You want an epic film? Not just an “epic film” like you’d say after seeing some CGI monsters wreck something but an old school 3 1/2 hour EPIC. This film is the definition of that genre Lawrence of Arabia is unforgettable in its scope, character and jaw dropping action sequences as the limits of filmmaking are pushed to absolute limit. The true story of T. E Lawrence commands the screen but if you’re going to witness this masterpiece you have to commit cause you’re undivided attention is required to soak it all in.
Peter O’Toole is T. E Lawrence, the British army lieutenant who becomes a key figure during the Arab revolt. The film starts with his death but as his funeral he is regarded as great individual and leader as the story then extensively portrays how he came to earn that title. O’Toole is incredible in this bringing such gravitas to his performance as we witnesses the characters transformation across the span of the story. As Lawrence yells to Omar Sharif as he rides back into the desert “nothing is written!” this is as story of man making his own destiny and achieving incredible feats of victory.
The scope of this film is unlike any other film, Lawrence of Arabia captures the vast beauty and harshness of the arabic desert with haunting beauty. There is no end to it, no escape from the sun and danger can strike at any moment, Lawrence has to traverse this terrain at many points in the film despite his perseverance he will never be a master of it. Director David Lean has his cinematographer and team go for broke as you can’t believe the sequences happening before your eyes. This was made in the 1960’s its all practical and real and redefines epic. Hundreds of men on horseback swords drawn charging into battle with one another, music swelling as a nation goes to war with itself.
Lawrence’s morals and ideals are out through vigorous trials over the long course of the film. Lean really uses the epic scope for powerful character study as man who is opposed to violence be forced to become a leader of bloody conflict. It is also noteworthy of Lawrence’s change in “loyalties” he at first is a disrespected lieutenant of Britain who transforms into one Arabia’s strongest allies. Defying all expectations from his superiors He comes to support the formation of the Arab National Council wanting to unite the tribes and Arabian nation against coming colonial forces from Britain, France and others. The great struggles of this man to fight for the nation and people he believes in is very inspiring and tragic in a way.
This is such an incredible film a lot of holds up so well fifty years on but one thing doesn’t and it is an unfortunate reminder of the time period. Alec Guinness is in black face in this movie, it’s fucked up but we can’t do anything about it. To the films credit Guinness does not play up stereotypes as he is portraying Prince Faisal, a very regal and well-developed character. Its part of filmmaking messed up history that still unfortunately still exists today in some ways but it doesn’t ruin the experience of the film. If you do have serious issues with this don’t let it cloud your final judgement as many characters are portrayed by the correct ethnicity and shows a deep respect for the culture.
I might write a separate piece on the brilliance of this film as I’ve only covered mere pieces of what I loved about Lawrence of Arabia. Don’t let the run time turn you off, look at it like the desert Lawrence must cross to achieve his mission. It will be long perhaps tedious at times, a member of your viewing party may be left behind but the reward of experiencing this film is far greater than any minor inconvenience from sitting on a couch too long.
Just ask yourself when was the last time you saw something truly epic? If you can’t think of an answer then its time to watch Lawrence of Arabia.