#85: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

When and how did I watch this?

November 1st, 2016 on Amazon Instant Video.

Had I seen this film already?

Nope.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Very little.  I was aware this is widely considered one of the great legendary films.  I also checked the run time and discovered it’s one minute longer than Gone With the Wind. Was this done on purpose?

What do I know about it now?

The film forces us to wait a very long time for things to develop. At first, this was problematic.  I’d “done” the aforementioned Gone With the Wind, and then there was Fanny and Alexander: both films were epic in breadth and time elapsed in the film, but carried the depth I desired from a purportedly great film.  It took a while for Lawrence to captivate me.  You can make a similar observation in The Deer Hunter, but the jolt into the next scene was so shocking that I’d quickly recognized the purpose of the slogging portion.  And then, of course, you have to consider the genre and time period, but even then, it didn’t seem to draw me in.

But then I realized I was being sucked into the environment.  Especially in the latter 2/3rds of the film, one feels like they are trudging through the desert alongside these folks. Why, and who cares?  The director uses distance in many wide shots — to the point that the object or person is merely a speck on the horizon — to immerse us in it. Everyone knows deserts are dry and hot, but we as the viewer are introduced to the desperation; we’re fascinated by the lack of vegetation and our heroes’ fortitude as they pushed forth. There were other attributes of the film — Lawrence/O’Toole’s maddening resolve to do what’s right instead of what’s expected, the cultural biases and discrimination, the scope of WWI, and a handful of very shocking scenes — that make the film worthwhile, but placed in a bold setting, undoubtedly a challenge for all involved and an audacious aspiration by the director, that puts it in another category.

What are some themes in the film?

Prejudice, WWI, pride, revenge, honor

Did this affect me personally?

Again, the visual aspect of this film really drew me in.  I was on Google Earth fiddling around in the Arabian and northern African desert regions and even showing the images to my daughter the following day. Some of the deaths in the film are gritty (no pun intended!) and unforgettable.

Why is this ranked #85?

Peter O’Toole is a monster of the screen and stage, and this is certainly his best role. Lawrence of Arabia is probably one of those films that’s so legendary that it gets voted upon by reviewers without them having actually seen the whole thing. For those who have actually watched it all, they’re likely enamored by the same stuff I was. Finally, it’s one of those big deal films from old school cinema and gets the nods from those who love the classics.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She watched most of it, but was busy working on other stuff through a lot of the film.  It is long.

Would I watch it again?

I think so.  It’d be like picking up a novel again, so I’d have to kind of come back around to it.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Sure.  I think it’s worth your time, though it might require some compromise of taste if you’re not into the slow-moving cinema style.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Yes.  It’s a masterpiece, a great stroke of art, and truly epic in nature. Lawrence is a captivating figure of history, and O’Toole delivers. His buddy Ali (Sharif), starting out as his antithesis, grows likable and becomes a Samwise Baggins of a sort (yeah, I’m projecting a bit), so the story is there.  The tension is also there, and for those who like battles and death, it’s there too. It kicked butt at the Academy Awards, naturally, and it competed with the likes of “To Kill A Mockingbird”, ironically the next entry on the list, but to me it seems difficult to compare it to much.  It’s a remarkable film, and truly great.

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