10 Questions I Asked Myself After Watching Doctor Zhivago

My mother was horribly distraught (maybe a slight exaggeration) when I told her that I didn’t like Doctor Zhivago. I’ve been pondering that movie for days now, and how it could have been considered epic.  Yes, it was nominated for Best Picture, but lost to The Sound of Music.  It is becoming more and more obvious to me that this movie was the Avatar of the 1960s.  Plot and character development were just lacking.  So I’ve made a list of some questions I had after watching the movie.

10.  Were all of the women required to have man-faces?

The actresses were okay, but nothing to write home about.  The woman who played Lara (Julie Christie) was much better than the woman who played Zhivago’s wife, Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie Chaplin).  Maybe the reason Zhivago wasn’t falling out of his chair for either one of them had something to do with how unattractive they were.  This brings me to number 9.

9.  Wasn’t Doctor Zhivago supposed to be an epic love story?

I just wasn’t feeling the pining, and here’s why:  Zhivago (Omar Sharif) is recruited to be a doctor for the Revolution.  After 2 years, he decides to desert.  He travels for miles, and eventually sees a man, a child and a woman.  He hallucinates that they are his father-in-law, his son, and wife.  Desperate and nearly dead, he runs toward them, only to be disappointed.  They are just another family trying to survive the Russian winter.  As he approaches a town, he realizes it is the town in which his mistress, Lara, lives with her daughter.  After findnig out from Lara that his wife and son have gone on to Paris, he decides to just stay with Lara; he settles, if you will.  This leads me to believe that he truly loved neither one of them, but settled for whoever was most convenient at the time.  Where was the epic love story?  I expected it to be between he and Lara (as the dvd box lead me to believe), but who did he hallucinate when he was half-dead?  Not Lara, but with Lara is where he stays.

8.  Did the film really need to be 3 and 1/2 hours long?

The answer is no.  I have no beef with long movies.  Especially if they’re great.  But when you’ve sat through half of the movie and continue to anticipate anything resembling rising action, the movie is just too damn long.

7.  Where was the character development?

After 3 and 1/2 hours, I should have felt something for these characters, especially Zhivago.  The only one for which I had any emotion toward was Komarovsky (Rod Steiger), who was inherently bad and easy to hate.  Both Tonya and Lara were forgettable.  I’ve already described part of my problem with Zhivago, and that was his lack of pining for either of the women.  And all of the others?  Meh.  (In fact, I think Pasha was most interesting when he was dead; it developed the story at least a little.)

6.  Why didn’t they make Pasha’s (Tom Courtenay) character more interesting?

I think the climax of the move was when we found out Pasha was actually the evil, radical Strelnikov, who had massacred villages, etc.  So why didn’t they do something more with this storyline?  It had so much potential!

5.  Political vs. romantic:  Why didn’t they choose one or the other?

From what I understand, the novel went more in depth about the actual politics that were happening at the time.  The movie seemed to neither focus on a love story nor the politics, but wavered between them, therefore not really creating in-depth story for either.  Once again, it just generally lacked storyline or character development.

4.  Why don’t we know more about Yevgraf Zhivago (Alec Guiness)?

Perhaps the most interesting character in the movie, Doctor Zhivago’s brother only appears maybe 5 times.  He is the narrator, telling the story to whom he presumes to be Doctor Zhivago’s lost love-child carried by Lara.  He did not have a strong relationship with his brother, but for some reason agrees to help his brother’s mistress find her lost child by Doctor Zhivago.  After he finds her, he even offers to be her family, to help her out if she needs or wants it.  It was one of the biggest displays of kindness and compassion (excluding Doctor Zhivago’s required acts as a doctor) in the entire movie.

3.  Why did so many people attend Zhivago’s funeral?

It wasn’t because of his kindness or generosity or skills as a doctor.  No, it was for his poetry, which was disliked by the government for being too personal.  Nevermind that his poetry is only mentioned a few times throughout the film, as opposed to his career as a doctor, which is a focal point.  Maybe I missed something; maybe this detail went right over my head.

2.  Was Doctor Zhivago the only doctor in all of Russia?

I’ve already touched on my problems with this part of the story.  He is ambushed and kidnapped to be forced to serve for the Revolution.  They never explain how the men knew it was Zhivago, but they somehow know he is a doctor, and force him to serve for 2 years (at which point he deserts to go back to his wife).  It was a large, but silly plot point.  I hope they elaborated on these things in the book.

1.  Why did Doctor Zhivago die in the most anti-climactic way possible?

After surviving the Revolution (despite being disliked by the Bolsheviks), and surviving decades of horrible Rochester Russian winters, he dies after having a heart attack while getting off a train to chase Lara (a woman that I’m not even sure he liked very much).  You know, I was actually angry when I saw that scene, because I expected something bigger.  I expected something dramatic.

I guess what I ultimately wanted was a Russian version of The English Patient.

Sunny but not in bloom: Arnold Park.


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