Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: A Poet and a Revolution

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “Doctor Zhivago” (1965).

As they say in “Game of Thrones”, winter is coming. And it is being brought to you by David Lean. With his movie, “Doctor Zhivago”, he gives the viewer a real live winter. And a spring and a summer and an autumn too. But the winter is a Russian winter, so it’s a very real winter.

What director in his right mind would choose a poet as the hero for an epic film? Only David Lean. In his other earlier films he gave us protagonists who were quite out of the ordinary for a hero. In the 1940s, he took two Dickens novels and made two of the best adaptations of any of the writer’s works, “Great Expectations” and “Oliver Twist”. But it was the 1957 adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai” that made Lean’s reputation as a great director. It featured what became his good luck charm, Alec Guinness, as the by-the-book Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson. Yes, that Alec Guinness. Obi wan Kenobi himself. Kwai went on to win seven well-deserved Academy Awards.

Next came “Lawrence of Arabia”(1962) with Peter O’Toole as Lawrence, winning seven more Oscars. Sir Alec was in this one too. Both Kwai and Lawrence were masterpieces, as epic as anything done by Cecil B. DeMille. Then came “Doctor Zhivago”, based on the novel that gave Boris Pasternak the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature. Sir Alec is in this one too.

The movie is set in tsarist Russia just before World War I. It follows events through the war and the Russian Revolution. Like the main character, Yuri Zhivago, the film focuses on the personal as opposed to the epic. It is this personal nature that propels the movie into greatness. Zhivago does not act in a vacuum. It’s against a world of extreme changes where he faces the challenges of his time with a poetic sensibility. And they are great challenges. His mother dies when he is a boy. He is drafted into a Revolutionary Guard unit. He travels in a railway cattle car, full of people trying to escape the horrors of Moscow after the Soviets take over the city.

From the opening scene burying his mother, Maurice Jarre’s music reveals that this isn’t just an ordinary boy. This boy has a very sensitive, poetic side to him. The next scene, Tonya, his fiance, returns to Moscow from Paris and discusses Zhivago’s first book of poetry. And, oh yes, there’s a love story. Between Zhivago and Lara. As you can see, this movie has something for everyone. War, revolution, poetry, love and trains. And very dramatic locations. Underpinning the whole darn thing is the lush score of Maurice Jarre.

Because Zhivago’s poetry, like Pasternak’s, is so  personal, he becomes a man on the run. Zhivago could easily have agreed with W. B. Yeats when he wrote “Politics”:

How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics,
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has both read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms.
Unfortunately Lenin, Stalin and the Bolshevik Boys didn’t approve. Eventually, like so many Russian artists, Zhivago disappears in the gulag that was the Soviet Union.



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