Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence vs. the desert

Lawrence vs. the desert

Sweeping epics aren’t usually my favorite, seeing as how they’re a far cry from schlocky horror fare. Even so, who would turn down a chance to see a 70mm print of Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen? Certainly not me; it is, after all, considered one of the best films ever made, right? So, I saddled up and sat in a theater for four hours to earn my Lawrence merit badge.

T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is strange compared to some of the other men in the British army. Stationed in Cairo during the first World War, he is considered the number one pick to trek through the desert in search of Prince Faisal, an Arab leading a revolt against the Turks – but he’s not chosen for his military prowess, and certainly not his tact; instead Lawrence is known for his extensive knowledge of the Arab people.

Anthony Quinn!

Anthony Quinn!

During his first journey through the desert, Lawrence is confronted with some details of the Arab tribes that perhaps he wasn’t so familiar with at first – namely, their differences which often result in violent conflict with one another. His first escort drinks freely from a rival tribe’s well, and as a result is killed by Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif). Much of Lawrence’s goal after this incident is concerned with helping the Arab tribes overcome their differences and uniting against the Ottoman Empire. At least, that’s the aspect of the film that I found most interesting.

Of course there’s a heck of a lot more than that going on – the Brits and the French are figuring out ways to carve out the empire amongst themselves and use Lawrence as a distraction to the Arab people to make it seem as if they’re interested in their fates. Well, perhaps that’s a bit strong – I’m no historian, but that’s the sense I got watching the film.

By golly, Mom was right - Omar Sharif *does* look like my Grandfather!

By golly, Mom was right – Omar Sharif *does* look like my Grandfather!

Lawrence spends an enormous amount of time in the desert (amounts to about 3 hours, I’d say) and his ego gets a pretty intense roller-coaster ride: he’s able to convince men to travel through one of the most dangerous deserts to claim a city in their name, and sort of ends up with a God-complex. Then he’s found out by some Turks and tortured (maybe worse?) to the point where he nearly gives up and asks for a cushy job in some government building with fans. So, despite the enormous scope the movie starts off with (World War I, Pan-Arabism, vast deserts, etc.) the movie ends up (as expected by the title, I suppose) being more about a man than a place or an event.

Am I glad I watched this? Absolutely. Did it knock my socks off? Not exactly, but it didn’t feel like a four-hour movie, which, of course, is a very good thing. If you can make deserts and politics interesting enough to entertain someone like me (you know, someone with the attention span of a gnat) then you’ve certainly done a pretty good job.


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