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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

While there have been several screen adaptations of Boris Pasternak's eponymous 1957 novel, this one—scripted by Robert Bolt, directed by David Lean, and released in 1965—is probably the most famous.

It's a generation-spanning epic about The Russian Revolution, starring Omar Sharif as Yuri Zhivago, a doctor meeting the challenges of a World Gone Mad, with Julie Christie as The Ingenue Lara, the object of his affections, and Rod Steiger as Komarovsky. Other cast members include Geraldine Chaplin, Alec Guinness, Tom Courtenay, Siobhán McKenna, Rita Tushingham, Klaus Kinski, and Ralph Richardson. Ingrid Pitt, who would go on to become a legendary star of Hammer Horror movies, makes her film debut in a bit part.

With its epic scope, vivid performances, and grand Scenery Porn vistas, this is widely regarded as one of Lean's greatest films. Nominated for ten Academy Awards, it won 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; the studio simply no longer had the money to finance these vast vista works with thousands of extras and a cast full of stars, and the next movie they made was for one-twentieth of this one's cost. Still, the expense seems to have been worth it; when adjusted for inflation, Zhivago is currently the ninth-highest-grossing film of all time; according to, its $111 million domestic take in 1965note  comes out to nearly a billion dollars in the 2020s.

This film contains examples of:

