5. Lawrence of Arabia

8 Jul

Lawrence of Arabia

dir. David Lean

David Lean helped define what it means for a film to be “epic”. With his Bridge on the River Kwai and Doctor Zhivago, Lean took us from the depths of the jungle to the frozen tundra, throwing his characters in the midst of these harsh elements and forcing them to figure out who they are. But, as effective as those films can be, it is Lawrence of Arabia that stands above them all. This isn’t merely due to the gorgeous photography of the vast, unforgiving deserts of the Middle East, though that does definitely play a role. The reason Lawrence of Arabia is so fascinating is that Lean chose to place at the center of his WWI epic a quiet, enigmatic young man whose actions set everything in motion, but whose motivations are a complete mystery. T.E. Lawrence is one of the most complicated characters in film history. He is a man of contradictions. He is British, yet loves the desert. He is rebellious, yet a brilliant tactician. He is egotistical and pompous, and yet remains charismatic and likable. Nobody knows what he wants or needs, least of all him. But that doesn’t stop him from leading or others from following him. The risk that David Lean took, hinging such a huge, self-assured production on a character so unknowable, paid off and Lawrence of Arabia remains a lavish, exciting, frustrating, daring film that raised the bar for epics, biographical pictures, and film itself.

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