Classic Movie Quest: Doctor Zhivago

Monday 10 February, 2014

Before I begin properly, let me just say that getting a comprehensible review out of this film was, for me, more difficult than the clichés of getting blood out of a stone and pulling teeth combined.

Which is why this review will be so short! You could either have comprehensible or short, or unintelligible but long. I went with the former and trust me, you’ll thank me for it.

And now without further ado:

Doctor Zhivago is one of those films that almost everyone considers to be one of the most bittersweet romantic films of all time, along with Casablanca and Gone With The Wind. It stars Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Alex Guiness and Tom Courtenay, and it’s set during the times of the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

Here’s what I got from the first watch, before I gave up in a fit of mass confusion:

A young woman by the name of Tonya is meant to be Yuri’s daughter, even though they’re of similar ages. Her Aunt Lara/Larissa is having an affair with the same man her mother is having an affair with, all the while Billy Liar (Aka, Tom Courtenay, but I couldn’t remember his name at the time of the first watch) is starting the Russian Revolution.

You can see where I got horribly mixed up. At least, I sort of did on a second watch. Unfortunately whilst a second watch did help with what I’d got confused over, it didn’t change the film from being boring and still difficult to follow for me.

So, what I got from the second watch was this: Yuri Zhivago’s half brother is searching for his niece, who may or may not have the same name as the girl Yuri Zhivago grew up with, after he became an orphan.

Yuri Zhivago grows up to be the eponymous Doctor Zhivago. Tonya returns from Paris, and her and Yuri Zhivago get married.

Tom Courtenay’s character takes part in a protest that turns violent after involvement from the Coassacks, and he get’s stabbed for his troubles. He goes to the woman he’s in love with, Lara, to be looked after, and also to hide his gun.

Unfortunately for Tom Courtenay, Lara’s having an affair with her mother’s “friend”, who on second watch I’m still unsure whether she’s also having an affair with him or not. She get’s found out, the mother attempts suicide, Doctor Zhivago comes to the rescue.

To make matters worse for Lara, and I don’t mean that lightly, when Lara realises she wants out of the affair, the mother’s friend attacks and rapes her. There’s a whole avenue of a sexist, patriarchal society rant that I could go down from this part alone. But I won’t, because it’s pretty self-explanatory. That man thought he had the right to do that, and he didn’t, and times haven’t changed even today.

I think that’s about where I stopped, both times. You can see how just one small detail made the difference for those fourty minutes, the story of who was who to whoever was a bit clearer.

But it is a very involved sort of film. It’s not one you can watch lightly. From what I saw, I’m not even sure how people could even call it romantic, especially seeing as if the scene with Alec Guiness is to be believed, Doctor Zhivago went and had an affair whilst he was married. Is it that affair that’s meant to be romantic? That’s not very nice for the other parties involved.

So yes, a very heavy film. Maybe the acting and the directing is what got it put onto The List, but I’m a bit lost on the story, in more than one ways. And I say that as someone who knows that sometimes, these films are just on the list because, despite the convoluted plots that can be their ruin, or the hit and miss dialogue which make them difficult to stick through, they’re a golden well for media analysis. The fun of analysing can come from the very things than can make films unwatchable.

This film isn’t one of them. Or at least, not for me.

2/10.

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