The life of a Russian physician and poet who, although married to another, falls in love with a political activist's wife and experiences hardship during the First World War and then the October Revolution.
After settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men's construction of a railway bridge for their captors - while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it.
During the Russian Revolution, Yuri Zhivago, is a young doctor who has been raised by his aunt and uncle following his father's suicide. Yuri falls in love with beautiful Lara Guishar, who has been having an affair with her mother's lover, Victor Komarovsky, an unscrupulous businessman. Yuri, however, ends up marrying his cousin, Tonya. But when he and Lara meet again years later, the spark of love reignites.Written by
Flawless beauty - the fact that it's not Lean's best is beside the point
David Lean had just directed two of the greatest films ever made ("The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia"), the more recent of which was easily the greater. As you'd expect "Doctor Zhivago" isn't as good. But this isn't to say that it's flawed in any way; there is, in fact, NOTHING wrong with it.
Of course, the previous two films had exceptionally strong stories; this one, while rich in incident, has almost no story - which would not be interpreted as a defect. The point of the film is to sketch a historical epoch by showing us the thin life-lines of a handful of people who lived through it. It's like looking at a stretch of a vast river and seeing the illuminated pathways of half a dozen or so minute particles. If there seems to be an undue amount of coincidence in the way these pathways repeatedly intersect ... well, we had the whole river to choose from.
It was fashionable to criticise Maurice Jarre's score at the time, but, in addition to being undeniably attractive and catchy, it comes across as a model of intelligent and tasteful scoring today. Bolt's script is based on less promising material than "Lawrence of Arabia" so is less inspired, but still flawlessly crafted. Particularly good are the gaps in the narrative. Some things we simply don't see: anything of Yevgraf's life before he enters the story, anything that happens to Pasha when he isn't in the vicinity of Zhivago ... but we have the material available to infer, and as it happens, it's the fact that we infer rather than see that makes the story feel so convincingly large.
Most of all, this is a beautiful film, with some of the most breathtaking location footage (it doesn't matter that it's Spain and Finland standing in for Russia) ever shot. As always, the real test is whether the characters look like they're really there (Moscow, the distant Russian countryside), their feet really touching the ground and leaving footprints. If "Doctor Zhivago" had done nothing but convey this impression so well it would still be a masterpiece.
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