Film / Lawrence of Arabia

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Jackson Bentley: What is it, Major Lawrence, that attracts you personally to the desert?
T.E. Lawrence: It's clean.

Lawrence of Arabia is a historical epic film directed by David Lean, about British officer T.E. Lawrence's activities leading the Arab revolt against the Turks during World War I.

Producer Sam Spiegel bought the rights to Lawrence's own 1922 account of his experiences in the Middle East, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, for Lean (who had previously helmed the Spiegel-produced The Bridge on the River Kwai to great success) to direct. Lawrence took two years to make, in locations like Jordan, Morocco and Spain. When finally released in 1962, it won a ton of awards including the Academy Award for Best Picture, and remains highly-regarded by most critics decades later. The movie is intelligently written and well-acted, although some critics have issues with the historical accuracy. On a visual note, it contains some absolutely beautiful desert scenery, and Peter O'Toole is terribly pretty in the title role.

The film was twice subjected to major cuts, being reduced from an initial 222 minute length to as short as 187 minutes by the early '70s. Much of the missing footage was misplaced by Columbia Pictures until the 1989 restoration (216 minutes). David Lean approved of the first round of cuts, but later blamed them on Sam Spiegel. In 2012, the film was re-released in limited quantities both to celebrate its 50th anniversary and to show off a new screen technology known as Ultra-High Definition resolution.

Famously one of the all-time favorite films of Steven Spielberg—he counts the legendary Match Cut as being one of the seminal inspirations for him taking up filmmaking as a career. He eagerly spearheaded a restoration of the film for DVD, with the assistance of Martin Scorsese.

Omar Sharif plays Lawrence's buddy (and possibly subtextual lover) Sherif Ali. Alec Guinness appears as the cynical power player Prince Faisal. Anthony Quinn perfects Large Ham as an Arab warlord, Auda abu Tayi. Claude Rains makes one of his last film appearances as Dryden, a manipulative English agent.


Contains examples of:

  • Advertised Extra: Original posters, trailers and TV spots highlighted (among others in the Ensemble Cast) Oscar-winner Jose Ferrer playing the Turkish Bey. This even though Ferrer had about four minutes of total screen time (though admittedly a very memorable scene).
  • Affably Evil: Dryden. Charming, soft-spoken and cultured, while cheerfully manipulating everyone around him.
  • The Alliance: And collecting the various Feuding Families to form this is a large part of the movie.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Lawrence. In real life, his relations with his male "companions" were (and are) considered very suspect.
    • Real life speculation about Lawrence's sexuality seems to oscillate between two extremes: he was either entirely asexual, or a masochistic gay man.
    • The Girly Skirt Twirl (see below) isn't very subtle.
    • Then there's Ali talking about his feelings. "If I fear him, who love him, how must he fear himself who hates himself?"
    • David Lean confirmed this: "Yes. Of course it is. Throughout. Lawrence was very, if not entirely, homosexual. We thought we were being very daring at the time: Lawrence and Omar, Lawrence and the Arab boys."
    • Daud and Farraj have an almost romantic devotion to each other. This part of their characterization could have been drawn from T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, in which they were explicitly described as a couple.
  • And Starring: The opening credits have "and Donald Wolfit, With Omar Sharif as Ali," and "Introducing Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence". The film cemented the international reputation of the previously little-known Sharif (famous in the Middle East but not elsewhere) and O'Toole (previously a stage actor first and foremost). Wolfit, meanwhile, was an established actor (and mentor to O'Toole) but had only a minor role in the film.
  • Answer Cut: "I wonder where they are now?" Cut to aftermath of Turkish massacre.
  • Anti-Hero: Over the course of the film Lawrence becomes this, sliding right down the scale from straightforward hero to Nominal Hero or at best Unscrupulous Hero.
  • Anti-Villain: Allenby's somewhere between this and Punch-Clock Villain. He's clearly uncomfortable with some of the actions he's forced to take, assuaging his conscience with protests that he's Just Following Orders. Though in fairness, as a general he's not in much position to protest. Lampshaded late in the film:
    Dryden: Do you think it was worth it?
    Allenby: Not my business. Thank God I'm a soldier.
    Dryden: Yes, sir. So you keep saying.
  • Arch-Enemy: General George Allenby, the Turkish Bey, and Mr. Dryden to T.E. Lawrence.
  • Armchair Military: Played with by British command promoting and supplying Lawrence once his tactics prove effective.
  • At Least I Admit It: Dryden chides Lawrence for expressing disgust at the Sykes-Picot Treaty, which divides the post-war Middle East between Britain and France:
    "If we've told lies, you've told half-lies. And the man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But the man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he's put it."
  • Badass Boast: Auda abu Tayi gets a doozy.
    "I carry twenty-three great wounds all got in battle. Seventy-five I have killed with my own hands in battle. I scatter, I burn my enemy's tents. I take away their flocks and herds. The Turks pay me a golden treasure, yet *I* am poor. Because I am a river to my people!"
  • Badass Bookworm: Lawrence, whose knowledge of the area makes him more effective at his job than his comrades.
    "'I cannot fiddle, but I can make a great state from a little city.' - Thermistocles"
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Lawrence starts off as this.
  • Battle Butler: Farraj and Daud, Lawrence's two servants.
