Sometimes, in the middle of a sprawling epic covering vast distances and large amounts of time, the best thing you can do is take a step back and take the focus off the cast of thousands and put attention on two people in particular.
That is what I enjoyed more than anything else in David Lean’s “Doctor Zhivago.” Lean directed many classic film epics, including “Lawrence Of Arabia” and “The Bridge On The River Kwai,” but in this film we get a far more personal story. The previously mentioned films were about how one man can change the world, by either inspiring a revolution or instilling faith in others. “Doctor Zhivago” is, more-or-less, about how the world-changing can affect one man.
The titular character (played by Omar Sharif), is a world-famous poet and a talented doctor, but is constantly on the run from several different Russian factions, since his poetry goes against the rise of Communism. Over time, we see how far he is willing to go to protect what he believes in, and watch as he falls in love with a young lady, Lara (Julie Christie).
The overwhelming sense of the Russian superiors hangs over this film at all times, as if Zhivago is one wrong turn down the alley away from a firing squad. Yet he never sets out to change the world, but merely live. There’s a scene about halfway through the picture, where Zhivago is on the run and being questioned by the dread Strelnikov (Tom Courtenay). Near the end of the interrogation, which has previously ended in the death of many people at the hands of Strelnikov’s men, he asks Zhivago what he intends to do once he reaches his destination. Without any hesitation and all his fiery hate, he says, “To live.”
This is so refreshing to see in an epic like this, from a director so well-known for his “man of the people” angle. To see a character who is content with themselves, and whose only wish is to have been born at a different time or place, makes this a more personal narrative.
While “Doctor Zhivago” is over three hours long, the story of Zhivago and Lara keeps the film from getting stale. This is a different kind of epic than I’m used to, and that is great to see.
Final Grade: B