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.

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.

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.
      • People can be simultaneously asexual and homoromantic and kinky (asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to people, not necessarily a lack of innate sex drive), or gray-asexual and only interested in their own gender in the rare instances that they do feel any sexual attraction. Or he could have been just celibate, of course. His supposed real life masochism might just as well have been a form of coping mechanism and/or self-therapy for the trauma of being so powerless while being tortured and raped. (Recreating the scene under self-chosen circumstances and with trusted dominants can help people regain a sense of control.)
    • 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 described as a same-sex couple.
  • Answer Cut: "I wonder where they are now?" Cut to aftermath of Turkish massacre.
  • 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.
  • Armchair Military: Played with by British command promoting and supplying Lawrence once his tactics prove effective.
  • 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
  • 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."
  • 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 Feisal, an Arab.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Lawrence.
  • California Doubling: David Lean originally wanted to shoot the entire movie in Jordan, which is located in the same region where it takes place. Although the Jordanian government was very helpful, this proved to be impractical. Much of the desert scenes were filmed in Jordan, but ultimately most of the movie was filmed in Spain. With its abundance of Moorish architecture, Seville plays the part of basically every Middle Eastern city in the movie. Desert scenes were also filmed in Morocco and, yes, California.
  • 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: Faisal and Allenby.
  • Chromosome Casting: All of the named characters are men. In fact, there aren't any female speaking parts.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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 a Deconstruction.
  • 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.
  • 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, the man who killed him, quite quickly.
  • 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!"
  • 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: Discussed Trope, when Lawrence's superiors wonder if he is. And he pretty much is.
  • 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.
  • Heroic BSOD: Lawrence has one after he's unable to save Daud from quicksand. After his disastrous foray into Daraa, he crosses the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Hidden Depths
  • 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.
    • German military advisers and troops, like Otto Liman Von Sanders, are also not mentioned, but it was more difficult to show them, given the small amount of screen time that the Turks already get.
  • 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: It's long enough to need one.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Mr. Bentley, who goes on campaigns through the desert with Lawrence.
  • 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. 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.
  • Laughing Mad: Lawrence. Oh, Lawrence.
  • Leave No Survivors: "NO PRISONERS!" Directed at a column that had just slaughtered some villagers.
  • Lovable Rogue:
    • Auda abu Tayi.
    • Also, to a lesser extent, Lawrence and Daud/Farraj.
  • Magnetic Hero: Lawrence. Ali and Auda both are both good examples, as well.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mighty Whitey: Subverted, exemplifying what's wrong with this trope. 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, and when he tries to turn against his own side to help them, 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 in one scene:
    Colonel Brighton: They think he's a kind of prophet.
    General Allenby: They do, or he does?
  • 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 and the Arabs' dreams of independence are 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).
  • 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 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 its mentioned in the folklore of many desert cultures, and its 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 
  • 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: Faisal, who is much more willing to play politics than the idealistic Lawrence.
  • 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." 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Or alternately, an implication of the real Lawrence's suspected masochism.
    "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."
  • The Strategist: Lawrence.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: The Turkish Bey says a variant: "I'm surrounded by cattle."
  • Take a Third Option: A member of a rival clan has a grudge against Gazim, and threatens war if he's not allowed to kill him, while Gazim's own clan threatens war if he does. Lawrence then determines that the rival clan member will be satisfied with Gazim'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:
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Wicked Cultured: Dryden keeps classical art and Egyptian statuary in his office.
  • Widescreen Shot: So many, it showed Lean was a master of them.
  • 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."

Alternative Title(s):

Lawrence Of Arabia