  • Bedouin Rescue Service: Subverted, in that Sherif Ali kills Lawrence's guide but offers to bring Lawrence to Prince Faisal so he will not be lost in the desert. And then Lawrence refuses, getting himself safely to Wadi Safra and the Prince.
  • Berserker Tears: Lawrence sheds these during battle as he gives in to the chaos.
  • Big Good: Faisal to the Arab revolt.
  • Bittersweet Ending / Downer Ending: Even though Lawrence succeeded in reaching and taking Damascus with his Arab calvary, Lawrence is unsuccessful in uniting the Arab tribes as a united people, and heads home, depressed and unable to feel joy again. Oh, and he dies years later in a motorcycle crash (as shown in the beginning).
  • Blade Reflection: Lawrence uses his dagger blade as an impromptu mirror to check out how he looks in his snazzy new white robes. This was Peter O'Toole's idea.
  • Blasphemous Boast:.
    • When Lawrence is leaving at night, taking 50 men with him to conquer Aqaba:
      Faisal: And where are you going, lieutenant, with 50 of my men?
      Lawrence: To work your miracle.
      Faisal: Blasphemy is a bad beginning for such a journey.
    • After taking Aqaba, Lawrence is confident that he can cross the Sinai desert safely and inform his superiors about the siege. He compares himself to Moses, which offends Auda.
      Auda: In ten days you will cross Sinai?
      Lawrence: Why not? Moses did.
      Auda: Moses was a prophet and beloved of God!
  • Blood Knight: Lawrence's expressed aversion to violence is in fact an effort to suppress this part of his personality. At a meeting with Allenby Lawrence tells about having to execute a murderer in his army. Allenby expresses sympathy, but Lawrence explains the real problem.
    "I enjoyed it."
  • Book Ends: The film begins with Lawrence's death in a reckless motorcycle accident. The rest of the film, which is told in flashback, ends with Lawrence being driven along a road in a jeep, while a man on a motorcycle speeds by and recklessly passes him.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Faisal wishes he were alive in Medieval Cordoba.
  • Break the Cutie: The movie is one long string of personal tragedies for Lawrence, as he watches his friends die and does various things that he does not enjoy. And more tragically still, things he wishes he didn't enjoy.
  • Brick Joke: "You, sir! I'd like to shake your hand!" Which he remembers proudly while criticising Bentley for describing Lawrence as "the biggest showoff since Barnum and Bailey" as they both leave his funeral at the beginning of the film... unaware that the same man he was so proud to have met was the one he slapped across the face while yelling a racial epithet after discovering him upon arrival at a filthy, underequipped hospital.
  • Brownface: Alec Guiness, an English actor, plays Prince Faisal, an Arab.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Lawrence.
  • Celibate Eccentric Genius: Celibate Bunny-Ears Lawyer Badass Bookworm.
  • Celibate Hero: Lawrence, being an Edwardian British upper-classman.
  • Character Development: Lawrence obviously, though in fits and starts. Sherif Ali and Colonel Brighton both undergo significant arcs through the story as well.
  • The Chessmaster: Allenby and Faisal spend as much time plotting against each other as fighting the Turks.
  • Chromosome Casting: All of the named characters are men. In fact, there aren't any female speaking parts - it's generally believed to be the longest film in existence with no female speaking roles at all.
  • Colonel Badass: Lawrence is a Lieutenant Colonel by the end.
  • Comforting Comforter: Sherif Ali tucks Lawrence in on a couple of occasions.
  • Composite Character: Sherif Ali (Ali ibn el-Kharish) was clearly based on Ali ibn el Hussein, the brother of Faisal, but was stripped of his royal identity and made a generic tribal leader.
    • Many of the British officers are also composite characters, as well as Dryden.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Lawrence is caught between loyalty to his country and the Arab Revolt. In fact he talked much of this in Real Life, though when you think of it, it is inevitable in any officer seconded to an allied force. But in any case it is considerably dramatized here.
  • Consummate Liar: Lampshaded to an extent when Dryden responds to Lawrence's outburst that "There may be honour among thieves, but there is none among polititians!" by noting, "If we've told lies, you've told half-lies. And the man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But the man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it."
  • Cool Horse: Auda Abu Tayi's favorite part of the Plunder, when they seize a Turkish train and he comes away with a handsome white horse.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Lawrence invokes this when planning his raid on Aqaba.
    "If fifty men rode out of the Nefud, they would be fifty men other men might join."
  • Creator Cameo: David Lean voices the motorcyclist who asks Lawrence "Who are you?" at the Suez Canal. Robert Bolt plays one of the officers (smoking a pipe) watching Lawrence's first conference with Allenby. Numerous other crewmembers play bit parts.
  • Crossing the Desert: Happens at least once, naturally, first when joining Prince Faisal with the guide, then crossing the Nefud with the rest of Faisal's squad, then going back into the Nefud to find Gasim. Also doubles as a Thirsty Desert.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Lawrence is viewed to be eccentric and insubordinate in Cairo, so much that the commanding general openly treats him with contempt. All that changes when he gets to Arabia.
  • Cunning Linguist: Lawrence learned Arabic during archaeological digs in the Levant before the Great War, and apparently went native to some extent.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Sherif Ali wears black robes to contrast our hero's white robes and khaki uniforms, but he's a loyal friend.
