I don’t know about this one. Being a bit of Rusophile myself I expected breath-taking shot after shot of Russian landscape, this is after all a David Lean film and I thought it would be a Russian “Lawrence of Arabia,” what I got was something quite different. There are some spectacular shots in the movie, I’ll admit, but not enough, rather there is too much focus on the story. This is one of those strict adaptations of a novel to a film which is something that seems for me to be more miss then hit. Certainly not a “bad” movie, but just not what I was hoping for.
The movie was a bit too heavy for me. Despite the horrendous circumstances all the main players find themselves in they seem to go about with a dewy look of happiness about them, however they don’t seem to be quite believable. The movie had a bit of an anti-communist tinge to it, however this was a film made in the west in the 60’s so given those circumstances it could be seen as progressively sympathetic.
The story was awfully complicated, like any other Russian tale. At the onset there are too many players involved, you have the doctor, the rabble rouser, Tonya, Tonya’s father, Lara, Lara’s Mother’s Lawyer, not to mention the narrator (the Doctor’s half-brother) and the girl he’s telling the story to. The title character, Doctor Zhivago, is relatively minor in most of the first half of the movie. It doesn’t help that the characters change their names frequently either, but this was a mark of the times.
The Lawyer, Victor Ipolitovich Komarovsky, played by Rod Steiger, seems to play simultaneous villain and victim. He seems to be truly in love with Lara, and is willing to risk absolutely anything to protect her. There is a scene where he comes in on Lara and Zhivago, and offers them safe passage to the east, and even offers sugar for Lara’s daughter, which together they deny and unceremoniously kick him out of the house. It seems both unpractical (to deny gift’s at such a time) and sad for the old man. There is the question as to whether or not he had “raped” Lara earlier on in the movie, I personally thought that he did, while my wife (who you’d might expect to be more sympathetic) felt it was more consensual then forced, and she felt for Victor more so then I had at the time.
I didn’t much care for the music. There was this sappy happy but ironic music that seemed to play throughout the piece, and it seemed to me largely out of place. The music was composed by Mourice Jarre, who also did “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Ghost.” My problem is that there are so many Great Russian composers, that it seemed almost a crime to give the job of composition for the film to this guy, rather then using more recognizable pieces from Russia’s classical canon.
Like I said, it’s not all bad. There are three great scenes in the movie.
First – there is the scene when the soldiers returning from the front confront soldiers going toward the front and get them to rebel and turn around. Very historically accurate. The entire Russian revolution was essentially caused by the poor treatment of the common Russian soldiers at the hands of their own country.
Second – the scene where the narrator (Yevgraf) confronts his half-brother Zhivago for the first time. There is dialogue in the scene, but all the words that would be spoken by Yevgraf were done in the third person, from his own disembodied voice. Quite a brilliant way to show how the movie was being told, and not something I’ve ever seen done in quite that way before.
Third – just before the intermission they discuss a Bolshevik officer named Strelnikov, who is a people’s hero to some and a murderous villain to others. While the train is stopped Strelnikov’s personal train passes by and the people (some) cheer him, and from the back you see who this mysterious Strelnikov is, and it is none other than Pasha Antipov, the rabble rouser from earlier in the movie, and estranged husband of Lara, who it was showed (red-haring like) had died in the war. This was a brilliant part to cut to intermission.