Larger Than Life

Those of you who - breathlessly? - follow the ramblings that I call my tweets - know that I spent last weekend doing two things: working and watching Lawrence of Arabia. I found out that I tried watching it once before and that I'd only made it about 41 min. in before abandoning the effort. The first 41 minutes make you realize just how long the movie is and at the time, I didn't have the patience. This time, I stuck it through (if spacing it out over four days can be likened to any sort of sticktoitiveness) and I'm glad I did. This won't exactly be a review, more a collection of thoughts and probably only a smattering - I feel as if I could write an essay about this movie. And by the way, thanks to The Boy, I will forever exclaim (rather than merely say) Lawrence of Arabia! with rolling Rs, an exclamation mark and a veddy British intonation. (might help if I put in the link to the video, huh? Vacation brain, my apologies.... Also, link fixed. Thanks to Trevor for letting me know)

I was vaguely aware of the story, the way your vaguely aware of a number of historical events - enough that you know what happened and can participate in a very basic conversation, but very far from knowing details. Discovering the story  - or at least the movie version of the story - of what Lawrence did, what he and the Arab army did for the war in the desert during World War I was fascinating and makes me feel like a more well-rounded person. But what was most interesting about the movie was the journey into the desert and the journey into the man.

There are a number of big names in this movie or actors who became big names, such as Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif, as well as big-at-the-time Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn, but there's an additional, sort of anonymous yet very much possessing of a personality, character that plays as big part as O'Toole, namely the desert. I've been to the desert in Nevada and came home saying it was like the mountains, only more so. Nothing has ever made me feel smaller, more like the tiniest blip then being in the desert. It is such an overwhelming sense of inexorable time, of so much past behind you that you cannot fathom it and so much future stretching in front of you that you are less to this Earth then what an ant is to our lifetimes. People have called it pitiless and merciless, but neither fit because that assumes a sort of will, an intention and there is none. The desert just is. Is in a way that I have never felt except when I was in the Rockies, but more so. There is a silence there, a sense of history and a strange sense of hope that even when we are all gone, it will still be there, continuing.

And this turned into more of an ode to the desert then to a movie, so back on track. The movie captures this about the desert, take you into it and because of how long the movie is, it takes you into that headspace of being in the desert, of connecting to that sense of depthless time. You - well I, anyway - want to disappear into it, study it, try to learn just a little of it, while realizing that only generations of living in it will allow you to begin to live in a sort of uneasy partnership with it. Which brings us to the Bedouin, the various tribes of Arabs united through the work of Lawrence and I think, despite not knowing very much about these tribes beyond the obvious, that the movie began to capture how living in the desert shapes a culture and a people.

For a film geek, you can wax poetic about David Lean's direction, the cuts, the justifiably famous mirage scene (the first 3,5 minutes of this), the brilliant editing, the vision of making this movie that has as mentioned in the documentary in the special features, "no girl, no love story" and hardly any action. There is no way this kind of movie would be made today and it is a great pity, because this is the kind of movie that will be to our age as Shakespeare was to the 1600s.

Yes, you might say that the movie made an impression on me. What can I say, it had that feeling of being a timeless classic.

This is a movie that I will need to own and to watch regularly. Not for a while - 217 min. of movie, plus about 100 min. of special features is a time investment that felt a bit like taking an advanced class in filmmaking, but it is definitely a movie I will want to revisit. There is so much about it that this larger than life – T.E. Lawrence himself was the definition of larger than life (and I need to get my hands on his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom), the movie - released when I was only a few months old - has become larger than life and then there's the desert. Which is most definitely larger than life.

Have you seen it? What did you think?


Trevor said…
Umm... the YouTube link isn't correct.  It seems you smushed together blogger and youtube into one link.

Sorry to be that kind of person who doesn't have an actual comment but instead points out a typo. :)
AlisonH said…
I saw it when I was a kid and couldn't really appreciate it yet, although I remember I thought it was okay.

Nevada: driving across that endless endless desert, hubby at the wheel. I glanced up from my knitting when there was a several-tiered bluff next to the highway, a change in the landscape.

And there on the nearer outcropping was a stallion, nose to the wind, mane and tail flying behind him, proclaiming the whole world all his own, a pair of mares a bit back from him on the other rock shelf level. Breathtaking, and unbelievable that they'd chosen just the moment we were passing by to take a stand like that.
Anonymous said…
I haven't seen it, although for the first time I've added it to my list of things to see.  But what you've written made me think of two things.  First, if you haven't read it, you might perhaps also like the book Desert Queen.  It captured my attention thoroughly when I read it.  Second, once a month or so I have to get up very early to drive four hours or so to a place where I do fieldwork; the one thing that makes getting out of bed at an hour one should not have to see twice in a day is the fact that I get to drive across the Mojave desert at sunrise.  It is all that you write and more, and I do that entire drive in total silence - the desert is that compelling and absorbing.