In 1962, the British film landscape was barren as compared to its glamorous and fruitful cousin across the pond, but appearing from the distance, almost a mirage at first, David Lean and Lawrence Arabia came forth, allowing the world to once again fall in love with British cinema.
Based on a true story, Lawrence of Arabia tells the tale of T.E Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) as he ventures into Arabia to unite the fractured Arab tribes, in the hope he can galvanise them forward to victory against the almighty Turkish Empire during World War 1.
I love how the cinematographer paints a masterpiece that wouldn’t look out place in a art museum; using almost exclusively wide shots and wide mid shots, to allow always for the enormity of the breath taking landscape to be kept consistently in shot, and Lawrence himself only acting as a small dot upon the horizon, to the extent that he appears as merely just another trivial grain of sand on the desert carpet, as they agonizingly trudge across, showing us how unimportant man really is compared to the beauty and power of mother nature.
But what stands out to me, almost equally, is the contrasting of two scenes that best represent the futile nature of war, because in the end no one really wins. This is best illustrated in one scene where Lawrence turns back into the desert to save Gasim, who wanders aimlessly through the desert alone. Constant editing cuts to the sun, act like a numberless clock, counting the hours to his demise, only to be rescued from the jaws of certain death by Lawrence. But only for Lawrence in a later scene, having to execute Gasim for a crime he commits that threatens to disrupt harmony between the Arab tribes.
Lawrence’s silhouetted figure dressed entirely in white against the blazing sun, towards the later stages of the film almost in one image capturing his entire essence of meaning to the people Arabia, they see him as a divine creature sent from the heavens to bless them. Even the audience is sometimes fooled into believing this also. In all our eyes, this blonde hair, blue eye person, is truly a messier, but lurking behind those same blue eyes, is a blood thirsty savage and I felt that Peter O’Toole was not just able to do this role justice, in my eyes he exceeded all expectations, and took the character to whole new depths that I’m sure even writer Robert Bolt wasn’t expecting.
Lawrence of Arabia is also blessed with a beautiful soundtrack that perfectly wraps up the entire masterpiece into a neat little bow, going a long way to explain why the film was described by Steven Spielberg as a ‘miracle of a film’, and for me directed by a miracle of a director. ‘Tributes for a prince, flowers for a man’ David lean is a prince of cinema that deserves all the tributes he gets, a true inspiration to all that follow. Lawrence of Arabia is a film that should not be missed.