  • Dated History: Besides the Hollywood History below, the depiction of Lawrence as a sadist who enjoys killing can be traced to several critical Lawrence biographies (by Richard Aldington and Anthony Nutting) written shortly before the movie's release, something which most modern historians discount. Not coincidentally, Nutting served as an advisor to the filmmakers. On the other hand, showing him as a masochist who liked receiving pain has become widely accepted.
  • Death from Above: Lawrence and Ali witness Turkish soldiers under artillery bombardment:
    Ali: God help the men who lie under that.
    Lawrence: They're Turks.
    Ali: God help them.
  • Dead Hat Shot: The goggles hanging from the bush early on, signifying Lawrence's death in the motorcycle accident.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Lawrence is arrested by a Turkish general who picks him from a line-up of other young men. He immediately starts pawing Lawrence and remarking on his attractive face, skin and eyes. Lawrence realizes what's going on and kicks the general in the groin, after which Lawrence is brutally beaten as the Bey watches. This scene corresponds to a chapter of the real Lawrence's memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom, where he explicitly recounts being gang raped. Lawrence himself was gay and that's abundantly clear in the book, but this scene was the only one the filmmakers chose to include... so it definitely fits the trope.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Lawrence crosses it following Daraa, becoming more broken and bitter.
  • Don't Say Such Stupid Things: There is an interesting version of the trope. "All right, all right, I am exceptional."
  • Dramatization: It's based on history, but they took some liberties for dramatic effect.
  • Epic Movie: One of the most famous examples, though in many ways it's also a Deconstruction of the Epic Hero, in that the film posits that one person, no matter how remarkable or adventurous cannot truly be bigger than his surroundings, time and place. The opening scene which shows many of Lawrence's friends and associates discussing him second hand and without feeling implies that the actions which seemed so significant to Lawrence and newspaper readers at the time had by 1936 become yesterday's news in the context of England and the world.note 
  • Eternal Sexual Freedom: Subverted. Lawrence is ashamed that he's a bastard (his father didn't marry his mother) and tries to conceal it, and Ali is clearly initially uncomfortable with it when Lawrence tells him.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: Bagpipes are played when a Highland regiment of the British army moves towards Damascus.
  • A Father to His Men: Lawrence impresses the men under his command when he makes a dangerous trek back into the desert to save a straggler.
  • Feuding Families: Major source of problems amongst Arab tribes throughout the film.
  • The Film of the Book: A loose adaptation of Lawrence's memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
  • Finale Title Drop: The title "Lawrence of Arabia" is never spoken in the film but it appears as a headline in the newspaper towards the end.
  • Flowery Insults: A spare but pointy exchange:
    Auda abu Tayi: Harith! Ali, does your father still steal?
    Sherif Ali: No. Does Auda take me for one of his own bastards?
    Auda abu Tayi: No, there is no resemblance. Alas, you resemble your father.
    Sherif Ali: Auda flatters me.
    Auda abu Tayi: You're easily flattered. I knew your father well.
    Sherif Ali: Did you know your own?
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Lawrence's guide, whom he thinks of as a friend. He becomes friends with Ali, the man who killed him, quite quickly.
  • Futile Hand Reach: Lawrence does this towards Daud, who just sank into quicksand.
  • General Failure: General Murray, Lawrence's initial commander. After hearing Murray's relieved of command, Lawrence remarks "That's a step in the right direction!"
  • Genre Deconstruction: The film is often cited as the archetypal Epic Movie, even though it largely subverts the genre's conventions. The hero isn't an upright, masculine strongman but a neurotic, Ambiguously Gay genius; there's no love interest (unless you count Sherif Ali); the elements (namely the desert), and the hero's own commanding officers, are more of an obstacle than the enemy; the Arabs have their own ambitions which often run counter to Lawrence's. Even the battle scenes are marginalized, David Lean preferring Scenery Porn over bloodshed. It culminates in a Downer Ending where the protagonist gives in to mindless killing, the Arabs collapse, the British take over, and Lawrence can't even claim a moral victory).
  • Girly Skirt Twirl: A pretty rare example of this trope being played straight with a male character. Lawrence does this after he is given Arab-style robes to replace his British Army khakis.
  • Going Native: A Discussed Trope in the film. Lawrence's superiors wonder if he's going native, and one of Lawrence's internal conflicts is that he wishes he could, but he knows he can never be truly accepted by the Arabs as one of them. His friends and colleagues in the Arab Revolt fluctuate between seeing him as an English adventurer Glory Hound (Prince Faisal at first, Auda Abu Tayi later) and a genuine Arab sympathizer, who however cannot truly commit to the revolt because of his position and personal character.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Auda beheading a Turkish soldier during the first train attack.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: No side comes off looking particularly good in this film, and all of the characters have varying degrees of moral ambiguity.
  • Guile Hero: Lawrence.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Brighton goes from stuffy martinet to admirer of Lawrence after the latter captures Aqaba. He's pushed even further during the Damascus scene, as he urges Allenby to help the Arabs (and is callously ignored).
  • Heroic Bastard: Lawrence. Literally, as he's a formidable soldier whose biological parents were not married.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Lawrence has one after he's unable to save Daud from quicksand. After his disastrous foray into Daraa, he crosses the Despair Event Horizon.
