Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962), directed by David Lean.

The epic tale of a strong-willed, enigmatic man.

This could have been another better-quality war adventure, like the director's previous film, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), but in the five year interval he developed a much deeper, more conflicted vision of war and heroism. It's also set on a much grander scale: I have never seen such vast landscapes in film before.

The story is about Lawrence turning a corner, the filmmaker showing two perspectives on tales of war.

The first part is all boy's big adventure, finely supported by Maurice Jarre's sweeping, romantic score. A Englishman descends on the primitive squabbling Arab tribes and by his force of will gets them organized to achieve impossible goals. Oddly enough, the Arabs understand him: "You're one of those English in love with the desert." They know it's a game to him and they are his chess pieces, but they follow him anyway.

In the second part Lawrence's inner demons emerge. He finds he hates killing and it drives him mad. He has to do terrible things with his own hands, executing his friends. He's done with adventure and just wants out, but still poses for the cameras.

In the final ignominy, the struggle sinks into political wrangling, all heroism snuffed out.

A 1962 film can't be explicit about certain things, but those familiar with the biography of TE Lawrence will get the hints:

The real Lawrence later wrote that he had been raped by the Turks and enjoyed it. He had masochistic desires and, back in England after the war, paid men to flog him.

Another historical note: Lawrence's efforts were in support of General Allenby, who achieved total victory in his theater with minimal loss of his own troops.

It says "Introducing Peter O'Toole", although the IMDB shows earlier small credits. It must be one of the most auspicious debuts in film history, although he never entirely kicked the "mad Englishman" persona. He said that his looney director in the The Stunt Man (1980) was inspired by working with David Lean.

3h47m long, including overture and intermission. It seems like a much shorter film.

Available on Blu-ray with a superb image.