  • Adapted Out: The movie removes several key characters from the book like Lara's brother, Pasha Antipov's father, himself a revolutionary leader and Yuri's friend Misha Gordon.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The film 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.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: While both novel and movie Strelnikov are willing to burn down villages just to make a point, in the movie he's also cold and repressed in person, and lacks his novel counterpart's humanizing moments.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Lara lovingly calls her fiancé Pavel "Pasha", Russian being a language fond of nicknames.
  • Anachronic Order: The movie begins after the second World War with an old Yevgraf Zhivago trying to find his niece and conversing with a worker named Tonya who may be this niece. The rest of the movie then jumps back to the past as Yevgraf narrates what happened to Yuri Zhivago and Lara before and during the Revolution, before concluding with a return to Yevgraf and Tonya's conversation.
  • Badass Finger Snap: The night Yevgraf sees Yuri pilfering wood, he goes to his home and silences a rowdy crowd victimizing Zhivago's family with a mere finger snap, his uniform sealing the deal and making the crowd disperse.
  • 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.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The balalaika passed down from Yuri’s mother.
    • The literal gun given to Lara by Pasha just after a peaceful protest is later used by Lara herself to shoot Komarovsky on Christmas' Eve.
  • 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.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Wood pilfering is mentioning by Yevgraf to be grounds for capital punishment. He justifies it as My Country, Right or Wrong since the Party ordered it so, and also says that 5 million freezing people pilfering wood could destroy Moscow, so they must make an example of the first who try.
  • 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.
  • Driven to Suicide: Lara's mother suspects that Lara is having an affair with Komarovsky, and drinks a whole bottle of iodine. Thankfully, she's saved by Alexander and Yuri.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Strelnikov's fate in the movie - he's arrested and commits suicide, both events occurring 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.
  • Failure Gambit: Yevgraf says that he and several Bolshevik agents enlisted in the Russian Army to sabotage the war effort from inside, so that the Russian elites would lose the war and the Revolution would "spring from defeat". His best work was to goad three battalions to desert in one day.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Yevgraf, the brother of the eponymous Doctor Zhivago, acts as narrator.
  • Framing Device: Yevgraf and Tonya meet in the '40s, 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.
  • The Ghost: While Tsar Nicholas II and later Vladimir Lenin are central figures in the historical events in the film, neither appear in person.
  • Glorious Mother Russia: In Glorious Technicolor.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Pasha receives a heroic wound down the side of his face early on, when Tsarist cavalry break up his peaceful protest. Arguably turns into an evil scar when he becomes the brutal Well-Intentioned Extremist Strelnikov.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Strelnikov, 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.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Yuri has one in the Distant Finale, trying to chase down a woman he thinks is Lara.
  • Honor Before Reason: Yuri chooses to stay behind at Varykino rather than accept Komarovsky's help and go with Lara and Katya. This leads to him never seeing Lara or his family again and developing a starvation-related heart ailment that kills him prematurely. It may also have denied him a chance to protect Lara and her children and keep them from being separated in battle, something Komarovsky fails to do.
  • 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.
  • Karma Houdini: Komarovsky is probably one of the only characters to end up in a better position than when he started.
  • Knight Templar: Strelnikov.
  • La Résistance: Pasha, who is distributing revolutionary pamphlets 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.
  • Love Triangle: Lara's fiancé Pasha and his foil Komarovsky both love Lara and despise each other. Then Yuri falls in love with Lara at first sight during a medical visit. Lara breaks it off with Komarovsky when he rapes her and she shoots him in revenge. During World War I Pasha goes MIA, and doesn't come home afterward because he's joined the civil war, and Yuri has an affair with Lara. Simultaneous to all of this, Yuri and Tonya are in love and eventually marry and have children. This is all a bit simplified from the novel.
  • 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.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex/There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: As Komarovsky tells Lara, “There are two kinds of women and you, as we well know, are not the first kind.” He proceeds to call her a slut, and she slaps him. Overall, she is portrayed very sympathetically despite this
  • Mathematician's Answer: Tonya is prone to these when being quizzed by Yevgraf. When asked what her mother's name was, Tanya says "Mummy." When asked to describe her, Tonya says she was "big", because Tonya was small.
  • May–December Romance: Dirty Old Man Komarovsky has an affair with Lara. However, the relationship is mostly abusive from the old lawyer's part.
  • Memento Macguffin: The balalaika, passed on from Yuri's mother, to Yuri, and possibly to Tonya if she is his daughter.
  • 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 renowned 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: Zhivago isn't appreciated until after he dies.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Strelnikov, the Red Army officer, 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 armored train, and getting purged as the Bolsheviks consolidate power).
  • Not Blood Siblings: Zhivago and Tonya, who end up married. Only for Zhivago to chase Lara instead...
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Komarovsky attempts to invoke this to justify his rape of Lara, seemingly referring to Lara eventually giving in after her initial resistance. But nobody buys it except Komarovsky himself, and even that's arguable.
  • 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 Tonya, Zhivago's daughter with Lara, have names with 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.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: When Yuri, Tonya and Alexander flee from Moscow, they share they wagon with an intellectual on forced labor, Zhivago's poems' being disregarded as "petit bourgeois" by the Communist Party being the reason Yuri is fleeing Moscow in the first place.
  • Pretty in Mink: Many furs are worn because it's just that cold for much of the story, but most are very stylish nonetheless.
  • 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!
  • Riches to Rags: Alexander, Tonya and Zhivago are a well-off family of the haute-bourgeoisie. By the time the Revolution comes, their every possession, including their home, is requisitioned to be shared with other people or is stolen.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Was that really Lara that Zhivago was chasing down the street when he died? Or just a woman who looked like her?
  • 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 in the frozen dacha full of ice.
  • Secretly Dying: Yevgraf says that Yuri told no one of his heart condition.
  • 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.
  • War Is Hell: The movie depicts World War I in its whole horrible glory, lingering on several shots of frozen corpses as Yevgraf narrates how every soldier was living through hell and was thrown into the Germans' fire as Cannon Fodder. The main battle scene features a suicidal charge across No Man's Land which few soldiers manage to survive. The cripples who returned from the war with a missing limbs are deemed to be lucky. Then the Russian Civil War is also depicted as a horrible conflict where both Whites and Reds commit atrocities on the locals while showing no mercy towards each other.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Pasha believes in the Red Revolution.
  • Wham Line: "Yes... that's 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 theme 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