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Film Review on “Lawrence of Arabia”
The film “Lawrence of Arabia” directed by David Lean was released in December 1962 in United Kingdom. It is an adventure movie based on the life of Thomas Edward Lawrence, famously known as Lawrence of Arabia. Peter O’Toole starred in the leading role in the film. It is considered as one of the most significant and paramount hits in the history of adventure movies. Lawrence of Arabia won seven Academy Awards out of the ten nominated for, which included the award of Best Picture, Best Director and Best Sound Editing. The film narrates the experiences of Thomas Edward Lawrence during World War I when he was in Arabian Peninsula. Special coverage is given to his role in the attack on Damascus and Aqaba and as member of Arab National Council. Theme of the movie revolves around the personal obligations of Lawrence to British Army as a British citizen and his emotional attachment with his new friends in the desert tribes of Arabia.
During the World War I, Lieutenant Lawrence of British Army was posted at Cairo. He was a misfit for the Army and famous for his knowledge and impudence. He is sent to assess the prospects of cooperation from Prince Faisal in his revolt against Turks. During the meeting, Prince develops liking for Lawrence due to his attitude and resentment. He suggests Prince a surprise attack on Aqaba in order to occupy the port for offloading British supplies. He asks the Prince for fifty men and goes for the attack. After crossing the impassable terrain, Lawrence makes an alliance with local Howeitat tribe and overruns the Turkish garrison next morning. Lawrence receives appreciation, promoted as Major and is given arms and money to support the Arabs. Lawrence starts off a guerrilla war against Turks and blows up trains and harass the Turks. An American war correspondent publicizes his gains and makes him world famous. While on patrolling, Lawrence is held by the Turks and is severely beaten up with lashes, abused and thrown on the street. The incident jolts Lawrence, and he tries to go back to British forces. Later, he unwillingly agrees to lead the big push on Damascus. His men take Damascus and Arabs set up a council to administer the city of Damascus. Lawrence later gets promoted as colonel and is ordered back home.
Lawrence of Arabia centers on Arab insurgency against the Turks. It depicts defenseless Arabs as victims attacked by Turkish planes. Mutilated bodies of Arabs and Turks responsible for the carnage is the theme to project Turks as Oppressors and Arabs as the victims. Arabs shoot their wounded colleagues to save them from the torture of Turks. In the movie, Arabs represent good and the Turks as bad in the league of German Nazis. Lawrence dominates and Arabs subordinate. Arabs common perception is that they are the feudal with lot of money and enjoy the evenings with belly dancers. Western movies project Arabs as people famous for looting and paying for clocks that do not work. Arabs culture is projected as comprising stereotype harem maidens and belly dancers and movie is plagued with all the stereotype things about Arabs. Scene of Lawrence Bedouin guide shot by Ali does not make sense as the Bedouins are very hospitable, they share water in the desert and very generously extend the full range of hospitality to the visitors. The film moves on the idea of Arab versus Arab and one tribe even refuses to allow another tribe drink water from their well.
Arabs are portrayed stereotyped who accept money from Turks not to fight them. However, when Lawrence offers more money, they are ready to fight the Turks. Arab women are virtually not seen in the movie and not heard. After the capture of Damascus, Arabs fight among themselves. They are depicted as people incapable of managing the daily administration of the city and, therefore, quit and handover the administration of the city to the British Army. Arabs fight with Arabs and are incapable of reasoning and handling the ordinary tasks of operating the city telephone exchanges, water provision and functioning of hospitals. This projection means Arabs cannot function in civilized societies, and they are incapable to behave in a civilized manner. Only after two days of capture of Damascus, Arabs leave for the desert handing over the city to British colonial force who send doctors and engineers to take over the city and make basic utilities function. Scenes of Damascus depict Arabs as impotent without British supervision thus falsifying the history. In actual, Arabs ruled Damascus for two years and not two days and they were driven out of Damascus by French. The movie is a reflection of non-Arabs perception about Arabs. Movie does not highlight many brave actions by Arabs during the same period, and only projects the heroic from an Englishman.
Theme of the movie is a conquest of the British. The movie should be remembered for its impressive desert landscapes, its distorted history and orthodox Arabs and not for the art. Projection of Lawrence at the cost of Arab image is not an effort meriting appreciation. If the director had produced Faisal of Arabia instead of Lawrence of Arabia with Arabs at forefront and taking deciding for themselves. Lawrence, then, would have been an important intermediary between Arabs and British and such a film would have for the first time provided the audience with the reliable history of heroic roles performed by Arabs during the revolt. However, the picture projected through the movie has not been the same.
The West has long portrayed Arabs as deceitful, lascivious and trivial in their films and Lawrence of Arabia has been no exception. Even today, in all the Hollywood movie, every bomber, smuggler and outlaw is an Arab or a Russian, who is trying to smuggle nuclear weapons into or out of America. Jack Shaheen, a professor at Emory University, in his book “Real Bad Arabs” published in 2001 has carried out an analysis of nine hundred films produced from 1896 to 2001 featuring Arabs. As per his analysis, Arabs are obsessed with three things: bombers, belly dancers and billionaire sheikhs. Arabs are projected as instinctive murderers, slimy rapists, religious radicals, oil rich dimwits and addicts of females. It is observed that American films are turned against Arabs after 1940s, after Israel got independence and Arabs sided with Palestinians.
The film was re-released in 1989 on a 70mm video that restored the glory of the movie. In order to get the feelings of the masterpiece of John Lean, it is essential to watch movie on the 70mm big screen.
Lean, David. (1962). Lawrence of Arabia. The Movie.
Ebert, Roger. (2001). Lawrence of Arabia. The Review. Retrieved May 18, 2014, from http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-lawrence-of-arabia-1962
Shaheen, Jack. (2001). Lawrence of Arabia: Memorable For What It Is, Regrettable For What It Might Have Been. Retrieved May 18, 2014, from http://www.wrmea.org/component/content/article/121/1419-lawrence-of-arabia-memorable-for-what-it-is-regrettable-for-what-it-might-have-been.html
Shaheen, Jack. (2001). Real Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. Retrieved May 18, 2014, from http://www.reelbadarabs.com/drjack.html