  • He Will Not Cry, So I Cry for Him: Lawrence and his Arab followers have succeeded in defeating the Turks, but their own internal squabbles have doomed any attempt at forming a united post-independence government before it began, leaving Lawrence broken and disillusioned. Sherif Ali, witnessing the defeated Lawrence, begins weeping, and when confronted by Auda abu Tayi over why he weeps for a man he claims to fear rather than love, he replies, "Because if I fear him who love him, how must he fear himself who hates himself?"
  • Historical Badass Upgrade: The film portrays the Arab Revolts successes as being almost entirely Lawrence's creation and ignores how there were other many British officers who played just as much a major role as he did in expelling the Ottomans from the Arabic speaking regions including Allenby. On top of that the film also neglected just how much of a role the Arab tribal leaders played in the role in planning military acts and commanding in the battlefield and credits all military brilliance the Arab guerrillas did to his leadership.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Not that the real Lawrence was hideous or anything, but he was fairly homely especially compared to the frankly gorgeous Peter O'Toole.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The film's treatment of General Edmund Allenby drew considerable criticism. The real Allenby was a skilled general who was friendly with Lawrence and much more sympathetic to the Arabs than the film suggests. For instance, he served as Egypt's High Commissioner in the early '20s and threatened to resign if London didn't grant Egypt independence. In the movie he's equal parts Armchair Military and Manipulative Bastard who hides behind his military duties to excuse his actions. Robert Bolt wrote that he respected Allenby and tried to make him a sympathetic character, but it's not really evident in the finished movie.
  • Hit-and-Run Tactics: This is how the Turks are fought.
    Lawrence: "We can cross Arabia while Johnny Turk is still turning around. I'll smash his railways. And while he's fixing them I'll smash them somewhere else."
  • Hollywood Darkness: It's obvious by the shadows cast in the sand that all nightly desert scenes were shot during day time.
  • Hollywood History: A very, VERY reliable source for it.
    • The British general staff and Lawrence were on overwhelmingly good terms save for a few exceptions. Lawrence was, however, quite contemptuous of the military rank-and-file and their strategic objectives (he saw it as his aim to subvert the Sykes-Picot agreement which wanted to divvy up Syria instead of creating an Arab state). Secondly, the taking of Aqaba was not a glorious cavalry charge into the town but a prolonged melee for a pillbox a few miles outside of town. Thirdly, the relations with the Saudi-dominated Najd are almost completely ignored when in fact they were a crucial part of diplomacy Lawrence was involved in. And this is before we get into the issue of who exactly liberated Damascus (Western Allies or Arab rebels), which is STILL a matter of pride that is fiercely contested to this day. The screenwriter, Robert Bolt, based the movie off of Lawrence's memoirs because there were too many conflicting sources; the accuracy of his writings has been brought under serious scrutiny by recent historians.
    • In keeping with the Hollywood attitude of the time, Capitaine Rosario Pisani and other Gauls With Grenades, such as the adjudant Lamotte, who rode the 1000 km to Aqaba with Lawrence, are not even mentioned. To be fair, Pisani wrote only 60 pages about his mission, mostly still classified, compared to the 800 public pages of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and the Foil of most French soldiers compared to the Arabs was not as large as the one with Lawrence, since they mostly grew up and learnt to fight in Maghreb with Arabs and against Arabs.
    • Perhaps the biggest (and to some, most insulting) alteration is the ending, which shows Faisal's "Arab Council" collapsing from in-fighting, Damascus degenerating into chaos, and the British (after having refused to help Faisal) taking over. While there was tension and occasional violence between the different Arab factions (mostly between Faisal's Bedouin and the Damascus-based "city Arabs"), it didn't cause Faisal's government to disintegrate. In fact, Faisal's kingdom lasted through 1921, when the French army invaded Syria. Also, the Turks and their German allies destroyed much of Damascus while evacuating - a more proximate cause for the chaos than Arab incompetence. Neither did Allenby refuse to help Faisal, a depiction the General's family bitterly resented.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: One of Lawrence's major internal conflicts is between this and I Just Want to Be Normal.
  • Iconic Outfit: Lawrence's lovely white Arab clothes are the outfit for any hero crossing the desert. Granted, that's the practical outfit for crossing the desert, but still.
  • Impassable Desert: Invoked with the Nefud. "It cannot be crossed!" Yes, it can.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes/Icy Blue Eyes: O'Toole's eyes almost seem to shift with his character. At the beginning of the film they seem to fit with his naiveté but as the film progresses they start to look much colder.
  • In-Joke: Lean uses a Kenneth J. Alford march, The Voice of the Guns as a leitmotif for the British Army. A more famous Alford tune was the theme song of his previous movie.
  • Intermission: It's long enough to need one.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Mr. Bentley, who goes on campaigns through the desert with Lawrence.
  • It's All About Me: How Lawrence sees the Arab Revolt to some extent; Faisal calls him on this right away.
  • Jedi Truth: Brought up around midway through the film:
  • Jerkass Has a Point: General Murray, who is depicted to be a blowhard and a General Failure, especially compared to his replacement Allenby asks Dreiden:
    "Does the Arab Bureau want a big thing in Arabia? If they(the Bedu) ride against the Turks does the Bureau think they're going to sit quietly under us when this war is over?"
