The last time I gave a bad review to a tremendously popular film, the consequences were rather severe, although I do stick with my opinion. However, this time I’m going to take a more restrained view, mainly because the film itself isn’t that bad. The film in question is David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia.
I seem to recall watching this when I was young, and was still impressed by the fact that it was a DVD. I enjoyed the cinematography, but inevitably had absolutely no idea what was going on. Yesterday I had a three-hour train ride, so I knew that I could kill time by reassessing this feature that is often listed as one of the best of all time.
Of course, any of you who know the film will know that actually three hours isn’t nearly enough time to watch this movie. I was quite grateful for the intermission that appears after two hours, that allowed me to get off the train and then watch the rest of the film with dinner. The film is in fact three and a half hours long, and is certainly a commitment to make. A long film such as this would necessitate an extraordinary story to go with it, and to some degree, I think this is so. On the other hand, I was left just a little unsatisfied by the time I’d finished. Let me explain why.
The film is based on the life of a certain T.E. Lawrence, a man who, during the First World War, led an Arab revolt quite singlehandedly and was regarded as a bit of a war hero. He had a peculiar personality, and by the end of the film, it’s clear that he’s gone crazy from being regarded as a hero and also slaughtering lots of men. The film presents the viewer with vast, stunning vistas of the Arabian desert, and thousands of extras playing the Arab armies. It is a very beautiful film indeed, but sadly the story failed to suck me in.
I know this is going to reflect badly on me, but I simply couldn’t understand the politics of what was going on. It seems like the British and the Arabs wanted the Turks dead, but I couldn’t always understand what Lawrence’s actual role was, besides war hero. I couldn’t understand if Lawrence was on the Arab side or the British side, but part of me thinks he couldn’t understand either. While his cheeky sense of humour did warm me to him at the beginning, I was soon alienated by his bizarre personality, and I found the other characters rather hard to empathise with. Interestingly enough, this film has its own Arabic version of Merry and Pippin, two lovable sidekicks to Lawrence, however, they don’t appear all the way through the film.
This is an intelligent, breathtaking film, but I feel it might be a bit dated. At three and a half hours, the story can be a bit disjointed, and it’s not always easy to understand what’s going on. For those of us who aren’t historians, it’s difficult to appreciate the historical value of this tale. An interesting film for sure, but not entirely satisfying.