DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. 1965. BASED ON THE BOOK BY BORIS PASTERNAK. A CARLO PONTI PRODUCTION. DIRECTED BY DAVID LEAN. MUSIC BY MAURICE JARRE. STARRING OMAR SHARIF, JULIE CHRISTIE, ALEC GUINNESS, RALPH RICHARDSON, GERALDINE CHAPLIN, ROD STEIGER AND KLAUS KINSKI. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is a gorgeous film, a sprawling historical epic of a movie that comfortably took up an entire Sunday afternoon for me shortly after Christmas this year. It’s the kind of film that always gets screened on television at Christmas or Easter or any other time that the TV peeps need a good long blockbuster of a film to fill up a goodly chunk of the schedule.
The ending is always making it into those list shows that count down Cinema’s Saddest Moments from 100 all the way back down to 1. That scene at the end where Omar Sharif is gazing miserably through the iced-up window-pane while Julie Christie’s carriage takes her ever farther away from him…! That bit makes it into Channel 4/E4’s Top Ten of Weepiest Scenes In Films every time. Have I just inadvertently given away the ending…? Ooopsies…
The story is set in Russia in the time of the Revolution. Things I remember about Russian history from school include: Lenin, Trotsky, Rasputin the Mad Monk and the assassination of Tsar Nicholas and his entire family, with the possible exception of his daughter Anastasia, or so the rumour goes.
I also remember the Bolsheviks, the Red Army, the White Army, and things like food shortages, the dangers inherent in expressing your political views openly if they were the wrong ones, and allegiance to the Party. The workers wanted to overthrow the privileged classes and do away with them altogether. Equality for all was the goal, or such was my understanding.
All of that stuff happens in the film (except for poor old Rasputin, he couldn’t make it!), but I prefer to leave the politics to the men and concentrate instead on the love story between Yuri and Lara. Yeah, yeah, typical air-headed female, I know…! Omar Sharif, who sadly passed away in 2015, plays Yuri, the titular Doctor Zhivago.
He is a handsome young man of the privileged classes, a published poet with a sensitive soul, a kind heart and a compassionate view of his fellow man. His dream is to practice medicine, but not from an ivory tower. Oh no! He wants to see real life and treat real people with real problems. He doesn’t seem to ally himself with one political party or another. He just genuinely wants to heal the sick and help the needy. He’s one of those rare souls, an idealistic, all-round nice guy.
He keeps crossing paths with a breathtakingly beautiful young woman called Lara. Lara has the kind of problems that tend to plague you when you’re a breathtakingly beautiful young woman. And I should know, haha. When we first meet her, she’s being pursued by her mother’s rich older lover, a chap called Victor who later rapes her.
When Lara’s mother attempts suicide, distraught by her suspicions, Doctor Zhivago is called in to assist the main doctor and that’s when he first claps eyes on Lara. Lara is played by Julie Christie who also co-stars with Donald Sutherland in one of the greatest horror films of all time, Nicolas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW (1973), adapted from one of Daphne Du Maurier’s short stories. Nicholas Roeg, incidentally, worked on the cinematography for DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. Small world, ain’t it…?
As far as I can see, Yuri falls for Lara immediately, even though she publicly tries to shoot Victor for raping her and then ups and marries her fiancée, a joyless, cheerless political activist called Pasha, with whom she quickly has a child. Yuri continues loving Lara over the years that follow, even though he is himself married to his cousin Tonya and has a son by her called Sasha. Pretty complicated, huh…?
Yuri and Lara grow ever closer when they work together in a hospital during the First World War, he as a doctor and she as a nurse. As the years pass, politics and family obligations cause them to be separated for long periods of time. The Revolution deprives Yuri of his family home, his possessions (except for his mother’s beloved balalaika) and his privileged status, but he seems happy enough to live frugally with his family on a small patch of land as long as he can visit Lara and her daughter in the nearby village. Things can’t go on like that forever, though…
The scenery is stupendous. Snow and ice everywhere, the houses looking like ice-sculptures from a Hans Christan Andersen story or a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. It’s obvious that Russia is a pretty cold country, though! No wonder Hitler and his men weren’t able to get the better of the Russian winter. ‘Twould freeze the balls off a brass monkey, so it would.
The film wasn’t actually shot in Russia, believe it or not, because the Russians didn’t really approve of the book. In fact, they banned it. Therefore, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, one of director David Lean’s masterpieces, albeit one that divides people because of its great length, seems to have been filmed all over: in Spain, Portugal, Finland and even Canada, to be precise.
The same piece of gorgeously dreamy classical music is repeated throughout the film. The story is narrated by Alec Guinness, who plays Yuri’s older brother in the film. Klaus Kinski has a small role as a political prisoner on the train that takes Yuri, Tonya, Sasha and Yuri’s lovely old dad to their house in the country where they try to make a new life for themselves. Unfortunately for poor Tonya, who’s a really nice person, they’re practically neighbours now with the beautiful Lara…
The ending, as I’ve already hinted at, is heartbreaking. Worthy indeed of a place in Cinema’s Top Ten Weepiest Moments Of All Time. You’ll need at least three hankies to get through it. You thought CASABLANCA, BRIEF ENCOUNTER and WATERSHIP DOWN ended sadly? Wait till you get a load of this.
And it’s all so unnecessary too, that’s the awful thing about it. Ah well. The course of true love never did run smooth. Whoever said that knew what he was talking about all right. He got that spot-on, so he did. He was bang on the money. He was… Well, let’s just say he was dead right and leave it at that. But he was. He was right.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
1) ‘… BY A WOMAN WALKING HER DOG…’
2) A WRITER’S JOURNEY
3) ANNA MEETS COUNT DRACULA
4) ANOTHER FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
5) CANCER BALLS
6) CATCH OF THE DAY
7) FIFTY FILTHY-DIRTY SEX-POEMS YOU MUST READ BEFORE I DIE.
8) FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
9) THE DEVIANTS
10) VISITING DAY