Doctor Zhivago
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Doctor Zhivago can be found here.

Yevgraf Zhivago (Alec Guinness), brother of Doctor Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif), is searching for his niece, the lovechild of Yuri and his mistress Larissa "Lara" Antipova (Julie Christie). Yevgraf believes a young girl, Tonya (or Tania) Komarovsky (Rita Tushingham), may be that child, so he narrates the story of Yuri's life to her.

Doctor Zhivago is loosely based on the epic novel, Doctor Zhivago (1957), written by Russian author Boris Pasternak [1890-1960]. Although Pasternak began working on the novel in the 1910s, he didn't submit it for publication until 1956. When the Soviet censors refused to publish it because of his political views, the manuscript was smuggled out of the Soviet Union and published in Italy in 1957. The novel was finally published in the Soviet Union in 1988. The novel was adapted for this movie by English writer, Robert Bolt.

When is the story set?

The movie begins in the late 1930s or early 1940s but, in flashback, most of the story takes place between 1912 and 1925, set against the backdrop of WWI (1914-1918), the Russian Revolution (1917), and the Russian Civil War (1917-1923).

Lara says that she is 17 when Komarovsky asks her age near the beginning of the film. Pasternak describes Lara at the time Komarovsky seduced her thus: "Lara was only a little over sixteen but she was well developed. People thought she was eighteen or more." Also in the novel, three years have passed between the time Lara was seduced by Komarovsky and she attempts to shoot him so she would have been 19 at the time Yuri sees her at the Christmas Party. However, the movie has her shooting Komarovsky the same night as the rape. Julie Christie, cast as Lara, was 24 years old at the time. Yuri's age is a bit more difficult to pinpoint, as no number is given in the film. Yuri is graduating from medical school and announcing his engagement to Tonya at the Christmas party, so he must be in his early twenties when he sees Lara shoot Komarovsky. In the novel, which begins in 1901 with the death of Yuri's mother when Yuri was about eight years old, Yuri would be about 20 in 1913, when the Christmas party takes place [evidenced when Yuri and Lara meet and work together at the start of the Russian Revolution in 1917; Yuri tells Lara that he saw her four years earlier at the Christmas party]. Omar Shariff, cast as Yuri, was 32 years old at the time.

Komarovsky (Rod Steiger) orders Foie de veau Gascogne (veal liver Gascony-style) without too much mustard, and Lara orders jambon farci en crote (stuffed ham baked in a pastry crust).

In that scene, Komarovsky calls Lara a slut. She says "I am not." He says "We shall see" and sets about raping her. Instead of resisting his attack she surrenders to his lust and they make love. When it's over, he says, "And don't delude yourself that this was rape. That would flatter us both." Lara then takes the pistol that her fianc Pasha Antepova (Tom Courtenay) asked her to keep for him and follows Komarovsky to the Christmas party where she shoots him in the arm. Most viewers assume one of two things: (1) Lara was avenging her rape by attempting to murder her rapist, or (2) Lara is so appalled at finding out that she's as much a sensualist as Komarovsky is that murdering him is her only way out. The novel portrays that scene differently. After six months of the affair, Lara leaves Moscow and spends three years as a governess in Frejus. Her brother arrives and pleads with her to give him money to pay off a gambling debt and says he will commit suicide if she doesn't give him the money. She gets the money from her employers with the intention of getting the money from Komarovsky to repay her employers. In Pasternak's words "Komorovsky must help her chivalrously, disinterestedly, without explanations or disgraceful conditions...Should Komarovsky refuse or humiliate her in any way, she intended to shoot him." She goes to the Christmas party and sees him flirting with another girl. "A new victim, she thought...Suddenly a shot rang out...What has she done, What has she done! Komarovsky kept saying in despair." What she had done was hit the party host in the hand with the bullet.

Who are the Bolsheviks?

The Bolsheviks were a revolutionary political party, led by Vladimir Lenin [1870-1924], that was attempting to overthrow the Imperial Monarchy, led by the tsar of Russia, Nicholas II [1868-1918; reigned 1894-1917]. The Bolsheviks had their origins in an earlier Marxist Labor party that was formed in 1898 for that same purpose. The Bolshevik party emerged in 1903 when the Marxist Labor party broke into two factions: the Mensheviks ("minority") and the Bolsheviks ("majority"). The Mensheviks, headed by Julius Martov [1873-1923], proposed to overthrow the monarchy by peaceful political means. The Bolsheviks intended to use force and ultimately succeeded in establishing the Russian Communist Party in 1918. In the scene where Lara finds Pasha handing out pamphlets, he is a Menshevik. She says: "Pasha, are you a Bolshevik?" Pasha replies: "No they don't like me and I don't like them. They don't know right from wrong." But later, after the Imperial Guard hacks up the peaceful Menshevik demonstration and Pasha get slashed, he eventually becomes the Bolshevik Strelnikov.

