Movie of the Week: Doctor Zhivago (1965)

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David Lean directs Julie Christie, Omar Sharif and Geraldine Chaplin in this truly epic adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel about love and individuality struggling against the backdrop of the Soviet revolution.

Watching this on the big screen for the first time confirmed its greatness to me. The simple love story and almost soapy sub-plots which sprout out from it prove to be mere long game set-up for the devastating finale. All those complex lives we grow to care for suddenly vanish under the anonymous might of the state… and indeed the inevitable constantly rolling waves of history. The achingly beautiful people who dominate the first three hours with red lacy dresses, ice palaces and revered poetry get lost against concrete walls, overcrowded orphanages and the unmarked graves of the postscript. Passion and connection give way to mechanics and power. Whether freezing us in warring wastelands or churning through endless rail travel, Lean always focuses on humans trying to be free. At three-hours-plus it somehow feels like his most intimate movie since Brief Encounter. Packed with iconic shots and a haunting score, mood and romance takeover until all is lost. I also love the scenes where Alec Guinness’ narrator disagrees with his own onscreen interactions. They have a touching bitterness to them, watching the narrator lie to himself.

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