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 One. Producer Sam Spiegel bought the rights to Lawrence's own account of his experiences in the Middle East, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom for Lean to direct. Previously Lean had directed the Spiegel-produced The Bridge on the River Kwai to great success. Lawrence took two years to make, in locations like Jordan, Morocco and Spain. It won a ton of awards when finally released in 1962 including the Best Picture Oscar, 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. 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.
"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"
The Bechdel Test: Doesn't pass as the film famously contains no female speaking parts. It's often cited as an example of how failing the test doesn't necessarily make a film bad.
Blasphemous Boast: Lawrence is confident that he can cross the Sinai desert safely and inform his superiors about the siege of Aqaba. 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!
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!"
Composite Character: Sherif Ali (Ali ibn el-Kharish) was clearly based on Ali ibn el Hussein, the brother of Feisal, 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.
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.
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.
Dawson Casting: Alec Guinness and Arthur Kennedy are each about 20 years older than their historical characters. Averted, however, with Peter O'Toole, who was roughly the same age during filming as Lawrence during the Arab Revolt.
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).
Bittersweet Ending: However, on the bright side, Prince Feisal managed to negotiate with Britain, establishing the Arab people as a valid group of people that have power and influence in the Middle East.
Dramatization: It's based on history, but they took some liberties for dramatic effect.
Dueling Movies: Narrowly beat a competing Lawrence project (specifically, an adaptation of Terence Rattigan's Ross starring Laurence Harvey) to the screen.
Mr. Fanservice: Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole (somewhat averted by the latter's aversion to sex).
Executive Meddling: 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). Somewhat subverted in that David Lean approved of the first round of cuts.
Fake Nationality: All of the major Arab roles except Ali. Probably inevitable given the era.
Feuding Families: Major source of problems amongst Arab tribes throughout the film.
Foregone Conclusion: If you don't know how the real T.E. Lawrence met his end, the opening moments of the movie show you.
Forgotten Fallen Friend: Lawrence's guide, whom he thinks of as a friend. He becomes friends with Ali, his murderer, quite quickly.
Hollywood History: A very, VERY reliable source for it. For one, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Also, so a lesser extent, Lawrence and Daud/Farraj.
Magnetic Hero: Lawrence. Ali and Auda both are both good examples, as well.
Match Cut: A particularly famous 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 retrieving 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-fuelled lust (in which Lawrence himself snaps and kills at least two dozen Turks himself). Later, when Mr. Bently 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.
"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.
Mighty Whitey: Subverted heavily, exemplifying what's wrong with this trope. At first it's played straight, with Lawrence duly impressing the Arabs and being made one of their leaders. However instead of becoming a better Arab than they are, it gradually becomes apparent that Lawrence doesn't really understand their culture, their motivations, or their problems, and when he tries to turn against his own side to help the Arabs, it turns out that A: The natives don't necessarily even want your "help." And B: Shockingly, an advanced and determined culture holds all the cards when going up against a divided and more primitive culture. Lawrence's attempts to play this trope straight are summed up succinctly:
Colonel Brighton: They think he's a kind of prophet.
General Allenby: They do, or he does?
Mooks: Ottoman Turkish soldiers. They drop like flies in just about every altercation.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Lawrence takes his pubescent assistants into the desert with him on his way to Cairo to announce his victory at Aqaba, brushing off any objections. On the way, one of them drowns in quicksand.
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 One Gets Left Behind: Lawrence going after one of his men stranded in desert. Managing to save him. Inverted possibly by being forced to execute him
Subverted in another instance. Lawrence's servant has to be given a Mercy Kill because it is impossible not to leave him behind.
No Woman's Land: It is a World War One movie, but still - no women are shown on screen, except for a handful of veiled extras here and there. There are no women with speaking roles. (Ululating doesn't count.)
Obfuscating Stupidity: Lawrence seems to play up his eccentricity in Cairo, to the point where the other officers have no awareness of his expertise.
The Other Marty: Edmond O'Brien filmed at least two scenes note it's confirmed O'Brien filmed the scenes in Jerusalem, where Bentley chases Lawrence through British HQ and later argues with Dryden. Omar Sharif claims O'Brien shot the scene where Bentley discusses politics with Sherif Ali; others dispute this. as Jackson Bentley before suffering a heart attack and bowing out. In the finished film, O'Brien can be seen in long shot chasing after Peter O'Toole at the beginning of the Jerusalem sequence.
Plunder: The sack of Aqaba. Also the ambushed Turkish train.
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.
Promoted Fanboy: Both David Lean and Alec Guinness have been crazy about T.E. Lawrence since they were children. Guinness had played Lawrence himself in Terence Rattigan's play Ross.
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. For example, the city's damaged electrical generators could not be repaired because the tribesmen had no engineers. Also, the Damascus hospital was full of dead and dying Turks with no running water, as the Arabs had no doctors and insufficient technological training to restore the city's water pumps. To make matters worse, the tribal chieftains leading the council quickly descended into childish inflighting. The situation improved only when the English took over administration of the city.
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.
Throw It In: Once Lawrence receives the white robes, he strolls off and tries to find a way to admire the new clothes. O'Toole didn't know how else to review himself, until he pulls out a knife and uses the steel as a mirror. As he tells it, Lean whispers off-camera "Clever lad."
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.
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.
Word of Gay: David Lean on the film's homoerotic subtext: "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."
Except a lot of people wouldn't notice until they were told, which kind of takes away the "daring". After all, just from watching Lawrence and Omar could be just Heterosexual Life-Partners and Lawrence and the Arab boys could be Parental Substitute.
Or unless they watch the scene where Lawrence is alone after he first puts on his white Arab clothes.