When I stop to ponder David Lean's Oscar-winning epic "Lawrence of Arabia," I find myself at a point of speechlessness. There have never been adequate words for me to describe how I experience Lean's masterpiece. I can't find a way to express my thoughts, my feelings, my ideas. I become lost in my stillness, much like the film itself.
"Lawrence of Arabia" brings to mind Kubrick's "2001," another film that leaves me in virtual silence after a viewing. Seldom have I considered myself a cinema snob, but when I hear of individuals who say "It's so slow," "I can't stand it," "It's boring," or "It has no plot" I have to admit I find myself muttering under my breath "You are so clueless."
I suppose, on a certain level, I can understand why someone wouldn't appreciate a film such as "Lawrence of Arabia." We live in an immediate satisfaction culture, a film culture where American audiences are spoon fed the same formulaic crap year after year that has proven to be marketable no matter how often we see it. It has been years since a major studio has had the guts to produce a true epic...a film on the grand scale of a "Lawrence of Arabia." Partially, I blame the studios, however, they are not solely to blame. They are in business to make a profit, and as long as the American public keeps going to formulaic, bubble gum cinema it will keep getting produced.
In a recent viewing of "Lawrence of Arabia" at a local independent moviehouse, I found myself more in awe than ever. Quite literally, for the entire day after viewing the film I could barely speak, I could barely tolerate noise or crowds or distraction. I was still seeing and feeling and living and breathing the experience of "Lawrence of Arabia."
The casting of Peter O'Toole in the lead role of T.E. Lawrence was a brave one, perhaps even foolish. Yet, it ends up being inspired casting as O'Toole brings forth such an unconventional character with charisma interwoven with sheer madness that to watch him on the screen is like watching a clueless madman harness all of his bold, frenetic energy and somehow manage to save the world. It is exactly this unconventional madness that makes it so believable that this man, without the knowledge of cultural norms and rivalries, is able to transform a nearly hopeless situation and unite rivals such as Prince Feisal (Alec Guiness), Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif), and Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn). It is with abandon that Lawrence forges ahead when so many others would have deemed the task impossible. His madness will not allow him to be afraid or even hesitant of the challenges ahead of him.
It is hard to imagine the mind that envisioned "Lawrence of Arabia." It is hard to imagine a vision that saw the intricate details, the quiet moments, the simple, yet mind-numbing cinematography that says so much in utter silence. How did David Lean envision a film so clearly that he could use the vastness of the desert as the backdrop for the vastness of T.E. Lawrence? To know the story of T.E. Lawrence...the intricacies, the truths, the myths, the legends, the rumors...is to know the absolute beauty, wisdom, grace and clarity of David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia."
I am sitting here. The room is silent. I have turned off my television and dimmed my lights as I finish this review. Even writing this review, I am taken back to the experience of watching "Lawrence of Arabia." I can barely keep my eyes open as I remember Peter O'Toole's victory dance across a Turkish train, as I feel the vastness of the desert as a single man walks forward in the distance, as I listen to the sparse words between rival factions finding a common ground, and as I become surrounded by the vastness of "Lawrence of Arabia" once again