I watched Doctor Zhivago today (1965 version) and was mesmerized. The first time I saw it was when I was 15, and I had a little trouble following the storyline. With this movie, you have to get the big picture and keep track of the little details and have a little historical context. (Thank you, Wikipedia!) Not only was it hard to grasp the concept of “comrades” and shared living spaces, but I had difficulty understanding their choices and motivations. This time around, the characters which I had previously thought simple and base, had a complexity and depth I hadn’t noticed before, though some of their actions were no less base.
The friend I was watching it with brought up the fact that Doctor Zhivago was an important movie for women at the time. When the revolution happened, Tonya (Zhivago’s wife) didn’t have to worry about social conventions anymore, and she could have had the freedom to move past her husband’s infidelity and start a new life. Maybe her upper class upbringing inhibited her. She’s the most old-world character in the movie, and the revolution makes her a bit more serious. Her character is relatively unaltered. Regardless, she doesn’t appear to view her change in class as an opportunity. She seems to accept her life with an odd cheerfulness, finding consolation knowing Yuri’s affections are torn.
Then you have Lara, who shines in contrast to Tonya. While the revolution did nothing for Tonya, it provides Lara the break from society that she needed. She hadn’t belonged to the same class as Tonya, and there were no expectations on her. The disaster of previous life coupled with the revolution gives her a clean break, allowing her able to move around freely, even living on her own in Yuriatin. I think what makes her character unique and important is that she has a relationship with a man because she desires one, not out of necessity. It’s not a healthy one, but it is a relationship of equals.
In some ways, this movie reminds me of Gone With the Wind, especially in its epic style, but the twenty-seven year difference shows. Where Scarlett is needy, Lara is strong. Scarlett wheedles and manipulates to get what she wants, but Lara emerges strong from her circumstances.
After a second viewing, I’ve decided I like this movie, flaws and all.