Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Dir. David Lean
The historical impact that English director David Lean left on the canvas of cinema cannot be denied, and until my first viewing of “Lawrence of Arabia” I had never fully understood that, I remember seeing clips from “Great Expectations” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” but I had never made the jump into his longest work, which I had heard was a film that would change my life when I was old enough to “understand.” This understanding is the subtext underneath Lean’s film, he’s studying T.E. Lawrence and the ways that he endeared himself to Prince Faisal (Alec Guiness) and his army. Over the course of nearly four hours we are treated to a masterclass on how to shoot films, the wides seem to wrap around you and bring you to the desert. When Lawrence arrives the first thing that we are alerted to is that sand is the greatest friend and enemy to those in the desert, it can hide and reveal, and it always returns to how it was before, sand on the ground. Towards the end there is an exchange between Jackson Bentley (Arthur Kennedy) and Lawrence that is the emotional climax of the epic, “What is it, Major Lawrence, that attracts you personally to the desert?” and Lawrence retorts, “It’s clean.” Such a simple line that is delivered with just enough heartbreak and frustration and denial within O’Toole’s performance that sand does begin to feel clean by the end, it’s why the finale shot of Lean’s film rings so strong. It’s a close up of Lawrnece coming to terms with leaving what has become his home, a smaller shot in a film that is remembred for it’s massive wides and a clear definition of scale, but it’s Lean’s clear mastery of the medium that allows him to make a film that is technically perfect, and a film that holds a special place in this writer’s heart.