|You're the only girl for me...besides my wife|
History is filled with tales of ordinary people coping with extraordinary circumstances. Some of cinema’s most memorable stories are about those same ordinary people and the way in which they overcome hardships beyond their control to achieve some measure of success and happiness. Despite their seemingly average subjects, many of these films are truly epic in scale as they chronicle the effects of social and political changes upon the lives and loves of the individuals they touch. Amongst the most memorable of these epics is the 1965 classic Doctor Zhivago, which follows the changing fortunes of a Moscow physician as he struggles to survive the trials and turbulence of life in early twentieth century Russia.
The story begins as eight year old Yuri Zhivago attends his mother’s funeral. Following the funeral, Yuri meets his mother’s friends, the Gromekos, who agree to raise him as their own son. The film then flashes ahead as Yuri (Omar Sharif) has grown into a successful young man who is about to receive his medical degree and is happily involved in a relationship with the Gromekos’ daughter, Tonia (Geraldine Chaplin). Despite the idyllic lifestyle that Yuri and his adoptive family lead, however, the film also reveals that unrest and poverty are running rampant in Russia as the story focuses in on Lara (Julie Christie), the daughter of a working class seamstress, and her Bolshevik boyfriend, Pasha (Tom Courtenay). Unlike Yuri and Tonia, who enjoy lives of luxury amongst Moscow’s aristocracy, Lara and Pasha find themselves engaged in a daily struggle to survive. In order to escape from her poverty stricken existence, Lara embarks upon an affair with her mother’s wealthy lover, Komarovsky (Rod Steiger), in hopes of exchanging sexual favors for financial security. Lara’s affair eventually puts her in contact with Yuri and sets events in motion that affect both of their lives throughout the ensuing decades. The film then chronicles the lives of Lara and Yuri as their fates become intertwined amidst the upheavals of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the ensuing civil war.
|Just lie back and think of rubles|
Based upon the Boris Pasternak novel of the same name, Doctor Zhivago is truly an epic tale as it chronicles nearly thirty years in Russian history on both a national and personal scale. Pasternak was inspired to write the novel as a reaction to the way in which individuality was regularly subjugated and oppressed in the Soviet Union. As a result, the novel examines the effects of the Russian Revolution and rise of the USSR with special attention to the devastating effects that they had upon ordinary citizens. His character based approach to his story was in direct contrast to the society over individual line of thinking that the Communist Party indoctrinated its citizens with, and forced Pasternak to publish his book in secret through an Italian publisher. The book’s humanistic approach proved to be a success, as the novel went on to become both a bestseller and the recipient of a Nobel Prize. Despite his international success, Pasternak continued to regard Russia as his one true home, and like his fictional counterpart, could not bear the thought of leaving it. As a result, the author chose to decline his Nobel Prize in order to remain in his homeland when the Soviet government threatened to exile him. Despite the Soviet government’s best efforts to denounce Pasternak and his novel, Doctor Zhivago continued to be a literary success and is now considered one of Russia’s greatest novels and the definitive epic of the Russian Revolution.
While the film remains closely aligned with Pasternak’s complex tale, it is best known for its exquisite sets, cinematography, and musical score. In order to portray Yuri’s poetic sensibility and artistic view of the world, director David Lean used a “show” rather than “tell” approach to portray life through Yuri’s eyes. In order to achieve this goal, Lean focused his camera on the intimate details of Yuri’s world and the natural beauty that inspire him, providing the film with a unique perspective. The film’s use of locations in Spain and Finland make excellent substitutes for the harsh landscapes of Russia (which would not allow the crew to film within its borders) and provide an atmosphere that is both engaging and exotic. Perhaps the most enduring aspect of the film is its musical score, particularly the recurring tune ‘Lara’s theme’. Maurice Jarre’s lilting tune perfectly encompasses the romance, sacrifice, and loss that make up the protagonist’s journey. Nearly fifty years later, the tune remains a cinema classic and a stirring example of the power of music in film.
Through its combination of history, romance, and action, Doctor Zhivago is an example of the epic at its finest. The film expertly captures the effects of the sweeping changes of life in twentieth century Russia on both a grand and intimate scale. Through its memorable characters and lush visuals the film brings historical events to vivid and heartbreaking life, providing generations of viewers with a glimpse into the past. This film is a testament to the importance of the individual as well as an appeal to the romantic within all of us.
|In Soviet Russia...insert Yakov quote of choice...there|
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