Monday, December 30, 2013

30 Before 30: Lawrence of Arabia

Watching Lawrence of Arabia, one of the great films I picked as part of my 30 Before 30. left me surprisingly cold.

In part, I blame the pacing. Clearly, my modern sensibility can't handle a 4+ hour movie, and that's way too long for Carol to take in a single sitting. It took us three sessions to watch the whole movie.

But the second piece, the part I find counter-intuitively disturbing, is how post-modern the film felt. Lawrence achieves super-human heights rallying the Arabs to oppose the Turks and their German allies. He also endures tremendous lows, trying and failing to forge a Western democracy among the tribes, not anticipating their cruelty to each other or their conquered foes in the prison camp, and encouraging their lowest impulses in "taking no prisoners" when faced with the retreating marauders (who had committed war crimes of their own).

What disturbed me was how little insight we have into Lawrence. We see the things he does, but that tells us almost nothing of the man and his motives. Is he a supreme egotist, a genius, a lunatic? We can guess, but we know nothing definitively. And perhaps that dates the film- that David Lean was unwilling to fictionalize further in his epic biopic. What makes it hard for me to approach is that, in fiction, this is precisely the kind of story I treasure.

The cinematography was, of course, stunning. I can see the wide pan approach echoed in everything from Lord of the Rings to Inception. But, given modern access to images from around the globe, the cinematography can't be the main draw for me. The story, the characters, have to win out. And in Lawrence of Arabia, I couldn't quite decide if I was watching the story of a hero.

No comments:

Post a Comment