Wow, what an experience this movie was. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to see Lawrence of Arabia, because it deserves every accolade and bit of praise it’s given. Directed by David Lean, and starring Peter O’Toole in the starring role, I knew this movie was going to have a place on the blog, but knowing that it’s almost 4 hours long was daunting. However, once the movie begins, it hooks you in so fast that you hardly even recognize it. The story is so massive and dense that every bit of screen time is earned; even the slower, quieter moments. Lawrence of Arabia is a sprawling, beautiful, epic that easily earns the title of one of the best movies of all time.
It’s hard to summarize a story this massive in scope, but I’ll do my best. The film begins with the death of T.E. Lawrence, in a motorcycle accident in 1935. At his memorial service, a reporter asks around to figure out more about this enigmatic, remarkable man. The film then jumps back to the first World War, to a young Lieutenant Lawrence, stationed in Cairo. He is to be transferred to Arabia to investigate a potential British ally named Prince Faisal, basically because he’s a clumsy, smart-ass misfit and his brigade wants him gone. So from there he heads to Arabia to meet Prince Faisal.
Immediately upon meeting Faisal, Lawrence piques the princes interest. Another officer tells Faisal and his men that they need to retreat to Yenbo, but Lawrence suggests they launch a surprise attack on the enemy Turks at the seaside city of Aqaba. Faisal secretly sends Lawrence with 50 men across the desert to take the town. After an incredibly long, and trying journey to Aqaba, the men quickly sweep the city and take it over for the Arabs. Along the way, (and after saving and killing men) Lawrence is now a changed man. His attitude and general insolence have almost disappeared entirely. He’s been transformed into a leader, and when he returns to his fellow troops in Cairo, we really get a sense of just how much he’s changed since he left. The men barely recognize Lawrence, as he storms into their headquarters with his young Arab servant (who definitely wasn’t allowed in there).
So at that point, the movie is about half over. Like I said, this movie is absolutely massive. From that point, the movie essentially follows Lawrence and his (now smaller) group of men, as they form ambushes on the Turkish train lines. It reminded me a lot of the later parts of Red Dawn, as I’m sure they were influenced by this movie. After him and one of his best friends were captured and tortured by the Turks, Lawrence is again humbled, no longer viewing himself as a self-proclaimed ‘god’, but a man. The film then ends with Lawrence and his men trying to take Damascus from the Turks before the English do, to finally give the Arabs the freedom he had wanted to help them earn from early on. However, the in-fighting between the Arab tribes as well as the British retaking their bureaucracy ultimately defeats Lawrence. He is made a Colonel, and sent home immediately, now useless to both sides of the war.
Sorry for such a long summary, but this movie is absolutely huge. That’s actually my favorite part about it is that every scene (that I could tell) was filmed on location, whether in Egypt, the Arabian desert, or back in Britain. It really helps transport the viewer into this world. Also helping in that regard are the HUGE set-pieces. Hundreds of extras fill the screen in many scenes, many times with a ton of action taking place at the same time. I was lucky enough to see this movie in restored Blu-ray and oh my god, the cinematography and scene composition was breathtaking. I don’t use that word lightly, but just about every frame of this movie could say a thousand words. Another thing I thought about while watching is that I’m sure this movie would have to cost upward 500 million dollars to make today. The length of it in general, amount of extras, and the action scenes are all bigger than anything I’ve seen come out recently, maybe of all time.
The character of T.E. Lawrence is also what makes this movie so gripping. From the beginning, during his time in Cairo, he demands the screen with his dry wit and almost oddball sense of humor. Peter O’Toole was incredible in this movie also, having to play such a broad range of emotion as the movie progresses. Knowing that this character is based on a real-life figure, I wonder how accurate his portrayal was. I’m sure they had to take creative license, because it’s almost unbelievable that anybody could have lived as interesting of a life as Lawrence of Arabia.