PG, 3 hr. 38 min. Directed By: David Lean. Release Date: Dec 16, 1962. DVD Release Date: Apr 3, 2001.
Given my love for historic epics, there was no way I was going to dislike this movie. No. Way. At more than 3 hours in length, this was nearly broke my attention span, and I certainly could have done without the nearly thirty minutes of sweeping desert vistas, but hey, the final results were pretty bad ass.
Peter O’Toole pretty much carries this movie. I say that because he’s in nearly every scene, and when he’s there, the camera focuses on him nearly to the point of exclusion of the other members of the cast, although they’re more than decent themselves.
This is another classic that brought out the language/culture geek in me. Lawrence learns a lesson that I think would serve the nations of the West well: at some point, compromise is necessary in order to progress. Lawrence’s ability to learn the ways of the Arab helped unify that people, and helped the Allies defeat the Ottoman Empire in WWI. Communication is best done when one side learns to communicate in the way that speaks to the other, and it shouldn’t always be the other side doing all that work. Nawmean?
The movie is based on a horde of stereotypes that persist to this day. I suspect in many ways “history” here has been rewritten to help the position of the colonial powers. The Arabs are painted as greedy savages, fascinated by weapons and modern technology, but still reminiscing about their “cultural heyday” circa 1100 AD. Well, the latter stereotype is arguably true (and can probably be applied just as fairly to the French and their heyday a few hundred years later). The Turks are portrayed as effeminate and well, mincing, and there’s at least one scene where there’s a strong soap and water feeling as a Turkish officer seems aroused by Lawrence’s fish belly pale skin. Creep-tastic.
But, the movie does manage to portray some of the more amusing bits of the Arab cultural mindset with accuracy: the Arab Council scenes chief among them. Arabic is a very logical, puzzle-like language. Every word that isn't borrowed from another language comes from a verb root, like “diver” comes from “to dive” in English. When I was taking Arabic classes, I used to joke that the verb jema’ (جمع), which is used to make the Arabic words for university, group, mosque, meeting, and league (like the Arab League), would have better served the Arabs if it meant “argue” instead of “gather” or “assemble” since in the Arab culture arguing and gathering seem to be one and the same. It’s a joke many Arabs get, although they can’t avoid the love of a good argument. I laughed my ass off through that scene and it made me miss my old Arabic instructors, who used to fight amongst themselves as we went through translation exams, each begging for points for favorites and quibbling over the smallest nuance.
But, I’m digressing and getting lost in memories that don’t mean much to anyone but me. Check this movie out, but be prepared to spend a LOT of time on this. Make an evening out of it, and remember that while there are (and always have been) troubles in the Middle East, there are more Arabs who try to lead a good life than there are the folks we tend to see in the news.