  • Judgment of Solomon: Lawrence's friend Gasim murders a man from another tribe. For him not to be executed would shame the wronged tribe; For the wronged tribe to execute the murderer would simply escalate the Cycle of Revenge. To fend off the dispute, Lawrence, to his distaste, personally carries out the execution because he has no local connections and therefore no one can take offense.
  • Just Following Orders: General Allenby's fallback excuse:
    Dryden: You give them artillery and you've made them independent.
    Allenby: Then I can't give them artillery, can I?
    Dryden: For you to say, sir.
    Allenby: No, it's not. I've got orders to obey, thank God. Not like that poor devil. He's riding the whirlwind.
    Dryden: Let's hope we're not.
  • Kill the Cutie: The sprightly teenage orphans Daud and Farraj accompany Lawrence in his adventures, only for Daud to be lost to quicksand, and Farraj is mortally wounded in an accident with a detonator and mercy-killed by Lawrence.
  • The Lancer: Sherif Ali (played by Omar Sharif).
  • Large Ham:
    • Lawrence was Peter O'Toole's first starring role, and he'd mostly done stage work up until then. As a result, his performance was a little...outsized. Subverted by the fact that Lawrence, as portrayed in the film, pretty much exemplified this trope as well. Of course, the stage doesn't get any bigger than a vast desert.
    • Anthony Quinn is hammy as Auda. He roars around like a big child, and at one point he walks across a table to yell at someone. And Jose Ferrer shows up for a whole scene to be a big, creepy, creepy ham.
  • Last Breath Bullet: One soldier during the train attack fires his gun at Lawrence with his last strength. He can only wound him though before getting beheaded.
  • Laughing Mad: Lawrence. Oh, Lawrence.
  • Leave No Survivors: "NO PRISONERS!" Directed at a column that had just slaughtered some villagers.
  • Leave the Camera Running: The film features many long shots of majestic landscapes set to soaring music. It's been said you can tell a person's age by whether they're enthralled or bored out of their mind.
  • Life Will Kill You: After all his dangerous adventures, Lawrence dies years later in a road accident on his motorcycle. And at the beginning of the film, no less.
  • Lovable Rogue:
    • Auda abu Tayi.
    • Also, to a lesser extent, Lawrence and Daud/Farraj.
  • Macho Masochism: Less flashy example when Lawrence pinches out a burning match. Notably, masochism seems to be the one aspect of Peter O'Toole's Lawrence that historians agree is pretty much dead-on.
    "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts. "
  • Magnetic Hero: Lawrence. Ali and Auda both are both good examples, as well.
  • Majorly Awesome: Lawrence is promoted from lieutenant to major in charge of leading the Arab guerilla forces against the Turks after successfully taking Turkish-held Aqaba.
  • Male Gaze: This film is a rare instance of it being exclusively directed on other men. For instance the scene where Ali walks into the tent has a long slow pan up his body from Lawrence's point of view. This is a shot normally used to indicate that the character in question is a love interest (in his essay on the film Martin Scorsese pointed out that in Film Noir the Femme Fatale is often introduced like this). Make of that what you will. Also the scene where Lawrence is stripped and beaten by the Turkish soldiers has a lot of lingering shots of half naked Peter O'Toole.
  • Man in White: When Lawrence starts Going Native, he begins wearing a white robe and keffiyeh in the Bedouin style.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Twice Lawrence returns from the desert emotionally shattered and requesting reassignment. Twice Allenby persuades Lawrence to go back.
  • Match Cut: A particularly famous (and literal) one, when Lawrence blows out a match, cutting to the sun rising over the Arabian desert.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • Early in the film, Lawrence's Bedouin guide is shot by a man from another tribe (Sherif Ali), for drinking from his well. Angry, Lawrence yells at his retreating back, "So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people; greedy, barbarous and cruel, as you are." Later in the second half of the film, Lawrence's men slaughter a unit of Turks in revenge-fueled lust (in which Lawrence himself snaps and kills at least two dozen Turks himself). Later, when Mr. Bentley arrives at the scene, stunned, Sherif Ali essentially parrots what Lawrence had said to him before:
      "Does it surprise you, Mr Bentley? Surely, you know the Arabs are a barbarous people. Barbarous and cruel. Who but they! Who but they!"
    • "Nothing is written!" and several variants are repeated throughout the film.
    • Lawrence admiring himself in the blade of his dagger, just after Ali presents him with his Arab robes. Much later, Lawrence repeats the gesture during the final massacre.
  • Memetic Badass: Lawrence, in-universe;
    "Don't you know I can only be killed with a golden bullet?"
  • Mercy Kill: The Arabs kill most of their wounded so the Turks don't get them. Lawrence is forced to kill Farraj for this reason too.
  • Mighty Whitey: Deconstructed. At first it's played straight; Lawrence impresses the Arabs and is made one of their leaders. However it gradually becomes apparent that Lawrence doesn't really understand their culture, their motivations, or their problems, nor does he fully want to. He vastly overrates his own abilities to inspire and unite them, often conducts actions that compromise and complicate the moderate elements within the Revolt (Sherif Ali) and in the end perhaps sabotaged their cause by unrealistic expectations and promises that, regardless of his sincerity, was beyond his minor position to deliver and uphold. Lawrence's attempts to play this trope straight are summed up in one scene:
    Colonel Brighton: They think he's a kind of prophet.
    General Allenby: They do, or he does?
