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Literature / Doctor Zhivago

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Doctor Zhivago is a 1957 novel that won its author, the Russian poet and novelist Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, a Nobel Prize (which he was forced to reject by the Soviet government). It is one of the most famous works of Russian literature, worth mentioning in the same breath as War and Peace, Crime and Punishment and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

A tale of lost love that takes in World War I, the Russian Revolutions, and the Russian Civil War, it has been adapted several times, including in Russia itself.

The most famous film adaptation is Doctor Zhivago (1965), David Lean's followup to Lawrence of Arabia starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, best known for its epic scope, and for the world famous "Lara's Theme". The film was praised for its visual style that was a calling card for its director David Lean. It also features Rod Steiger as Komarovsky, Tom Courtenay as Pasha, and Geraldine Chaplin as Tonya.

It was adapted again into a 2002 TV miniseries, which added an extra hour to the movie's run time, making it roughly four hours total. They decided to use the time to add in more characters, move some people around in terms of plot, make it grittier and add in some longer sex scenes which would not have been cool for a 1965 movie. Starring Keira Knightley and Hans Matheson, it also featured Sam Neill as Komarovsky, making him an even bigger Magnificent Bastard than any other onscreen adaptation yet.

In 2006, Russia finally adapted "Zhivago" for its own audience. The miniseries clocks in at 8-1/2 hours long, over 11 episodes, and stays far more faithful to the source material (in both plot and characters) than either the 2002 miniseries or the 1965 film even attempted to do. The 2006 series also, by virtue of being produced in Russia (by Russians), avoids the rampant fake nationality casting which plagues the previous adaptions.

Doctor Zhivago has also been adapted into a stage musical, premiering in Sydney, Australia in 2011.

The Novel itself contains examples of:

  • Beard of Sorrow: After Zhivago is conscripted into the Red Army, he starts wearing one of these.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Yevgraf uses his connections in the party to protect Zhivago from time to time and find him shelter and food when he needs it.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Zhivago and Tonya. In all fairness, he was adopted.
  • Chick Magnet: Zhivago. He manages to have children with two different women.
  • Depending on the Writer: The sex and name of Yuri and Lara's child changes with each adaptation.
  • Distant Finale: The ending happens years after Zhivago and Lara die.
  • Doorstopper: The novel was begun by Boris Pasternak in the 1910's and finished in 1956!
  • Lamarck Was Right: In the movie, at least, Yuri's mother is said to be an artist of the balalaika. Yuri and Lara's child inherited this.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Yuri's half-brother Yevgraf shows up unexpectedly in the middle of the novel.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Zhivago: the Russian root zhiv is similar to 'life'
    • Larissa: a Greek name suggesting 'bright, cheerful'
    • Komarovsky: komar is the Russian for 'mosquito'
    • Strelnikov: strelok means 'the shooter'
  • Most Writers Are Writers: In addition to being a doctor, Yuri is a poet.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Zhivago is adopted by the Gromekos and winds up marrying their daughter, Tonya.
  • One Degree of Separation: The country is huge and the characters travel all around it, and yet the manage to meet themselves from time to time completely by chance.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Poor, poor Tonya. despite being Yuri's foster-sister (very, very foster...), his best friend, his life-long companion and confidant, not to mention the mother of two of his children, she gets dumped, HARD. Each adaptation plays it off differently as to how much Yuri loved her but really the girl gets dumped because she just isn't Lara.
  • Warrior Poet: Zhivago. Technically he's a doctor, so he isn't a warrior, but once he had to take a gun and shoot during the civil war, so he qualifies too.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: Most of the characters are treated sympathetically in one way or another, even the ones who come closest to being "villains": Komarovsky has some Pet the Dog moments in spite of all his manipulative seediness, and the two main communist characters, Strelnikov and Liberius, are portrayed as Well Intentioned Extremists swept up in the fervor of the Revolution rather than malicious murderers.
  • World Gone Mad: Zhivago feels he's the Only Sane Man in the world when he sees it crumbling around him.

Alternative Title(s): Dr Zhivago