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Film / Doctor Zhivago

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"In a world of guns and ice
There is the great noise of battle
And the greater silence of Lovers.
Tagline for the film

Though there have been many screen adaptations of the epic novel by Russian poet and writer Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, this one — scripted by Robert Bolt, directed by David Lean, and released in 1965 — is probably the most famous.

A generation-spanning epic about The Russian Revolution, starring Omar Sharif as Yuri Zhivago, a doctor meeting the challenges of a World Gone Mad. Featuring Julie Christie as The Ingenue Lara, the object of Yuri's affections, and Rod Steiger as the manipulative Komarovsky. Other cast members include Alec Guinness, Geraldine Chaplin, Tom Courtenay, and Ralph Richardson.

With its epic scope, vivid performances, and dramatic Scenery Porn vistas, this is generally regarded as one of Lean's greatest films. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay (Bolt), Cinematography (Freddie Young), Original Score (Maurice Jarre), Art Direction, and Costume Design.


Doctor Zhivago was also heralded as the last of MGM's great Epic Movies, as they announced even during production. They simply didn't have the money to finance these vast vista works with thousands of extras and a cast full of stars: the next movie they made was one twentieth of this cost. The effort seemed to be worth it; when adjusted for inflation, Zhivago is currently the 9th-highest-grossing film of all time; according to, its $111 million domestic take in 1965note  comes out to nearly a billion dollars in 2014.


