Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lust for life

I'm a sucker for old movies, as most any friend of mine can tell you. One classic that seems to have almost a mystical hold over me is David Lean's "Dr. Zhivago," the 1965 epic about war, love and death during the Russian Revolution.

I've seen it at least 12 times and always look in on it whenever it plays on TV. The last time that happened, I caught it just after the opening credits, and thought, "Ahh, I'll watch about five minutes of this." Next time I looked up, three and a half hours had gone by.

Certainly the film's decent, humanistic message is part of its charm (and a reason both the movie and the Boris Pasternak novel were banned until after the Soviet Union's fall). Part of it is Zhivago himself, so passionate for life and for the women he loves (translated from Russian, the word Zhivago means "live" or "life"). Part of it is the haunting cinematography (especially the "ice palace" scene, with Soria, Spain standing in for Russia). Part of it is Julie Christie.

And, at the end of the day, "Zhivago" is a darn good story, set against the backdrop of one of the most tumultuous periods in world history. It's the kind of classic filmmaking that didn't survive after this film's release.

I never have made it through Pasternak's novel. Reading Russian romanticism is always a chore (don't even get me started about "War and Peace"), but those who would know tell me that Zhivago is worth the effort. Maybe one day.

I'm about to introduce a spoiler, so if you haven't seen the film and think you might one day, skip this part.

For me, the most tragic moment is the last images we see -- of Zhivago spotting his beloved Lara -- or did he? -- running after her, and collapsing to die in the snow. It reminded me of how American politician Adlai Stevenson met his fate in 1965 -- suffering a heart attack on the streets of London, unrecognized by any of the passers-by. For Zhivago, it was the most tragic of fates, denied one final time the woman he loved.

Hell, now that I'm all depressed, I guess that's enough words about "Dr. Zhivago." Why, though, do I have a sneaking suspicion this film will find its way into the DVD player later tonight?

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