Overview: In this beautiful adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, set during the Russian revolution, a doctor/poet is in love with two women at once while longing for the Russia envisioned – but never achieved – by the revolutionaries. 1965; Rated PG-13; MGM; 197 Minutes.
Romantically: It’s rare that a film captures the intricacy of the novel on which it is based while preserving the immersive cohesion of the story. Doctor Zhivago succeeds in this. While much of the original (massive) novel is left out, the movie incorporates every important detail necessary to provide insight into its complex and subtle characters, without anything feeling like an afterthought. Thus, viewers are left with a cast of incredibly human, lovable, detestable, but principally understandable people, whose lives are inspirational and heart wrenching.
Anecdotally: I’ll never forget the first time I saw Doctor Zhivago. I was a preteen, and I watched with my father. He told me this: the first time he watched Doctor Zhivago, he was a boy, and he developed a crush on Geraldine Chaplin (Tonya). The second time he watched, he was a man, and he developed a crush on Julie Christie (Lara). His view was that each was a vision of Mother Russia. One, traditional Russia, steadfast and good. The other, the Russia of the people—exploited by the upper class, yet beautiful and irresistible and strong. While his symbolic interpretation makes sense to my mind (unlearned in Russian history as it might be), I can’t readily confirm it to be pinpoint accurate. What I can confirm is that every time I see this movie, I, too, am struck by a love for both women, sometimes one more than the other. And always, of course, I am struck by love for Yuri, the man who shares my indecision.
Symphonically: The score to this film is the kind that makes musicians yearn to play their instruments. There is no higher praise than that. It waltzes from Lara’s swelling theme with full orchestra, to moody and equally rich motifs capturing the darkness of the time in which the film is set, to gently rendered notes on (what is presumably) the balalaika.
Agedly: While this film stands the test of time in most ways, it does show its age in the wooden style of acting used by some of its cast—mostly its minor characters—and occasionally in the greasing of the outer ring of the lens during montages indicating the passage of time. Its weakest point, overall, is the frame story, which is dull enough that some viewers might not make it past the introduction. Those that do will be richly rewarded.
The High-Minded Individual: Viewers with a love of romance and a streak of idealism will find that the film, though it is a long 197 minutes, does not drag, but draws them into the heart of Yuri Zhivago and His Russia, which is sometimes harsh, often abused, yet holds a transient and sovereign beauty.