  • Mission Briefing: Played with. Some scenes are played straight, like Lawrence's first scene with General Murray and Mr. Dryden ("What is the job?" "Find Prince Faisal."). Others are used more to develop Lawrence's character than to advance the plot, like his first meeting with General Allenby, where they spend a minute or so discussing strategy and the rest of the scene discussing the campaign's effect on Lawrence.
  • Mission Creep: Lawrence's overall mission is to recruit the tribes to fight against the Ottoman Turks. To achieve this mission, he decides to help feuding and warring tribes get together to fight for a bigger cause, accidentally helping Prince Faisal to trigger Arab nationalism with promises to help them independence, neither of which was ever in his ability to promise and deliver, and in the case of independence, never something the English, and the French, were going to give the Arabs anyway. This realization that he had overreached and extended his abilities and directive makes Lawrence increasingly reckless and self-destructive near the end.
  • Mood Whiplash: The first half is an epic adventure film which climaxes in a triumphant battle scene, Lawrence's promotion and Allenby promising to help the Arabs. The second half becomes increasingly downbeat, showing how deluded Lawrence is about his role and function in the Arab Revolt, and the crushing of the Arabs' dreams of independence in the face of British imperialism.
  • Mooks: Ottoman Turkish soldiers. They drop like flies in just about every altercation.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole (somewhat averted by the latter's aversion to sex).
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Lawrence has to execute an Arab who murdered a member of another tribe, in order to avoid an all-out war among the Arabs.
  • Nice Hat: Lawrence's turban. At one point, General Allenby is fascinated enough by it to consider trying it on, but then relents, saying it looks better on Lawrence.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Jackson Bentley is an obvious stand-in for Lowell Thomas, the American journalist who made Lawrence famous. Given that Thomas was still alive at the time (and the problems they ran into with the families of others depicted in the film), the name change was legally expedient.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: As expected given the Chromosome Casting.
  • No Antagonist: Despite being a war film there's no central antagonist impeding Lawrence's path. Conflict is less with the Turks than the desert itself, the struggle to unite the Arab peoples and Lawrence's own increasingly deranged personality.
  • No One Gets Left Behind:
  • No Woman's Land: It is a World War I movie, but still - no women are shown on screen, except for a handful of veiled extras here and there, and some nurses. There are no women with speaking roles. (Ululating doesn't count.)
  • Non-Answer: Lampshaded:
    Jackson Bentley: You gonna be a democracy in this country? You gonna have a parliament?
    Sherif Ali: I will tell you that when I have a country. [Brief pause] Did I answer well?
    Jackson Bentley: You answered without saying anything. That's politics.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent:
    • Sir Alec Guinness as the Arab Prince Faisal sounds quite British - on the DVD it stated he was actually copying co-star Omar Sharif's real refined Egyptian accent.note 
    • Anthony Quinn and Jose Ferrer play their characters (Arab and Turkish, respectively) with their natural, Hispanic-inflectednote  voices, yet rarely draw the same comments as Guinness. Possibly a case of As Long as It Sounds Foreign?
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Lawrence seems to play up his eccentricity in Cairo, to the point where the other officers have no awareness of his expertise.
  • Obligatory War-Crime Scene: Lawrence and the Arabs cut down surrendering Turks in retaliation for their own massacre of the village of Tafas. One of the relatively rare scenes in film where the perpetrators are meant to still meant to retain some sympathy, and it also shows just how much of a toll the war has taken on Lawrence.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Allenby, who is shown scheming and plotting behind the Arabs' (and Lawrence's) backs. Some say this is Historical Villain Upgrade.
  • Occupiers out of Our Country: The Arabs want to not be ruled over by Turks anymore. As Lawrence puts it:
    Bentley: What, in your opinion, do these people hope to gain from this war?
    Lawrence: They hope to gain their freedom.
    Bentley: [blank stare]
    Lawrence: Freedom.
    Bentley: "They hope to gain their freedom." There's one born every minute.
    Lawrence: They're going to get it, Mr. Bentley. I'm going to give it to them.
  • One Liner Name Oneliner: Mr. Bentley to Dryden at some point: "Walk away, Dryden, walk away."
  • Wailing Women:
    • Appears in-universe and to chilling effect while the Harif army is setting out to cross the Nefud and attack Al-aquaba. The shot from the top of the cliff with the mourning women drowning out the stirring battle songs from below.
    • It's called "ululation", which is different from a wail and could also be interpreted as the women giving the men an encouraging send off.
    • That's what it is when Native American women do it (well, that and to scare the enemy). Lakotah holy man Black Elk refers to it as the "tremolo". It's also a way of showing respect or honor and is done in many other world cultures.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The killing of the Turkish soldiers responsible for the Tafas massacre.
  • Plunder: The sack of Aqaba. Also the ambushed Turkish train.
  • Prelap: The sound of a train whistle is heard over the end of the previous scene. The Ur-Example and Trope Maker.
  • Pride: If Lawrence has one flaw it is his belief that he and his army are untouchable and can do anything. For a long time he is right, until he reaches Daraa.
  • Promotion, Not Punishment: When Lawrence returns from Aquaba, the British General points out that he acted without orders only to then promote him Major.
