Everything’s Perfect Except the Ending.
A romance epic that’s damn good.
American Film Institute’s Ranking: #39/100
Awards: Nominated for 10 winning 5 losing out to The Sound of Music for the big ones.
I watched this movie over the course of three mornings. It became a mini ritual: waking up early, brewing some coffee, and watching this epic unfold as the sun came up. I didn’t expect to come out the other side with such affection. Like any good film, it has a little bit of everything. The historical context might be a little whitewashed, but the characters and scenery make up for some of the more superficial aspects.
The movie starts in the 50s with Yevgraf Andreyevich Zhivago (Alec Guiness) looking for his niece. He interviews a young girl who he believes to be his relative and starts to tell the story of his brother who is her presumed father.
Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sherif), becomes an orphan in the early 1900s. He grows up to be a doctor meeting Lara (Julie Christie) who is caught up in a love triangle with the powerful and well connected Victor (Rod Steiger) and the idealistic reformer Pasha. Everyone gets separated during WWI and reshuffled during the Russian Revolution.
I didn’t expect this film to be one to captivate me. First, I’m not about love stories and tend to lean towards movies with plots, character development, and action. I don’t care about star crossed lovers, and I certainly didn’t care about Yuri and Lara’s relationship. The difference was that there was enough other stuff going on around that center point for me to be enthralled.
People tend to downgrade the movie for how the Russian Revolution is more of a backdrop than a focal point. I’m concerned less about the history and more about how the film captures the way people used to live.
Walking down snow covered streets, not a piece of technology in sight, as someone comes by to handout revolutionary pamphlets. It’s odd to think of living in a time where you had no access to information. How could anyone figure out anything? It’s an interesting corollary with today but in the opposite direction: we have unlimited information but still have trouble knowing what the truth is.
It also showed how important relationships were from a face-to-face aspect. The grand Christmas party was an event not for the digital world, but the real world. It was about human contact and elbow rubbing. People’s presence there was a chain of word-of-mouth, not a facebook post. Such a different way of living.
The “Classless Society.”
The movie does gloss over the Revolution, however it makes Yuri go through the wringer during the transition. What makes this so difficult is that we love Yuri for his ethics and spirit. Seeing him destroyed since he is a part of the upper class, and therefore bourgeoisie, just didn’t sit well because he’s so nice. It’s much easier to talk about the ills of capitalism when you make the face of it big fat bankers without souls. Just some mini-food for thought.
Landscape and Cinematography.
Just look at these pretty pictures.
The only thing I found lacking was the ending. Due to the narration being told in flashback, the ending involves people in the present that weren’t that integral to the story itself. I assumed there was some intrigue being left out, some artifact or heirloom of significant importance, but we aren’t left with much.
The final message is a weak one; as the niece leaves, Yuri’s brother finds she is a natural on the balalaika, an instrument played by both her parents. “It’s a gift!” Yevgraf reports, meaning a gift from her parents. I suppose we all received gifts from our parents, whether we knew them or not, but it doesn’t really fit in to the epic of the previous 3+ hours.
A classic epic from a Hollywood era that is long gone.
Other People’s Takes:
- Bored and Dangerous: “This movie represents a kind of epic that doesn’t exist anymore. And it shows the difference between an epic and a blockbuster.”
- Silver Screen Classics: “Omar Sharif brings the soul of the poet alive in his performance and Julie Christie was never more breathtaking as Lara. The emotion and desperation of their love is beautifully transcribed to the screen.”
- Convincing Reasons: “So, if you are ever stuck in an aeroplane for twelve hours and see Zhivago on the movie list, it has a certain curiosity interest. I would not recommend watching it under any other circumstances.”