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.
An inordinately complex man who has been labeled everything from hero, to charlatan, to sadist, Thomas Edward Lawrence blazed his way to glory in the Arabian desert, then sought anonymity as a common soldier under an assumed name. The story opens with the death of Lawrence in a motorcycle accident in Dorset at the age of 46, then flashbacks to recount his adventures: as a young intelligence officer in Cairo in 1916, he is given leave to investigate the progress of the Arab revolt against the Turks in World War I. In the desert, he organizes a guerrilla army and--for two years--leads the Arabs in harassing the Turks with desert raids, train-wrecking and camel attacks. Eventually, he leads his army northward and helps a British General destroy the power of the Ottoman Empire. Written by
a memento from the days when they made real movies
It is, in a way, depressing to watch this movie today. One winds up contrasting it with the sort of technologically slick and aesthetically shallow spectacles, like "Titanic", that garner the sort of adulation that a truly great movie like "Lawrence" received in its day, and one realizes how far we have fallen.
Ignore David Lean's painterly technique, the way he fills the screen like a canvas. Ignore Freddie Young's stunning cinematography in fulfillment of Lean's vision. Ignore the fabulous score by Maurice Jarre. Ignore the stupendous cast. Ignore the topnotch script.
What we have, beyond all this, is an absolutely gripping and psychologically perplexing character study of a uniquely enigmatic individual that keeps us on the edge of our seats for the full length of the movie. "Lawrence", at over 200 minutes, goes by faster than many a movie of half its length, due to Lean's brilliant pacing and direction, and superb acting all around. To make a comparison in the world of music, this movie, like Mahler's 8th symphony, is a universe contained within itself.
Of course, it is an exercise in self-denial and philistinism to watch this movie in anything other than the wide-screen - or "letterbox" - format, due to Lean's complete use of every inch of the wide screen. To watch it otherwise is to miss half of Lean's intention.
To use a hackneyed phrase, they simply don't make 'em like this anymore.
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