  • Prophecy Twist: Gasim gets lost in the desert. The Arab army refuses to go after him because "it is written", at which point Lawrence says "Nothing is written" and goes into the desert alone to rescue him. A few days later, Gasim kills a man from another tribe and Lawrence is forced to execute him to prevent a feud. The head of the tribe asks why Lawrence looks so distraught. When someone mentions Lawrence had saved Gasim's life just days earlier, he nods and says, "So it was written, then."
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "I. Don't. Want. To be. Part. Of your. BIG. PUSH!"
  • Quicksand Sucks: Quicksand shows up in the desert, swallowing a servant in moments. Easy to write off as Artistic License – Geology, but it's mentioned in the folklore of many desert cultures, and it's recently been discovered that may be for good reason: dry quicksand exists and behaves more like Hollywood quicksand than the liquid variety.note  Its also worth mentioning that the wet form of quicksand forms in deserts, too. note 
  • Beating And Rape As Drama: Lawrence and the Turkish Bey. It comes close to breaking Lawrence completely.
  • Rated M for Manly: A movie about Bedouin riding around on Cool Horses and camels in scorching deserts, killing large numbers of Turkish soldiers! That's also about beautiful desert landscapes, British imperialism, one man's war with his own nature, and features barely any battle scenes, instead being rife with sexual tension between men. Not exactly Predator, then.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Faisal, who is much more willing to play politics than the idealistic Lawrence.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The Turkish Bey utters the line, "Two years I have been posted to Daraa. If I had been stationed on the dark side of the moon I could not have been more isolated."
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Bureaucratized: The Arab National Council that forms after the occupation of Damascus exemplifies this trope. The tribesmen who fought alongside Lawrence have no experience with technology, urban administration, or modern politics, and soon found themselves unable to oversee a modern city.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Arab uprising is portrayed leaving in the infighting, shallow motives and ruthless tactics.
    • Its origins are not the heroic gathering of a single group for a great cause, but more or less a Staged Populist Uprising promoted by one colonialist empire against another colonialist empire, who manipulate sincere romantics like Lawrence to tap into Arab nationalist fervour without regard of the consequences, and without any real intention to deliver on the promises.
    • The heroes of the Revolt end up realizing that they were being used, betrayed and discarded by the real power holders who more or less feel that they have outlived their usefulness, and that there's little room in the new order for them. In the end they part ways. Sherif Ali to moderate political reform, Auda Abu Tayi back to the same position he held before the Revolt, and Lawrence back to England and obscurity, feeling that he never quite fulfilled his potential.
  • Right in Front of Me: A British officer is honoured to shake Lawrence's hand, unaware that Lawrence was the "dirty wog" he'd slapped earlier.
  • Saharan Shipwreck: Lawrence and Farraj are dumbfounded to see a ship sailing through the Sinai desert. It actually means they've reached the Suez Canal and safety. The funny thing about this is that ancient versions of the Suez Canal have been constructed and reclaimed by the desert before, in ancient human history. If the Suez Canal of today were to be abandoned, it would eventually sand in.
  • Scenery Porn: Never has a desolate desert wasteland looked so beautiful. The film is oft-cited as reason enough alone to preserve three-strip Cinerama with wrap-around 70mm movie palace screens (and, on a somewhat related note, for Letterboxing).
  • Screw Destiny: "Nothing is written." But as it turns out You Can't Fight Fate.
  • Self-Destructive Charge: Tallal after seeing his village razed by the Turks. Inspires Lawrence to initiate a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Shoot the Dog: Lawrence has to shoot Gasim, who's guilty of murder, to prevent his alliance falling apart. Which is also an example of Shoot the Shaggy Dog, since beforehand Lawrence went across the desert to save him, though it did earn him the respect of some of the tribesmen.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Lawrence unites the Arab tribes and defeats the Turks, suffering great personal trauma, only for the British and French to assume control over the Middle East the moment the war ends.
  • Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: Lawrence's batman Gasim disappears in the desert. The bedouin refuse to try to save him because "it is written" (and because a bedouin would know well enough to be afraid of the desert). Lawrence rides off claiming, "nothing is written" and comes back in a few hours with Gasim. However it is ultimately revealed that perhaps it was written, given that Lawrence ultimately has to execute Gasim to prevent a blood feud.
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: Famously used as an example why failing The Bechdel Test doesn't automatically makes a movie misogynistic since it takes place during a military campaign during World War I.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Lawrence grows closer and closer to this trope as the movie goes on, finally culminating in the massacre at Tafas.
  • Soldiers at the Rear: Lawrence begins the film like this.
  • Something Else Also Rises: A very creepy example thereof. According to Word of God, when Lawrence lifts his gun after murdering the boy, it symbolizes... well, you know.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The opening titles appear with a very jaunty tune over the top of Lawrence getting ready for his fatal motorbike ride.
  • Spiritual Successor: Lean's next film, Doctor Zhivago, was set in Glorious Mother Russia, this time with Russian steppe.
  • Stab the Sky: The DVD cover art, sometimes referred to as a "plane-swatter".
  • Starts with Their Funeral: Starts with Lawrence crashing his motorcycle, his funeral, and then flashes back to before he became famous.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: General Allenby qualifies, especially when Damascus dissolves into chaos late in the film:
    Brighton: Look, sir, we can't just do nothing.
    Allenby: Why not? It's usually best.
