Skip to main content

Movie Review: David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962)



Last week, I received the awesome privilege of being able to watch Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen at a local theater. And yes, it makes a difference. You can actually see the grains of sand blowing around the Nefud desert. You feel the sun burning down as Lawrence rides through the scorching Devil's Anvil. And more than once, you see those blue penetrating eyes staring straight into your heart and know how a skinny, white British soldier inspired the Arab people to break free (for a short while) from colonial imperialism.

If you haven't seen Lawrence of Arabia , it is an experience worth having. True, at 216 minutes, it is longer than your average film. Despite the film's lengths, the compelling storytelling and deep dive into Lawrence's character keeps me riveted to the screen. At the end of this film, I always want more. It seems impossible that a people group could get so close to their goal only to turn back to the old ways. I want to see Lawrence and Sherif Ali continue their strange, endearing fellowship past what this film shows. And unlike some biopics, we don't see some long drawn out story about how painful Lawrence's childhood was or follow him past his prime to see him sighing over lost opportunities. The ending is abrupt with no sense of conclusion. The whole thing seems like a big buildup to failure, but it leaves the story feeling unresolved, the viewer forever wondering what happens next. It allow the film to be watched over and over again -- the mystery never resolved.

At the beginning, T.E. Lawrence is stationed in Cairo in the maps room. He is portrayed as messy, reckless, and somewhat masochistic. He enjoys letting a match burn down to his fingers and "not minding that it hurts." He is called to the general's quarters by Mr. Dryden, of the Arab Bureau, for his knowledge of the Bedouin people. They want to send him to look for the Bedouin people and Prince Feisal . His mission is to assess the situation. That's a somewhat nebulous task, but Lawrence is enthralled. He gets to come out of his hidey hole in the maps room, out into the desert, and away from those stodgy British military folks. Lawrence has an obvious obsession with the Arabian culture and the desert. As we watch him riding his camel, he looks around him like a gleeful kid with his first slingshot.

Lawrence's initial encounters with the Arabs leave him feeling befuddled. He gets along well with his guide only to see the man get killed the next day by another Arab merely for drinking from a well. Lawrence sees this as somewhat barbaric, but we can see his eyes sparkle when it happens. This is a physical tell. He has been raised to be a civilized British conservative, but his heart longs for the feuding and bloodthirst of the eastern world.

Lawrence finds Prince Feisal and his people in the midst of a Turkish air strike. He is invited into the tent of meeting and speaks out of turn. Feisal wants to hear what he has to say. Lawrence seems to desperately want to please this man and to "out-Arab" the Arabs. What is his motivation? Does he truly love the Arab culture so much? Does he wish to glorify himself as the one who could make it work? Is he just suicidal? Is he out to prove an agenda? Director David Lean (genius) makes the wise choice to leave this open. He never attempts to "explain Lawrence." This is why people are still obsessed with this movie 40 years later. Lawrence is a mystery.

Lawrence breaks with his orders by deciding to do more than assess. He decides to help the Arabs take Damascus and will stop at nothing to make this goal a reality. Despite ridicule, the impassable desert, and "what is written," nothing will keep this white boy from dreaming the impossible dream. He dares to do the unthinkable and creates a believer out of Sharif Ali and the rest of the Bedouin peoples.

The film contains moments of grandeur, such as the battle scenes and the train raids. It also includes quiet moments around the fire, like when Sherif Ali tells Lawrence he can choose his own name. This movie is a symphony, which has dynamics of highs and lows. This is a lost art in the film world today. Above all, there is the desert, which is more than the setting of the movie, it is a living thing which invites Lawrence into its danger and secrets. The desert is the seductress which pulls Lawrence into his long arduous path from conquering hero to possible madman to a man resigned to "failure." The desert brings out the very best in Lawrence, and the very worst.

The dialogue is precise and memorable. The music is gorgeous. The acting is superb. The only problem with this film is that I will never be able to understand who Lawrence truly was. That is the maddening genius of this film. I am going to make a bold statement here. I believe this is as close to being a perfect movie as one can get.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Riley Stearns' The Art of Self-Defense (2019) Movie Review: Do NOT Talk About Night Class

In 1999, David Fincher directed the book to movie Fight Club, a dark stylized comedy about a group of men who form a "support group" of sorts called Fight Club, where they pair up for no holds barred unarmed first fights with one another. Organized by the charismatic Tyler Durden, for a time, the meetings seem to be a good thing. Things start to spiral when the hero realizes Tyler is no good and must be stopped.

In many surface ways, The Art of Self-Defense is quite similar. Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) walks around like he is apologizing for taking up oxygen. He lives alone with his dog and works at a boring, thankless job as an accountant. One day, Jesse is attacked on the street by some unidentified motorcycle riders. He's hospitalized for his wounds and takes some times off work.

On a walk around town, he overhears a karate class and goes into observe. He feels intrigued and inspired by what he sees and decide to sign up for classes. He hopes that he can "become wha…

Ali Abassi's Border (2018): A Dark Swedish Fairy Tale

Have you ever felt like you are alone? Like you exist and move around in a community of people that you are nothing like?

Imagine how Tina feels. She works as a highly competent border guard for the sole reason that her sense of smell is extrasensory. She can smell fear, shame, and any negative emotion on people as they cross through her security area, and she is never wrong about her suspicions. Her work career, however, might be the only thing she has going for her.

She lives on the outskirts of town with a boyfriend that owns a pack of dogs, and from all counts, they live together in a loveless domestic arrangement that is hard to imagine either of them conceiving. Things become a little clearer later as we learn that Tina owns the home and the boyfriend is enjoying the luxury of living rent free. Tina appears to have no family except for the man she calls father, who claims to have adopted her.

Tina is unattractive by human standards and is most often seen staring attentively and …

Alfonso Cuarón's Roma (2018) A Window into the Life of a Working Class Woman

For every person who keeps their hands clean and smooth from doing heavy duty manual labor, there are people who work thanklessly in the background, making life comfortable for those few. This is the subject of Roma, a film set in Mexico City with original screenplay written in Spanish. Roma takes one of those hardworking people and brings her front and center.

Cleo is the housekeeper of a middle-class family in the 1970s. She cleans the house, cleans the dog poo off the house entrance, brings the family tea, and serves them at mealtime. Cleo comes across as diligent, hardworking, sweet, shy, non-demanding, and loving. The children seem to adore her. She is a constant in their lives, and they treat her as one would expect a person who demands or expects nothing in return. At times, she’s like wallpaper. Other times, they are affectionate with her and desire her attention.

There isn’t much plot to this movie. Cleo does have some romantic adventures and deals with an unexpected pregn…