Throwback Thursday: Doctor Zhivago
Doctor Zhivago (1965) movie review
Released in December of 1965, Doctor Zhivago is a war epic/romance from director David Lean (Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957 and Lawrence of Arabia, 1961). The film is based on the novel by Boris Leonidovic Pasternak, which was banned in Russia at the time. Set at the outbreak of the October Revolution after the first World War, the story follows a Russian physician/poet and his love affair with a girl names Lara during the ordeal during the events of the Russian Revolution.
(By the way this film is in color, I just really liked that black and white photo.)
Doctor Zhivago was a box office hit when it was released, grossing over $111 million on a budget of $11 million. The film also received a fairly warm critical reception, winning five of its ten Academy Award nominations including Best Score, Best Cinematography, and Best Adapted Screenplay. And if you are wondering why we picked this seemingly random epic for today’s Throwback Thursday… Well I have alot of feelings about it that I just needed to get out. Plus the film is a perfect winter movie!
I think there’s really only two ways go go with this film: You like it or you love it. ( Let’s say for safety’s sake that like includes respect here.) And as much as I think the film misses the mark of all it could be (which I’m sure the book accomplishes), I kinda loved it! But to be fair, it has some major problems that I want to get into first!
For one, the focus of the film is the protagonist cheating on his wife. While he is still a strong character, this certainly prevents the audience from loving Yuri Zhivago. Sure you could argue that the situations are desperate enough for the love story to morally thrive, and you would be right if the film weren’t primarily about the love story. Unfortunately the Russian Revolution is treated as a backdrop for a Hollywood romance instead of taking center stage. This could work in some cases of course, but I for one was more interested in the film whenever the Revolution was the focus of a scene.
Of course the incredible performance from Julie Christie as Lara helps smooth over the uneven focus. She is not only a standout performance, managing a brilliant level of sympathy, but she adds to an already complex character. Lara of all the characters feels the most a victim of circumstance in this story, which lends towards the sympathetic nature we need to have to connect with the characters. Yuri isn’t a terrible character either. Omar Sharif’s performance is pretty good, as he sells the constantly conflicted nature of the man who probably just wants to write poetry. And while the rest of the cast does a good job, Alec Guinness shows up to steal every scene he is in with one of the most interesting characters in the film! (Which I won’t say too much about if you haven’t seen it.)
So, when you write a screenplay, you should be able to give each character a voice. Take away the names and read the dialogue and we should know who is speaking. This is something put to good use here in this deserving Oscar win. Or simply put, I adore the dialogue in this movie! From the strong but memorable writing from Klaus Kinski’s brief role to the distinguished voices from the leads- everyone says what they should how they should when they should. Gosh there’s a really sharp scene with Victor Komarovsky, an antagonist in a sense who sees a sort of ownership over Lara:
She’s not going with you.
She can speak for herself.
I’m not going with you.
Gosh its so sharp and quick and exactly what we know Lara would say with as much meaning as she could! It’s character growth wrapped in identity, and it’s the strongest aspect of the film for me. I don’t think Robert Bolt could have done a better job. Except, you know, making the film a little more on the events…
But hey if that’s not your thing and you just want to sit back and watch a historical epic in all its glory, well I’ve got the film for you! (I mean you could do better, but since you are here!) We’ve got Oscar winning costumes and sets, we’ve got exciting action and romance on a massive scale! The cinematography is fantastic, and the score from Maurice Jarre is one of my all-time favorite scores released before 1977. I mean John Williams gets all the credit for themes, but Jarre wonderfully blends themes for the October Revolution and the love theme between Yuri and Lara to a brilliant degree! Gosh I know the writing is sharp, but the music really makes you feel feelings of feels in this movie!
Is Lawrence of Arabia too disjointed for you? Not enough romance in it? Or do you just have HBO Max and a few hours to kill? Well go check out Doctor Zhivago if you haven’t seen it! It’s a technical marvel with the scale to rival many classic epics. While the story could tech us a bit more historically speaking, it is compelling nonetheless! The character writing is sharp, the pacing is surprisingly steady, and the characters are all at least interesting. I’ll admit its tough to love Yuri, but Lara is a truly fascinating character, and the rest of the cast plays their parts in this spectrum of roles that illuminate more about the dangerous times they lived in. I think it’s a fine picture to say the least, and while it is flawed, I would call Doctor Zhivago a must see for sure! 8/10.
So Doctor Zhivago? Have you seen it? What did you think? And what is your all-time favorite historical epic? Leave a like or comment below and let us know! And if you liked this review and you want to read more like it, let us know what else you’d like us to talk about for Throwback Thursdays!
-review by Ryan Prince