Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

I have to say in this day in age it is hard to find four hours to dedicate to anything. Re-watching Lawrence of Arabia was a great investment though.

From the overture of the film with Maurice Jarre’s score, you know you are in for a big, sweeping epic. A David Lean epic no less! This was my second time watching the film. The first time was over 5 years ago and I must admit, I found the start/end bookends a little confusing. This time I did get a greater grasp, but it is still an ambiguous end. Consequently, I have been thinking about the ending for a while after now. I think it’s better that you invest in a film & the filmmaker invests in you to contemplate and bring your own meaning to the film.

If you haven’t seen it before, it’s based on a real-life man, called T.E. Lawrence. Peter O’Toole plays Lawrence and Ali is his right-hand man, played by Omar Sharif. (Sharif also went on to star in Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (1965). Basically we follow Lawrence the entire film through the desert of Arabia. Lawrence is a British soldier who teams up with the Arabs in the Turkish Revolt.

What I love about the film is the character progressions (or regression). It really is a character film, my favourite kind of film. We follow Lawrence who goes from displaced British solider, to triumphant, honorary Arab and to a confused “ordinary” person. I guess it’s got such a strong sense of place and the Arabian desert is as much of a character as Lawrence and Ali are. The desert drives the action. It is serene at times, yet deadly at others. When Lawrence is adorned in his Arab white robes the desert seems magical. Just moments before the desert had threatened to kill him on his rescue mission for one of the men.

I do think the first half is a lot more enjoyable but probably because Lawrence is a lot more likeable as well. Not often in films do characters become more arrogant, confused and deadly. Usually it’s the other way round. The desert that appeared to save Lawrence and give him purpose originally, seems to haunt him by the end. Is it the desert or is he haunted by himself? I think a bit of both.

Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif are legends both in this film and throughout their careers. Imagine seeing this film in 1962 and not knowing who they were. You honestly would have been blown away. Lean did an incredible job and without this film, we probably wouldn’t have had Star Wars or Indiana Jones. You can really see the references these two films make in their production values when you bear it in mind watching Lawrence.

Lawrence of Arabia isn’t a typical war movie. Although it’s about a war – it’s real war is personal, inner conflict. From Lawrence wanting to rescue men initially to then enjoy killing them . To Ali’s tears over his friendship with Lawrence versus to staying true to himself and leaving Lawrence. The film packs more of a punch without showing graphic violence.

The film doesn’t answer who Lawrence is. It leaves it to us to question this. I still haven’t figured it out.

And I think that’s the point, you’re not meant to.