This film contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The movie removes several key characters from the book (eg. Lara's brother, Pasha's father, himself a revolutionary leader, Yuri's friend Misha Gordon), compresses the time span and excises a good amount of the story's historical and cultural background. Especially evident in Yuri's service with the Red partisans, much more prominent in the novel than the film.
  • Adorkable: Pasha Antipov, who is an earnest revolutionary but also plainly adores Lara.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Both the film and the tv serial show Yuri growing a beard when he is conscripted into the Red Partisan army.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Downer Ending, depending how you look at it.
    • The downer ending is that Yuri and Lara die apart, with Yuri especially dying of a heart attack chasing after a woman he thinks is Lara, and Lara eventually dying in one of Stalin's camps. The bittersweet ending is that Yuri's brother finds Yuri's daughter years later, and they may be able to make a connection.
  • Book-Ends: The streetcar scenes with Yuri and Lara at the beginning and end of the film.
  • Captain Ersatz: Strelnikov, the Red Army leader, shares a lot of similarities to Leon Trotsky, who was leader of the Red Army during the Russian Civil War (most notably, travelling up and down the front on an armoured train)
  • Child Soldiers: The Partisans encounter (and massacre) a unit of teenaged military cadets. Yuri (and Liberius, the partisan commander) are shocked, having not realized their age, but their Commissar is unmoved: "It doesn't matter."
  • Cool Train: The armored war train.
  • Damsel in Distress: Lara needs a lot of rescuing throughout the movie.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Zhivago takes this tone with the Party delegates who now live in his old house in Moscow upon his return from World War I. They notice. Oh, yes, they notice.
    Delegate: (Reviewing Zhivago's discharge papers) Holy Cross? (beat) What?
    Zhivago: Holy Cross Hospital. It's on—
    Tonya: (interrupting) The Second Reformed Hospital, he means.
    Zhivago: Oh. (beat) Good. It needed reforming.
    Delegate: (beat, with icy We Are Not Amused gaze)
    • After pointedly reminding Dr. Zhivago that he's "been listening to rumormongers, Comrade. There is no typhus in our city," the delegate shortly thereafter has Zhivago pulled from work to discreetly diagnose an ill man in the house.
    Zhivago: Why? Is it typhus?
    Zhivago: (after inspecting patient) It isn't typhus. It's another disease we don't have in Moscow: starvation.
    Delegate: That seems to give you satisfaction.
    Zhivago: It would give me satisfaction to hear you admit it.
    Delegate: Would it? Why?
    Zhivago: Because it is so.
    Delegate: Your attitude is noticed, you know. Oh, yes, it's been noticed!
    • He must have learned it from his medical professor. While watching a piano recital with his wife:
    Mrs Kurt: Boris! This is genius!
    Professor Kurt:(looking bored) "Really? I thought it was Rachmaninoff. I'm going for a smoke.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Pasha. It doesn't stick.
  • Dirty Communists: Subverted, as events are shown from their perspective.
  • Distant Finale: Lara's daughter, hard at work building a dam, meets Yevgraf many years after the events of the story.
  • Dissonant Serenity: The abandoned dacha (country house) full of ice.
  • Doorstopper: The novel was begun by Boris Pasternak in the 1910's and finished 1956!
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Strelnikov's fate in the movie - he's arrested and commits suicide, both events occuring off-screen. In the book, Strelnikov meets Yuri at Varykino after Lara's departure and kills himself there. For that matter, we also only hear vague descriptions of what happened - or might have happened - to both Komarovsky and Lara.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Zhivago's love for Lara.
  • Epic Movie: Over three hours long, with the proverbial cast of thousands.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Yevgraf, the brother Doctor Zhivago, acts as narrator.
  • Framing Device: Yevgraf and Tonya are in the '50s, and most of the story is Yevgraf telling Tonya about his past.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: The revolutionaries start out having sympathetic ideas, but these are gradually warped, forgotten or deliberately ignored because of human failings. This is symbolically shown through Pasha's "apotheosis" into Strelnikov.
  • Glorious Mother Russia: in Glorious Technicolor.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Pasha, arguably, as fighting the Whites has turned him hard and pitiless.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Strelnikov is referenced several times before his identity is finally revealed right before intermission.
  • High-Class Glass: A Tsarist general who meets deserting Russian troops is wearing a monocle. Guess what happens to him.
  • Historical-Domain Character: The likenesses of Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin appear, while Vladimir Lenin and other notable historical figures are repeatedly mentioned.
  • Hot Librarian: Lara briefly becomes one.
  • Intermission: Used to dramatic effect, as the film reveals that Pasha is still alive, and is The Dreaded "Strelnikov", right before the film cuts to intermission.
  • Jump Cut: See Whip Pan below.
  • Knight Templar: Strelnikov.
  • La Résistance: Pasha Antipov, who is distributing pamphlets for the Bolsheviks well before World War I.
  • Law of Chromatic Superiority: Strelnikov the badass Red partisan operates a bright red war train.
  • Leitmotif: "Lara's Theme", which keeps recurring throughout the score.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Yevgraf is Yuri's half-brother, child of their father's first wife.
    • Yevgraf is likewise Tonya's perhaps only living relative.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Komarovsky, who keeps manipulating people and always lands on his feet, going from a Russian aristocrat before the war to a Soviet minister afterwards.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Tonya is prone to these when being quizzed by Yevgraf. When asked what her mother's name was, Tonya says "Mummy." When asked to describe her, Tonya says she was "big", because Tonya was small.
  • Memento Macguffin: The balalaika, passed on from Yuri's mother, to Yuri, to his daughter Tonya.
  • Mickey Mousing: The poem writing scene.
  • Misplaced Retribution: Strelnikov destroys an innocent village to punish others for aiding the Whites. Yuri calls him out on it:
    Strelnikov: What does it matter? A village betrays us, a village is burned. The point's made.
    Zhivago: Your point, their village.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Doctor Zhivago becomes a reknowned poet in the Soviet Union.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Omar was big in the '60s.
  • The Mutiny: Yevgraf recounts that he joined up in 1914 for the express purpose of eventually inciting one. Eventually he leads three whole battalions in desertion. Later, Russian soldiers start going home in huge numbers, at one point dragging a general off his horse and beating him to death.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: Both Zhivago and Pasternak are not appreciated until after they and/or Stalin die.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Zhivago and Tonya, who end up married. Only for Zhivago to chase Lara instead...
  • One Degree of Separation: The story is packed full of odd coincidences. For example, Yuri just happens to run into Lara, years after their first encounter, after Yuri has moved his family deep into Russia's interior. And before that, when Yuri and his family were headed east on the train, they just happen to run into Pasha, in his new identity as Strelnikov.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted - Tonya, Zhivago's wife, and Tanya, Zhivago's daughter with Lara, have names with almost-identical pronunciation.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: How does Yevgraf know that young Tonya is in fact his niece? She has the balalaika that previously belonged to Yuri, that came from his mother.
  • Pretty in Mink: Many furs are worn, but most are very stylish.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Yevgraf works for the Bolsheviks but he doesn't quite share their fanatical points of view. Similarly, the Partisan commander openly dislikes the Commissar assigned to his unit and even argues for Yuri's release.
  • Puppet State: Komarovsky becomes a Minister in the Far Eastern Republic, a short-lived rump state established by the Bolsheviks in the early '20s.
  • Rape as Drama: Komarovsky rapes Lara, who shoots him in revenge, although she only manages to wing him in the arm.
  • The Reveal: The last ten minutes of the movie's first half build up the fear of Strelnikov, the merciless Bolshevik general. And then as his Bright Red War Train passes, we see... It's PASHA!
  • Rousing Speech: Subverted. A Tsarist officer, seeing what looks like a whole regiment of troops fleeing from the front in 1917, stands up on a rain barrel and tries to talk them back into the line. He's just getting geared up when the plank he's standing on breaks and he plunges into the rain barrel. The soldiers laugh. Then they shoot him.
  • Savage Wolves: You will fear wolf howls in 40 below...
  • Scenery Porn: Culminating on the frozen dacha (manor house) full of ice.
  • Shout-Out: The scene where Yuri and Lara meet among the army deserters is one to a scene of King Vidor's The Big Parade, one of Lean's favorite films.
  • Spiritual Successor: to Lawrence of Arabia.
  • Stoic Spectacles: Pasha.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: OMAR SHARIF.
  • That Man Is Dead: There is only Strelnikov. "The personal life is dead", he says, when Yuri tells him about his wife and baby. Turns out not to be true, though, as he eventually tries to get back to Lara—he was five miles away when they caught him—and he insisted on being referred to as Pasha Antipov by his executioners.
  • Thicker Than Water: Yuri's long lost half-brother Yevgraf is working for the Bolshevik government and arranges passes for Yuri and his family out of Moscow when his poetry is condemned.
  • Train-Station Goodbye
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Dr. Zhivago believes in this strongly.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Pasha believes in the Red revolution.
  • Wham Line: "Strelnikov."
  • Whip Pan: Used with a Jump Cut for an interesting sequence early in the film.
  • Widescreen Shot: Part of Lean's Signature Style, many shots are done in this movie, from trains roaring through the snow, to the final shot of the dam.
  • A World Half Full: A major them of the film.
  • You Will Be Spared: Dr. Zhivago's unplanned encounter with Strelnikov ends in this.

Remember: In Soviet Russia, Omar Sharif Ogles YOU!

Alternative Title(s): Dr Zhivago


Example of: