a cousin who married into a White Russian family with a famous Russian name. The father fled the USSR and landed in Germany. There, he met a German girl and married. Their two boys were born there in the 1940s. Subsequently, the family migrated to Australia. My cousin’s mother-in-law recently passed on, at the age of 102.
Another great selection, Wolfie. There’s nothing imperfect about this film. It’s big screen stuff – big story, big direction, big acting, big landscapes, big music, big everything. Julie Christie is sublime as Lara. But, on Geraldine Chaplin, Lean’s direction ensures that Tonya, too, is a sympathetic character without rancour. Probably that’s because the revolution is the real baddie. Separating, destroying, and wrecking everything that stands before it, including Yuri.
Calli pointing to Strelnikov’s assertion that the private life is dead succinctly explains all that is the movie, Dr Zhivago.
I also will dissent. The movie isn’t exactly faithful to Pasternak’s book. (However, David Lean’s movie is better than Pasternak’s book)
The other two (longer) versions made since Lean’s may adhere more to Pasternak’s characterisations. (the debate could rage for ages) However they’re bland alongside David Lean’s first class cinematic work.
Lean’s Doctor Zhivago is my favourite movie & has been so for many years. I’ve obtained on DVD (coz dvd = is forever) every version ever made into motion picture, have what is reputedly the better translation of the book on my office shelf, plus the Lara poems – which were (apparently) really really difficult to faithfully translate from Russian into English.
For quite some time “Dr Zhivago” was a spoken password used by me (i.e. with Telstra & others who make you quote a “password” before they’ll speak to you)
About half the time I had to spell it for Kath/Kim at the call centre, who believed there was a misprint & (no “zh” in English y’see) and my ‘codeword’ was invalid.
The other half the time I’d be asked what “Dr Zhivago” meant & why had I made up such a weird sounding password & not used an actual word or phrase?
Occasionally, very occasionally, there’d be someone who recognised it. (Usually an Anglo-saxon male.)
A quite brilliant film along with the music score. Superb acting and the scenery is ‘out of this World’.
“The other half the time I’d be asked what “Dr Zhivago” meant & why had I made up such a weird sounding password & not used an actual word or phrase?
Occasionally, very occasionally, there’d be someone who recognised it. (Usually an Anglo-saxon male.)”
I once had a black cat I named Satchmo. Only one person, an old one, new what it meant. sigh…..
Great cat, had him for seventeen years.
Knew!, sheesh, that’s the first time I’ve spelt it wrongly.