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Lawrence of Arabia

8. Lawrence of Arabia
David Lean, 1962
Screenplay by Robert Bolt & Michael Wilson based on the writings of T. E. Lawrence
Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif & Alec Guinness

"I pray that I may never see the desert again. Hear me, God."

Knowing where to start with this one is difficult because it's extremely hard to find a single aspect of Lawrence of Arabia that is anything less than brilliant, let alone sub-par. I guess the most obvious place is with the titular character. As extraordinarily unlikely as the film is, it may have crossed the line into downright impossible to make work without a scintillating character at the heart of it all. T. E. Lawrence might just be the most well-developed yet mysterious, most brilliantly conceived, perfectly written, and crucially, of course, most brilliantly-portrayed character in the history of film. Peter O'Toole is perfectly cast, and he brings an exciting rebelliousness and large helpings, but just enough, eccentricity and flamboyancy to him. In a long running time, we're treated to a perfectly arced rise and fall of the man, an epic emotional descent into egomania.

Visually, I don't think I've seen anything else so stunningly vibrant and technically accomplished. The images of the desert are awe-inspiring, capturing the vastness of the desert with remarkable skill, perhaps never more evident that in the famous "Mirage at the Well" scene. I can't find the source, but I think I'm paraphrasing Tarantino when I say that one of the great pleasures of film is experiencing the perfect match of image and music, and Lawrence of Arabia is the epitome of that idea. The match between the beautiful cinematography and Maurice Jarre's sensational score could not be better and evokes wonderful swells of emotion.

"Truly, for some men nothing is written unless they write it."

"Epic" is a word that's thrown about a lot these days but I think this and Gone with the Wind are among the few films that really deserve the title. As I mentioned, the look and feel of the film, the length and scale of the narrative provokes the use of the word but it's the complexity of its story, themes and characters that truly makes this an epic. It just deals with so much. So many characters come and go, each more riveting than the last. Bolt, Wilson and Lean pack an immense amount of material into the 216 minutes, but it never once feels poorly paced or loses my interest. It deals with themes as wide ranging as existential struggle, political conflict, the morality of war and national and personal identity.

A clip on YouTube will not do it justice but hopefully for those who haven't seen it, it'll give you a taste and maybe encourage you to see this miracle of a film for yourself. Please do.