  • The Stoic: Discussed. In the very start of the film Lawrence insists on practising his resistance to pain by holding his hand on a burning match. Or alternately, an implication of the real Lawrence's suspected masochism.
    "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."
  • The Strategist: Lawrence.
  • Suppressed Rage: T.E., in spades. Only observant characters understand this. When he finally lets it out, the results are not pretty.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: The Turkish Bey says a variant: "I'm surrounded by cattle."
  • Take a Third Option: After Gasim murders a man from another tribe, they threaten war if they're not allowed to kill him, while Sherif Ali will be obliged to start a blood feud if they do. Lawrence then determines that the rival clan will be satisfied with Gasim's death even if he's not the one to do it, and does the deed himself, not being affiliated with any clan and thus incurring no reprisals.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome:
  • A Taste of the Lash: Lawrence is flogged by the Turkish officer when captured.
  • Tastes Like Friendship: Lawrence gives his gun to his guide who answers by giving him some of his food. Lawrence tries to not let his horror show when he tastes it (but fails completely).
  • Television Geography: Sinai is not a white and sandy desert as depicted in the film, but an area of red-brown rock and mountains, and was filmed elsewhere (Spain, Morocco, or California). The Wadi Rum scenery, in contrast, was actually filmed in Wadi Rum. T.E. Lawrences' Seven Pillars of Wisdom, on which the film was loosely based, describes the diverse geography of the Sinai and Arabian deserts in detail.
  • Thirsty Desert: The Arabian and Sinai deserts.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Although he would do it when he had no choice, Lawrence was known for being highly averse to bloodshed ("I've never seen a man killed with a sword before." "Why don't you take a picture?" // "Prisoners, sir, we took them prisoners, the entire garrison. No, that's not true. We killed some; too many, really, I'll manage it better next time."). That is, until Daraa; he returns a "changed man", despite Sherif Ali's claims to the contrary.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: When Lawrence gets out of the Sun's Anvil (for the second time in a day), he's too busy blankly staring ahead like a seated corpse to notice people offering him water. And that's BEFORE the traumas start piling up.
  • Transition Track: Used when the scene cuts from the banks of the Suez Canal to a busy street in downtown Cairo.
  • Translation Convention:
    • This happens pretty liberally when Lawrence (and some other characters) switches pretty seamlessly between English and Arabic (and maybe Turkish). Some Arab actors are actually dubbed into English, despite their characters quite likely speaking Arabic.
    • Interesting side note: In real life, Lawrence had to serve as a translator between General Allenby and Prince Faisal. This was especially awkward for Lawrence, since it meant he had to be the one to inform Faisal that the British weren't going to honor their commitment to an independent Arabia. Needless to say, the film has Allenby and Faisal speaking English to each other with no need for a translator.
  • Undying Loyalty: Ali tells Lawrence that he'll stay with him even if everyone else leaves, but after the Tafas massacre he can't keep to that, admitting to being afraid of him.
  • Verbal Business Card:
    Auda: I am Auda Abu Tayi, does Auda serve?
    Lawrence: Lawrence. I've been seconded to the Arab Bureau.
  • Walk on Water: Alluded to. Ali tells Lawrence that instead of wanting the Arabs to do reasonable things, he wants them to walk on water. Later in Deraa, Lawrence walks across a puddle and laughs at Ali's expression.
  • War Is Hell: Not at first, but evident throughout the second act as Lawrence's losses and personal traumas stack up. Culminating in the final battle, a pointless massacre that could easily have been avoided.
  • Warrior Prince: Ali is great for this. He was a perfect Hollywood version of a romanticised Bedouin warrior-prince, being dignified, honourable, and quite badass.
  • Warrior Poet: Lawrence, who is even described by a journalist who knew him, as "a poet, a scholar, and a mighty warrior" (as well as some less flattering things) in the opening.
  • Warriors of Desert Winds: An early example, before it formally organised.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The tribal factions that make up Lawrence' Arab troops have deep-seated resentments. Part of Lawrence's struggle as a military commander is getting the tribes to set aside their differences in the name of a common goal. After the occupation of Damascus, the tribal resentments come to the surface again as the Arab National Council descends into childish bickering. After an argument that nearly becomes violent, Auda tells Ali that being an "Arab" (as opposed to a member of a tribe) will be harder than he ever imagined. This could have been the filmmaker's jab at the Pan-Arab movement of the 1950s and 60s.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Lawrence gets many, but Tafas is probably the most glaring example.
  • Who Are You?: Far too many times to count. Once even before the film transitions into the extended flashback that makes up the vast majority of it.
  • Wicked Cultured: Dryden keeps classical art and Egyptian statuary in his office.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Lawrence is exceedingly naive about Britain's imperial ambitions in the Middle East, the warring tribes' ability to get along, and his army's ability to hold and govern Damascus. Though there's an element of self-delusion there as well.
  • Widescreen Shot: Filmed on 70mm film, and Lean was a master of cinematography.
  • The Wise Prince: Faisal.
  • World of Snark: Lawrence, Ali, Auda, Allenby, Dryden and Bentley are all quite handy with sarcasm and droll putdowns. Ali and Auda's first meeting is an epic piece of Snark-to-Snark Combat.
  • Worthy Opponent: The Turkish officer at the train.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: "It is written."
  • You're Insane!: When Lawrence suggests a rather foolhardy course of action, Ali's response is "you are mad!"

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