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Film: Lawrence of Arabia

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.

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).
  • The Alliance: And collecting the various Feuding Families to form this is a large part of the movie.
  • Answer Cut: "I wonder where they are now?" Cut to aftermath of Turkish massacre.
  • Armchair Military: Played with by British command promoting and supplying Lawrence once his tactics prove effective.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Lawrence. See Word of Gay below. In real life, his relations with his male "companions" were (and are) considered very suspect.
    • Real life speculation about Lawrence's sexuality seems to humorously oscillate between two extremes: he was either entirely asexual, or a masochistic gay man.
      • So what — zero evidence of him ever being with women and some evidence of him being with dudes? Sounds about right.
  • Asexuality: Lawrence never shows any sexual interest in anyone.
  • 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"
  • Battle Butler: Farraj and Daud, Lawrence's two servants
  • 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!"
  • 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: Feisel and Allenby.
  • Chromosome Casting: All of the named characters are men.
  • 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.
  • Cool Horse: Auda Abu Tayi's favorite part of the Plunder.
  • 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.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Lawrence crosses it following Daraa, becoming more broken and bitter.
  • 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.
  • Epic Movie
  • 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.
  • General Failure: General Murray, Lawrence's initial commander.
  • Going Native
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Auda beheading a Turkish soldier during the first train attack.
  • Guile Hero: Lawrence.
  • Heroic Bastard: Lawrence.
  • Heroic BSOD: Lawrence has one after he's unable to save Daud from quicksand.
  • Hidden Depths
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Intrepid Reporter: Mr. Bentley
  • Jedi Truth: Brought up around midway through the film:
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Laughing Mad: Lawrence. Oh, Lawrence.
  • Leave No Survivors: "NO PRISONERS!" by Lawrence himself no less.
  • Lovable Rogue: Auda abu Tayi
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Allenby, who is shown scheming and plotting behind the Arabs' (and Lawrence's) backs. Some say this is Historical Villain Upgrade.
  • The Other Marty: Edmond O'Brien filmed at least two scenes note  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.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "I. Don't. Want. To be. Part. Of your. BIG. PUSH!"
  • Quicksand Sucks: Which meets Artistic License - Geology — quicksand shows up in the desert, when the second ingredient of quicksand is water.
  • Rape as Drama: Lawrence and the Turkish Bey. More like a beating/"implied rape as drama", but still disturbing.
  • Rated M for Manly: A movie about bedouin riding around on Cool Horses in scorching deserts, killing large numbers of Turkish soldiers.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Feisel.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Dune.
  • 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.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Arab uprising is portrayed leaving in the infighting, shallow motives and ruthless tactics.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Screw Destiny: "Nothing is written."
  • 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 a man 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 the man, though it did earn him the respect of some of the tribesmen.
  • 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.
  • Speed Freak: Lawrence's Fatal Flaw.
  • Spiritual Successor: Lean's next film, Doctor Zhivago, was set in Glorious Mother Russia, this time with Russian steppe.
  • Starts with Their Funeral: Starts with Lawrence crashing his motorcycle, his funeral, and then flashes back to before he became famous.
  • 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.
    • And how can this be? Because he is the Kwisatz Hadera- oh wait.
    • Or alternately, an implication of the real Lawrence's suspected masochism.
      "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."
      • Putting a match out with your fingers hurts much less if you do it quickly and firmly, without hesitating, so in a sense the trick is not minding that it hurts.
      • The line might also double as a quiet Badass Boast.
    • Or maybe a super-oblique reference to Gaius Mucius Scaevola?
  • The Strategist: Lawrence
  • Surrounded by Idiots: The Turkish Bey says a variant: "I'm surrounded by cattle."
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome: Omar Sharif... most definitely.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Warrior Prince: Ali.
  • 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.
  • Widescreen Shot: So many, it showed Lean was a master of them.
  • 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."
  • Worthy Opponent: The Turkish officer at the train.

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alternative title(s): Lawrence Of Arabia
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