Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

“There are two kinds of women — and you, as we well know, are not the first kind.”

In pre-Revolutionary Russia, a doctor (Omar Sharif) married to the kind daughter (Geraldine Chaplin) of family friends falls in love with a young woman (Julie Christie) who is being abused by her older lover (Rod Steiger), and whose fiance (Tom Courtenay) is becoming an increasingly radical Bolshevik.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alec Guinness Films
  • David Lean Films
  • Doctors and Nurses
  • Geraldine Chaplin Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Infidelity
  • Julie Christie Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Omar Sharif Films
  • Ralph Richardson Films
  • Revolutionaries
  • Rita Tushingham Films
  • Rod Steiger Films
  • Tom Courtenay Films
  • Writers

Peary doesn’t review this epic film by director David Lean — based on Boris Pasternak’s 592 page 1957 novel — in his GFTFF, but he does mention it briefly in his Alternate Oscars, where he asserts that it “comes across as lumbering, pedestrian, and artificial” and notes that “Omar Sharif’s heart attack sequence” is among “the most wretched in film history” (!). Upon my first rewatching of this Oscar-nominated historical drama since my teenage years, I was, unfortunately, also not very taken in. The sets and cinematography (by Freddy Young) are stunning, but the multi-faceted storyline — so complex in Pasternak’s novel that an intricated character map has been created — perhaps inevitably covers far too much territory, without digging meaningfully into character motivations.

Zhivago himself, for instance, is a cipher, with Sharif simply staring out of his liquidy brown eyes most of the time:

… and while it’s clear that Christie’s character (Lara) has gotten herself enmeshed with a sociopathic monster (Steiger), we don’t really understand her back story, including her relationship with Courtenay (whose character is only very loosely limned).

Meanwhile, a major narrative challenge is that Sharif is married to kind Chaplin, and we can’t help disliking him immensely for harming her through infidelity.

While we’re supposed to root for this couple (Zhivago and Lara, who gets her own theme song), we simultaneously feel terrible about it. The gorgeous visuals are the primary reason to check out this phenomenally popular film, which is “the eighth-highest grossing movie of all time”.

Note: Watch for Klaus Kinski in a brief but memorable role as a haunted soldier.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Rod Steiger as Komarovsky
  • Beautiful sets, costumes, and location filming
  • Freddy Young’s cinematography
  • Maurice Jarre’s instantly memorable score

Must See?
No, though of course it’s worth a one time look for its historical relevance.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Doctor Zhivago (1965)

  1. Rewatch (5/13/22). Not must-see.

    I saw this once before, on its release, when I was 10. I wasn’t crazy about it then either (not that 10-year-olds have much critical analysis ability). Several decades later, my opinion hasn’t changed.

    I’m fairly familiar with Russian literature by now but Pasternak’s novel is one that I just couldn’t bring myself to tackle. My understanding is that the film brings the massive novel down to the basics. But – as a film, it’s still not all that interesting, outside of a few scenes.

    The political backdrop is significantly diluted, which is a shame since that’s a potent element.

    Almost all of part 2 is flat and dull.

    Overall, a rather inert piece of drama.

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