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Doctor Zhivago


#121 - Doctor Zhivago
David Lean, 1965



During the lead-up to and following the Russian Revolution, a doctor falls in love with a woman but various circumstances keep driving them apart and pulling them back together across the years.

Considering how highly I rate Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai, surely I'd rate this one in the same area, right? Unfortunately, while Doctor Zhivago does have the same capacity for strikingly epic imagery as the other Lean films I've seen, it doesn't quite have the same capacity for an amazing narrative. Sure, the three-hour length and the turmoil-ridden setting should provide some impressive drama, but the end result ultimately isn't compelling enough to quite justify the film's running time. Omar Sharif plays the titular physician and, being Omar Sharif, he is a charming enough protagonist. Julie Christie is his star-crossed lover, who does get hard done by some unpleasant characters (such as Rod Steiger's old friend of her mother's and Tom Courtenay's aspiring revolutionary) but has a hidden strength that keeps her going through the years. A strong cast keeps the film moving along between battle sequences and impoverished circumstances, but for much of the film's running time the storyline feels less interesting in its own right and more so because it provides some fascinating and well-photographed visuals. Maurice Jarre had worked wonders in composing scores for Lean in the past, but an epic is only as good as its constantly recurring main theme and the plucky main theme here gets a little annoying after a very short while. All things considered, I guess this is due for a re-watch at some point in the future just to confirm whether or not this is more than just three hours of pretty pictures and a tragic romance that ultimately isn't all that interesting. Time will definitely tell with this one.