Doctor Zhivago (9/6/12)

Doctor ZhivagoMovie Two Hundred Seven

Doctor Zhivago is the life story of an orphan in Russia throughout World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil War.

Sometime during the Stalinist era of Russia, a KGB officer named Zhivago (Alec Guiness) is looking for the daughter of his half-brother. He finds Tonya, the young woman he believes to be his niece and tells her the life story of,Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif). Orphaned as a young boy, Yuri was taken in by a family with a young daughter, also named Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin). Yuri goes on to become a medical student and a poet. On the other side of Moscow, Lara (Julie Christi), is in love with a young radical named Pasha (Tom Courtenay) but is seduced by an older man and friend of her mother’s, Komarovsky (Rod Steiger). After her mother learns of this, she attempts suicide and Yuri is called upon for his medical services, which is where he first meets Lara in a love story that spans many years as the two continue along their own paths before finding each other again.

I’m not sure if I have said this before, but David Lean is synonymous with epic movies and Doctor Zhivago is one of his finest. It is a film that a single paragraph can not possibly summarize adequately, but the basis of the film is quite simple. While the story is largely timeless, the historical portions, names, and places are all fairly confusing unless strict attention is paid. During the first 30-45 minutes I thought that Yuri’s adopted father and Komarovsky were the same person, which was terribly confusing. Luckily, I have taken a fair share of world history courses and knew enough of the history of Russia so the constant political turmoil in the film was at least partially understood.

Running close to 200 minutes, Doctor Zhivago is truly an epic film. While the film does feel long (though it does include an intermission) there was very little I found that felt superfluous. In fact, the pacing for the first half of the film is fairly brisk. If the film stopped and gave a history lesson and spent more time getting used to the characters, it would have easily topped the four hour mark. Even at such a length, however, I was entranced by Doctor Zhivago. Julie Christie is simply stunning to watch and when the soundtrack swelled I found myself falling in love with her as Lara too.

Seeing Doctor Zhivago on the big screen was an absolute treat, for the soundtrack especially, but I would have liked the comfort of my own home where I could pause and take bathroom breaks as needed. I can’t stand having to get up in the theater and miss anything but at home I’m no stranger to the Pause button when nature calls. David Lean’s most famous epic, Lawrence of Arabia is coming soon and while I would absolutely love to see that in theatrical glory, I’m afraid the even longer runtime will likely dissuade even me. That’s the problem with epics, they have epic runtimes.

Having never seen Doctor Zhivago, but having some knowledge of it beforehand (you may recognize Lara’s Theme), I am ashamed that it took me so long to finally watch the full film. David Lean is a director that doesn’t seem to get nearly enough love, but I have yet to be let down by a film of his. Don’t let the length discourage you, Doctor Zhivago is one of the best epic dramas of all time.

I give it 5 Lara’s Themes out of 5.


Rotten Tomatoes


11 responses to “Doctor Zhivago (9/6/12)

  1. The key is not to drink while the movie is playing, and make sure you go in empty. But I’m lucky; I’m known for my lack of bathroom breaks.

    Good review.

    And if you can make it “Lawrence of Arabia” on the big screen, then do it. Same thing for “The Bridge on the River Kwai” if you can–my personal favorite of Lean’s films.

    • I’m the type of guy that if I think about having to go to the bathroom, even if I just went, I have to go again.

      I still may cave and see Lawrence, I just went to Kwai last week on the big screen and it was so much better than watching it at home.

  2. I’d love to see it on a big screen. Lean had a real feel for the epic. I understand that Nolan watched this with the cast to prepare for DARK KNIGHT RISES, which gives some perspective to all the hype that has surrounded the batman film. It seems much smaller and inadequate in comparison.

    Julie Christie is gorgeous.

  3. Pingback: My September Movies Round-Up | Andy Watches Movies

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