The Red Guard or Reds was generally another term for the Bolsheviks (Communists). In the context of the film, the White Guard was the remnant of the Imperial Monarchy trying to defend and reestablish the tsar. In reality, the White Guard was pretty much anyone who was opposed to Bolshevism. On the other hand, Yuri Zhivago is essentially a non-political artist and physician dedicated to the beauty and preservation of life and love, and his efforts are scorned by the Bolsheviks.

A dragoon, a mounted soldier trained to fight cavalry-style.

Lara's mother (Adrienne Corri) drank liquid iodine, commonly used as an antiseptic, which is why Pasha poured it on the cut on his cheek earlier in the film.

Top Bolshevik leaders all changed their names to something more politically appropriate as well as to hide from the Tsarist police. Lenin's real name, for example, was Ulyanov. Leon Trotsky was born Lev Bronstein, and Joseph Stalin (meaning "steel") was surnamed Dzhugashvili. Pasha got the nickname Strelnikov, roughly translated as "executioner", due to his harsh methods as a commander.

There are two schools of thought on this question, some viewers arguing YES and some arguing NO. Those who argue YES base their position on information in the film that says Lara and Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin) became friends, which is how Yuri learned that Tonya and the children had moved to Moscow and were being deported to Paris (Tonya sent the letter through Lara). Those who argue NO point out that, in the novel, Tonya's given name was Antonina, whereas Lara's child was named Tanya, a common Russian nickname for Tatiana.

According to the novel, no. Yuri and Tonya were not related by blood, only by Yuri being adopted into the Gromeko family. The Gromekos -- Alexander (Ralph Richardson) and Anna (Siobhan McKenna) -- were merely friends to Yuri's parents and agreed to raise Yuri as their son after the deaths of his parents.

There is considerable argument about whether the woman was Lara. The film gives no definitive answer. However, Julie Christie played the woman on the street. Whether she was supposed to be Lara or was supposed to be a woman who looks like Lara is up to each viewer to decide.

Tania isn't certain, but Yevgraf certainly seems to believe it. It all adds up...a young girl named Komarovsky born in Mongolia during the time when Lara was living there and who plays the balalaika as though her talent were a gift. In the novel, the story goes a bit differently. Tania is speaking to two characters, Misha Gordon and Nicky Dudorov, not in the film. She tells them her life story. At the end, Gordon asks Dudorov, "You know who she is?" and Dudorov replies, "Yes, of course." She is the daughter of Yuri and Lara, leaving no doubt that Pasternak intended Tania to be Yuri and Lara's daughter.

How does the movie end?

Lara goes with Komarovsky when he comes to offer her and Katya safe passage to Mongolia. There is only enough room in the sledge for three people, so Yuri stays behind and says that he will join her the next day at the train station in Yuriatin. As Lara rides away, Yuri makes her a present of his mother's balalaika. Yuri does not show at the station, and the train leaves without him. Yuri never sees Lara again and does not know that she is pregnant with his child.

Jump to eight years in the future. Yuri is on a bus in Moscow when he notices a woman who resembles Lara walking along the sidewalk. He struggles to get off the crowded bus and attempts to follow her, but he suffers a heart attack and dies in the street, unnoticed by the woman. Lara mysteriously shows up at Yuri's funeral and introduces herself to Yevgraf. She asks for his help finding the child she lost (Yuri's child), and they search through several orphanages without success. Eventually, Lara gave up the search and went away. Yevgraf believes that she died in a labor camp somewhere, "a nameless number on a list that was afterwards mislaid."

Jump ahead again to the framing scenes in which Yevgraf is interviewing Tania Komarovsky. She has remembered that she was born in Mongolia, the same year that Lara took refuge there. When Yevgraf asks her how she came to be lost at the age of eight, she claims that she can't remember until she suddenly flashes on a memory of herself and her father running in the streets, explosions erupting and houses falling down around them. "He let go of my hand," she says with tears in her eyes, "and I was lost!" Still uncertain that Yuri and Lara could be her parents but agreeing to think about it, Tania is led back to work. As she walks across the dam, she slings a balalaika over her shoulder. "Tania, can you play the balalaika?" Yevgraf asks. Tania's escort, apparently a boyfriend, says that she's an artist on the balalaika and that she taught herself. "It's a gift," Yevgraf replies, referring to a similar comment made at the start of the movie about Yuri's mother.

Those who have both seen the movie and read the 600+ page book say that the movie does a good job of pulling a coherent and direct story from a book that tends to lack coherence and become very digressive on occasion, lapsing into long digressions about poetry or about side characters who have little to do with the main story. On the other hand, the film lacks some of the novel's depth in individual characters and political/historical background. All in all, the movie isn't a perfect adaptation, but it's about as good as possible given what screenwriter Robert Bolt had to work with.

Yes. Dr. Christopher Barnes of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Toronto, Canada, has translated Pasternak's 25 Lara poems into English and placed them online in the University-sponsored Toronto Slavic Quarterly here.

Page last updated by bj_kuehl, 2 months ago
Top Contributors: bj_kuehl, Hancock_the_Superb, kmc-4, is-csi


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