Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Day 108 - Lawrence of Arabia

I have never watched Lawrence of Arabia. As a part of my ongoing “I have never...” journey, I have been watching one classic movie I have never seen each month in an effort to broaden my horizons and experience a variety of cinematic masterpieces for the first time. Following my return from Ireland, I thought watching a classic movie would be a great way to unwind and help me get back into sync with my home life. At first I threw around a few ideas for some potential films to watch for the first time tonight, but returning to one of the hottest weeks of this year made Lawrence of Arabia seem an obvious and appropriate choice. In turn, Rachael helped me track down a copy at our local library and I settled in to watch the Hollywood cinematic account of T.E. Lawrence’s role in shaping the modern Middle East.

Doing the unimaginable...

...and winning the respect of many
I will start by saying there is nothing I can say about Lawrence of Arabia that hasn’t already been said. Additionally, any effort I put into trying to recount the amazing story of T.E. Lawrence’s life would likely be much less eloquent and much more lacking than those that came before me. I will simply say the role a single man from England had in the recent history of the Middle East is astonishing, and Peter O’Toole’s acting in the recreation of T.E. Lawrence’s tortured life was powerful enough to make me feel as though I was seeing the events of World War I Arabia as they happened. Shortly after I started the film, I sat engaged as the events in the film unfolded and escalated. Early on, Lawrence’s efforts to prove himself to the Arabian tribes and his strategic and overwhelming victory at Aqaba masqueraded as the focus on the tale, but it quickly became apparent Lawrence’s emotional struggles with the violence of war, with his own devotions, and with his identity would serve as the centerpiece of the film. While I was gripped by the uncommon, and almost unbelievable, elements of Lawrence’s story, I knew the conflict he faced on the battlefields was second to what he was facing within himself.

Returning after victory at Aqaba

By the time the film reached its intermission, the heaviness of Lawrence’s experiences in victory and defeat left me wondering whether the man would be capable of persisting in the throes of war. While I knew his survival was guaranteed, I doubted Lawrence’s ability to mentally face the continued horrors and uncertainty of his role in Britain’s World War I military conquests. As the second half of the film moved forward, my perspective was reinforced by Lawrence’s wary, unstable reactions to his circumstances. Following his efforts to engage in guerilla warfare against the Turks and his ultimate capture by enemy hands, I watched as Lawrence vacillated on points of his commitments, his allegiances, and his identity. He was a man lost as he led the Arab forces toward Damascus, which led to the inevitable slaughter of Turkish forces after Lawrence’s abandonment of his cause and principles. War had broken him and driven him to a point of no return.

Reaching a breaking point

The aftermath

After Lawrence’s failed efforts to bring the Arab tribes together in the newly claimed land, I was staggered by the abrupt ending of the film. I watched on as a newly promoted and highly dispirited T.E. Lawrence took his final look at a passing Middle Eastern caravan as he was escorted away from Arabia in a British staff car. With that final glance the film drew to sudden close with a black screen displaying the simple words “the end.” Although it caught me by surprise, the ending, and its inherent symbolism seemed appropriate after watching the story of T.E. Lawrence unfold. What Lawrence was and what he became was likely left in those final moments of his time in the Arabian desert, a feeling that was implied in the film’s opening sequence immediately following T.E. Lawrence’s death in a motorcycle crash. All I can say is Lawrence of Arabia is powerful and moving. It is clear why so many consider it a masterpiece.

One last glance from a dejected man

After watching Lawrence of Arabia I must say the film is a cinematic experience worth having. While the movie is nearly four hours in length, the story of T.E. Lawrence’s life as told in Lawrence of Arabia is an engaging tale. At no point did I feel an aspect of the film was unnecessary, and the span of the work captures Lawrence’s tormented struggles so well it makes the viewer feel embedded in the story. Needless to say, I’m happy I took the time to watch Lawrence of Arabia tonight. Although it ended up being a late night because of it, watching the movie was a great way to spend this evening. Now, I just need to find a way to cool off in this persistent summer heat.

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