Jarrod Emerson’s Tribute to Omar Sharif
Part 3: DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965)
We follow the life of “Yuri Andreyevich Zhivago” (Sharif), a doctor by profession, but a poet at heart, as he and loved ones endure the hardships of various conflicts in early twentieth century Russia. Despite a happy marriage and children with “Tonya” (Geraldine Chaplin), Yuri comes to develop feelings for the beautiful “Larissa ‘Lara’ Antipov” (Julie Christie). The two cross paths numerous times throughout the years before finally starting a romance after the Russian Revolution. But with families being displaced, governmental instability and even Zhivago’s poems now condemned, how easy will it be for these two? All of this and more is recounted by Yuri’s half brother “Yevgraf Andreyevich Zhivago” (Alec Guinness) to young “Tanya Komarova” (Rita Tushingham), whom he believes to be the love child of Yuri and Lara.
In making Doctor Zhivago, David Lean faced a daunting task; following his crowning achievement Lawrence Of Arabia with something equally impressive. Understandably Lean reunited with many of his key “Lawrence” team including production designer John Box, composer Maurice Jarre, cinematographers Freddie Young & Nicolas Roeg and of course, actors Omar Sharif and Alec Guiness. The resulting film, while aesthetically pleasing thanks largely to its technical merits, pales in comparison to Lean’s previous effort. Ocassionally, Doctor Zhivago outstays its welcome with it’s bloated running time, and excessive subplots. Certain aspects of the film, such as Yuri and Lara’s respective lives feel overdone at times, and amount to an overall story less engaging than Lawrence Of Arabia.
However, all is not lost, as both Sharif and leading lady Julie Christie each give marvelous performances, sharing a very believable romantic chemistry. Watching Sharif here, is like watching someone thrive in a well deserved promotion. Whereas Sharif spent last film as one of the strongest supporting characters, here he is given the task of carrying the film and he succeeds tremendously. Like his professional life, Yuri has a personal romantic conflict. While he cannot escape his attraction to Lara, Yuri remains loyal to his own family, until the harsh circumstances forcibly separate him from them. Sharif beautifully conveys Yuri’s many hardships often without the aide dialogue. Meanwhile as Lara, Julie Christie is beautiful yet vulnerable, having suffered the abuse of “Victor Ipolitovich Komarovsky” (a great, love-to-loathe him turn from the late Rod Steiger) and the estrangement of her radical husband “Pasha” (Tom Courtenay). While it all feels unnecessarily padded, Doctor Zhivago remains an engaging three and a half hours, thanks largely to Sharif & Christie.