Internet Explorer may cause delays in video playback and page loading. Upgrade to the Windows 10 Edge browser for optimal viewing experience.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)


Doctor Zhivago

For some people, David Lean’s name is synonymous with over-direction, but in Doctor Zhivago, as in Lawrence of Arabia, Lean had a theme and canvas to match his epic style. Boris Pasternak’s novel was one of the best novels of the 20th century, and probably the best anti-communist novel ever written. The book is not a political novel so much as a romance — but the doomed romance of Zhivago and Lara is a damning comment on an ideology and regime that robbed its people of their private lives and passions.

In Lean’s hands, the book is transformed into a sprawling epic and a lot of the subtlety is removed — but despite all the lurid images and overdramatic camera work, the result is not as overwrought as one might have expected. After all, Russia is a big place, and communism is a big subject. Fortunately, the screenwriters of yesterday were not as heavy-handed as today’s, and often the dialogue is nearly as rich as the costumes and settings.

This movie was probably a model for the Merchant-Ivory genre, but you can’t blame it for that. The film can be faulted for its moments of sentimentality — but there is nothing sentimental about the ending, when Zhivago and Lara are long dead and their daughter is accidentally rediscovered, and her identity restored, at a Siberian power plant. In its own way, this movie is as powerful a political statement as anything in mainstream cinema.

The multi-disc DVD release is appropriately grand for a film of this stature, including commentary from Sharif, Steiger, and David Lean’s widow, nearly a dozen documentaries old and new, and a music-only track that lets you savor Maurice Jarre’s moving score (if controversial during its creation). Highly recommended for fans and casual moviegoers.

Read me a bedtime story, mommy!