Finally Caught Up With It: Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago

Directed by: David Lean

Starring: Omar Sharif, Julie Chistie, Rod Steiger, Geraldine Chaplin, Alec Guinness and Tom Courtenay

I haven't seen all the greatest films that ever were, but I'm getting there, and recently I sat down, handcuffing myself to the couch (don't ask how), and watched David Lean's epic film Doctor Zhivago. In truth, I was looking foward to it. I am a David Lean guy (or as much as I can be for not having seen Zhivago). Two of my favorite movies of all time are Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge Over The River Kwai, which, by the way, are numbers 5 and 13 on AFI's 100 Movies...100 Years list. Doctor Zhivago is number 39 on the same AFI list (and number 7 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions list). It is a classic. It has been called one of the greatest romantic films ever made (the seventh best, I guess). It has been hailed a masterpiece.

And I thought it stunk.

Don't get me wrong, this is a beautiful film to watch, but the movie feels aimless, and the characters act in ways it is hard to understand at times. Zhivago's central theme is simple and can be found when the evil General Strelnikov, a Marxist idealist turned mass murderer, tells Zhivago, "The personal life is dead in Russia ... history has killed it." The two lovers are swept along with history, with little say in their personal lives. But I don't even know what these people see in each other. This is supposed to be one of the great romances in the history of cinema (seventh, actually). Really? Why does Zhivago (Omar Sharif) love Lara (Julie Christie) more than his wife? Does he feel sorry for her? Does he simply prefer blondes? With 197 minutes at their disposal, you'd think Lean and screenwriter Robert Bolt would communicate that much. I can only assume Zhivago and Lara love each other because the film's theme says they must.

Well, I did enough trashing of this cinematic giant. Join us next week when I trash another beloved masterpiece and feel the wrath of cinematic snobs everywhere! I'm coming for you next, Kane! ... Just kidding, Orson, your movie's A-okay with me.