182: Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia (PG) - 1963 - Runtime: 216 minutes
Starring: Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn
Director: David Lean

I don't know what happened, but watching long movies back to back is a dangerous thing. I watched this movie the day after watching Sound of Music and I don't know how I survived. Spanning over three hours, the movie seems as long as those treks in the desert in the movie. I kid, I kid, but seriously, it's quite an epic picture.

I was completely unfamiliar with this movie - I thought it might have something to do with Persia and treasure, but I was so wrong. Peter O'Toole (who has never won an Oscar, BTW) plays T.E. Lawrence, a flamboyant and controversial figure who helps the Arabs revolt against the Turks during World War I. But there's more to the story, so I would just direct you to his wikipedia page to get the scoop. There's so much happening in this picture, you almost have to have knowledge of the British Empire's role in the Middle East before the war and during it to fully appreciate what's happening on screen. Epic is the perfect word to describe this movie and apparently, the movie is best appreciated watching it on the biggest screen available. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more - but I found myself trying to figure out when the movie was going to end.

Don't get me wrong, the movie is great. It's just that there's so much desert. And people riding camels through the desert. And people walking through the desert. There's practically no dialogue during these sequences and they are long. I most undoubtedly would have enjoyed them more if I was watching it on a big screen - as the film was shot using Super Panavision 70, a more highly detailed and bigger cinema experience. But when this movie is shrunk to the size of my thirty inch TV, a lot of that is lost and you start to wonder when the next part of the story is going to happen. I get that the director wanted to capture life in the desert and what it feels like to move through it, but he got the point across the first time. The next ten or so scenes like it felt a little bit like torture.

Despite the length and the tedious shots of the desert, I found myself thoroughly enraptured with the story of Lawrence. Here's a man who became divided - originally his loyalty was with the British, but after spending months in the desert, fighting alongside what he considered his brethren,  his Arab sympathies became more and more ingrained into his soul. The movie doesn't skirt around the issue that Lawrence was a controversial and enigmatic figure - as shown in the very first scene when a reporter was trying to find someone at his funeral that could tell him more about the man, not the political figure. And the film portrays Lawrence as a man not only with ambitions, but a selfish desire to be more than just a leader, but a god to the Arabs. How much of that is true is up to debate, but I still found his story and motives intriguing.

Lawrence of Arabia is epic movie-making at its best and if you can find a local artsy-fartsy theater playing it some night, I would no doubt tell you to go see it, I might just be there myself.

Rating: Rent It!

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