The life of a Russian physician and poet who, although married to another, falls in love with a political activist's wife and experiences hardship during World War I and then the October Rev... Read allThe life of a Russian physician and poet who, although married to another, falls in love with a political activist's wife and experiences hardship during World War I and then the October Revolution.The life of a Russian physician and poet who, although married to another, falls in love with a political activist's wife and experiences hardship during World War I and then the October Revolution.
Another worthless criticism: It's too slow, too long. Phooey. Some movies have to be slow and long to tell a big, detailed story.
If one is going to criticize this film, I suggest the following: 1. Screenwriter Robert Bolt's kneading of the characters' lives into the progression of the Russian revolution is sometimes at odds with actual chronology, so that anyone familiar with this period cringes from time to time. In one scene, in order to identify for the viewer the historical point that has been reached, a character blurts out (I paraphrase, but only very slightly): "Lenin is in Moscow! Civil war has started!" Neither could have been true at that moment in the narrative. Bolt could have polished his distillation of the novel, but who, apart from direct participants, can ever know why such gaffes occur in high-pressure multi-million-dollar productions? 2. This is yet another movie about a writer, in this case a beloved but politically controversial poet, not a word of whose poetry is revealed to the audience (except for the title of one poem, "Lara," after the woman he loves). Other major movies, including Julia (1977) and Wonder Boys (2000) also commit this offense. Ironically, one exception is the campy and rather dreary Isn't She Great (2000), about trash novelist Jacqueline Susann, which actually explores the act of writing! 3. The physical reproduction of the era is uneven. Some moments are too clean. One example: When Zhivago slides open the door of the ostensibly foul-smelling box car in which he and his family have been traveling for weeks packed alongside filthy, probably lice-ridden passengers, he looks too healthy, scrubbed and well rested. This and other moments stand out because they occur in the context of innumerable convincing depictions such as mud-filled wartime trenches, a looted and vandalized city mansion, or a half-frozen refugee tramping stiffly over the ice of a frozen lake. 4. It is said that Russian viewers laugh at the onion-domed house where the lovers hide from the Bolsheviks. Russian churches have onion domes, they say, but not houses. Granted. But I'd like to think that the person who built this particular house was an eccentric and got away with the concept because the house was in an isolated rural area away from the prying eyes of the "architecture police."
In any case, the emotional truths underlying the occasional inadequate or wrongheaded representations register powerfully. The grand-scale perspective gives a sense of the tumult of the times; vivid and memorable casting choices keep us fascinated with the characters and concentrated upon them; you feel the terrible losses people suffered when history so rudely pulled the rug out from under them; you are reminded of the pitiless cruelty of war and the depths to which people in its grip can descend; and how despite the tragedies of our history, we go on no matter what. David Lean had a great gift for injecting bold images at just the right moment. And he had the same gift for the perfectly timed sound effect, often occurring at an edit point. At Zhivago's end one feels a tremendous sense of sadness and loss but hope for the future. Considering the international political climate of the time of its release, it treats the Russian Revolution with enough detachment to illuminate both sides of the political divide. In other words, it doesn't propagandize for either side.
This was the first major Hollywood treatment of the Russian Revolution, was still running in theatres around the world two and three years after its initial release, despite dismissals from most of the major film critics of the time. Its popularity came from word of mouth, i.e., from the public's genuine love of the story and its striking, technically expert presentation. Interestingly, Zhivago as a box office blockbuster was second only to The Sound of Music, released the same year. Both films told the story of individuals faced with historically recent Old World political upheavals (communism/fascism). Furthermore, the soundtrack album of each film took on a life of its own, selling millions of copies. And why not also add that central to the success of each film was an English actress named Julie (Christie as Lara/Andrews as Maria). How many times have you heard of or personally known a woman under 40 with the previously uncommon name of Lara? Guess why that name became popular in the 60's and afterward?
- Oct 18, 2006