The movie Lawrence of Arabia–which was directed by David Lean and released in 1962–depicts the feat of British Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence (played by Peter O’Toole) uniting rival Arabian tribes to defeat the Turkish army. Lawrence is an intuitive and intelligent man, but his commanders don’t appreciate his blunt behavior. They decide that he would be better suited to go to Arabia to join Prince Faisal (played by Alec Guinness) and his tribe. Sherif Ali (played by Omar Sharif) joins Lawrence on his journey across the desert after he kills Lawrence’s guide. When Lawrence reaches Faisal, he discovers that his people are ill-equipped to fight the Turks. He decides that the only way Faisal’s people will have a chance is to somehow get multiple tribes that are at each other’s throats to fight together in a surprise attack at Aqaba, a major Turkish port, and eventually get more advanced weapons from the British. The other tribes are amazed by Lawrence’s leadership, and do come together–even the tribe led by Auda Abu Tayi (played by Anthony Quinn), whose motives are to find gold in the city. The army successfully seizes Aqaba and other Turkish strongholds. Lawrence later leaves after feeling torn between the Arabs and the British, but he still left a strong legacy to those who knew him, even after he dies in a motorcycle accident in 1935.
The story is a telling of the traditional “unappreciated protagonist rises up to become a hero worshipped by many” trope, but it doesn’t become too much of a cliche. Lawrence has to face a lot of obstacles on the way to get there, especially travelling through the formidable desert. Plus, the others don’t get behind his movement right away. The tribal rivalry is still strong when the men come together and never completely goes away; they only set is aside temporarily for the sake of defeating the Turks. Lawrence also doesn’t come back after he leaves them behind–the heroes come back most of the time in other stories. He still has his own demons to face that won’t go away in the desert, which is understandable under his circumstances. I appreciated that this movie stepped away from the cliches of that trope, since I see it so much in other movies.
This movie is also strong with its characters. They don’t conform too much to a particular stereotype, nor are they flat. The two strongest examples of this are Lawrence and Ali. Lawrence doesn’t use his intelligence just to show off how much he knows; he takes it to figure out what would be best for the army to do. He also accepts his new identity as a member of the Arab tribes (at first) and regards the other members as human beings, breaking the “white savior leads people he thinks are barbaric” trope often used in other war media. He expresses a variety of emotions well. O’Toole’s acting helps with this a great deal, as I could really see when Lawrence is calm when he has to be and traumatized in scenes when he has to deal with murdering a man he saved earlier in the movie and being tortured by men in the Turkish army–experiences that make traumatic reactions justifiable. I also appreciate how Ali isn’t portrayed just as a cold-blooded killer. He is still a man that is faithful to his people and passionate about fighting against the Turks. His reason for killing Lawrence’s guide–the well he drank out of belonged to Ali’s tribe–may not be justifiable but is understandable because of his closeness to his tribe and reflects the tribe rivalry during the war.
Another strength of this movie is the set. The visuals are realistic and stunning, especially for a movie released when color TV was still developing. I could picture myself being there in the desert and city if I was part of Lawrence’s army. The contrast between day and night scenes are also done well. The day scenes show how the intense sun and heat affect the desert journey, and the night scenes give a good sense of calmness and relief from being able to rest. One particular scene that I liked with this is the scene where Lawrence turns back to help a man who fell off his camel earlier. The man is walking to find the army, but the sun has risen, which makes the chances of getting back alive virtually impossible. The shots of the sun rising, switching back to the man, and occasionally switching back to shots of the sun getting more intense made me feel like I was feeling that heat and increased the sense of urgency that that man make it. The costumes reflect fashions of that time period well and suit each character well. The weapons they use also reflect the time period well. This is importance since a lot of new advanced weapons were used in the Great War, and that it shows how ahead the Turks were in warfare compared to the Arabians.
If any areas of the movie could be improved, they would be the use of the score and including some more information about Lawrence’s life. The music is captivating and expresses the feeling of the story well, but one part of the theme is used a little too frequently in some parts. That takes away some of the epic feeling of the music. Plus, the playing of the theme at the beginning just with the black screen feels empty. Again, the music is well-done, but I couldn’t bring myself into the atmosphere of the movie as much as I could have without a visual connected to that music. In terms of Lawrence’s life, the movie should have put in more about how he was part of an archaeological dig in Syria and an expedition in Sinai before he went to Arabia, since those experiences made him more connected with the Arabian land and its culture. Other than that, Lawrence of Arabia is a strong movie with a gripping story, believable characters, and a beautiful set.
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http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/lawrence_te.shtml (information about T.E. Lawrence)
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056172/ (names of the cast members)