Doctor Zhivago – the movie

Dr. Zhivago – the movie
Produced 1965 – David Lean
Video 2005 / Turner
197 minutes

Well,   I’m very familiar with the book – overly familiar,  perhaps.  It’s a good book.

Doctor Zhivago: the book (Hayword)

Doctor Zhivago: the book (Pevear)

Doctor Zhivago – a Critical Companion

BUT!  I’d never (ever) seen the movie.   So today,  after reading Dr. Zhivago probably 4 times, within 6 months,   I watched the movie.   _ FIrst off , it’s a good thing I’d read the book or I would have been left more than a bit puzzled.

Compared to the book,  the movie is a soap opera in an historical setting.   David Leon managed to pull the love story out leaving the basics of the Revolution and Civil War in place and almost without comment.  That’s it.

There were things I really liked,  very appropriate changes for a film.  There were other things I did not like – but perhaps they just wouldn’t fit into a movie.   I don’t know –  The movie is certainly not one of my favorites,  but then,  the book isn’t one of my favorites, either.

The movie opens with a musical  “Overture”  which is loud and cacophonous with an impressionistic scene of birch trees as foreground.  The leaves change to indicate seasons.  I really liked this – it told the audience to pay attention to the music –  there are distinct and possibly counterpointed themes in there – similar to the structure of the book.

The loud clanging of the trains and the city keeps very much in line with the book. Lara’s theme is sweet and almost mesmerizing – it’s a rather haunting melody.

In the opening scene a minor but very important character,  Efgraf narrates in the 1950s or so.   It took awhile before I was able to accept the story as being told from Efgraf’s point of view but then I came to see it as brilliant.   Efgrof gave coherency to the plot changes.  He clarified things which Pasternak assumed his readers knew.  (Strelnikov was not with the Whites or a Bolshevik party member but with the parisans.

The book was a lot of “showing” rather than “telling” of things that 20th century Russian readers (Pasternak’s peers) wouldn’t need information about  –  the movie was able to “tell”  some things to fill the gaps.

I thought the book moved fast,  but smashing almost 600 pages of movement into a 2 1/2 hour movie the speed is even greater.  The editing took out all that was not related to the love story or the Revolution.

The book alone didn’t describe the Gromeko’s home well enough for me to really visualie it but after the Bolsheviks took over the movie and my mind matched.

I missed some symbolism – the wild duck Yurii brought home from the front – the speechless man who gave it to him –

Symbolism  –  the candle,  stove not working –  in Yuriatin it works – rather blatant.  –  ominous weather,  ironing as ordinary work and making the two women rather similar,  personal changes by photography – nice –  with Lara’s theme for spring –

Going to Veryikino was more old fashioned,  natural,  magical maybe?  The good peasant life.  “They’ve shot the Tsar and all his family.”   (NOT a part of the book!)

I suppose everyone has censors –  I see where Pasternak had trouble with his original version,   but Lean had to work around public opinion in the latter part of the  Cold War West-  In the film,  Yuri’s opinion of the Revolution was muffled into non-existence or even somewhat opposed the whole time,  but in the book he favors the revolution,  at least at first.   This really shows up when Yurii goes back to the Gromeko home after his time at the front.

Imo,  Lara and Tonya are essentially the same woman with different hair. Lara’s flakiness is not really apparent and Tonya is never seen as being quite as competent as she is in the book.

The sparkliness when Yurii and Lara get together in Yuriakino is stupid – about the same level as the rainbow over the dam at the end.  And I hated the way Yurii died – omg – stuuu-pid.

The book is , quite simply,  far far better.  The movie is okay – maybe it was right for audiences in 1965 – I don’t know – that’s darned near 50 years ago.

Now I’ll go read some reviews – (ha!)

Roger Ebert

NY Times
(I don’t think Bosley Crowther read the book –  you can only make a film of what you get from a book.)

Btw,  this is the first movie I’ve watched since 1999 (American Beauty).  The best movie I’ve ever seen was The Wanderers –  (1979)

2 Responses to Doctor Zhivago – the movie

  1. Roni says:

    Didn’t Yurii die the same way (heart attack) chasing Lara down on a street many years later in the book as well as the movie?


  2. No, in the movie Yurii died of a heart attack getting off a trolley in Moscow, but Lara was nowhere around. That was Madamoiselle Fleury walking by as Yurii was dying in the book. They didn’t see each other. This was part of a theme of unexpected encounters, people crossing paths.

    Lara chanced by the old house for Yurii’s funeral – she left Moscow again a few days later.


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