Saturday, August 19, 2006

Did anyone 'get' it?

I watched Doctor Zhivago last night. Awful stuff. It's about glorified adultery between a married man (a poet & a doctor) who couldn't resist temptation (He ran out of a train, despite danger surrounding his wife and child, just to walk through sunrays-lit forest), and a married, impressionable woman who couldn't say no to awful men, set in Russia pre- and post-Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

Critics seemed to love this movie, adapted from a Boris Pasternak novel, lauded as a post-Soviet literary star. Maybe I should've read the book first; but what is the point the writer is trying to make? I don't get what's so great about it...


Enbrethiliel said...


I watched the movie a few years ago, Antonia, and was really moved by it to read some parts of the book (but not the whole novel) as well. I must confess that I really liked it.

In one of the "Making of . . ." features on the DVD, one of the people involved in the film (I forget which) commented on the adultery angle. Usually, he said, audiences react adversely when a married character has an affair, but in the case of Zhivago, audiences completely understood his strange situation. While I didn't go to that extreme, I also didn't feel my usual repulsion and anger at the adultery.

Yet I have no idea what Pasternack meant by the adultery. Was it supposed to be symbolic? Was the breakdown of Zhivago's family supposed to parallel the breakdown of Russia?

It may have been purely autobiographical, though. Pasternack himself had an affair with a tragic ending (though it wasn't exactly the same as the tragic ending of his novel).

Antonia said...

Enbreth, I know you are a wonderful English lit teacher! (If only my own teachers were a bit more like you, and if only I'd paid more attention in class.. oh well)

I'm not sure which movie rendition you referred to.. I watched one starring Omar Shariff and Julie Christie. While the life of Lara was indeed gloomy (and she might deserve better men than those two), the life of Zhivago was by contrast nearly 'idyllic'. His wife was portrayed as a heroic woman: gracious, resilient (in the face of the communist resolution) and totally devoted to her husband. In short, she may be a damsel in distress, but it doesn't justify breaking apart what seems to be a happy marriage. ("Happy man don't volunteer [to go for the war.]")

Sorry if my angle seems too focused on the adultery.. Perhaps I should read the novel for myself to find if Pasternak meant it to reflect the Russian society at that time.

Enbrethiliel said...


We watched the same movie with Sharif and Christie, Antonia. :)

You may have something there: Zhivago's life was indeed idyllic and we can easily believe that it would have been perfectly happy, had the Russian Revolution never happened. Perhaps Lara is a symbol of the Revolution, as strange as it sounds: if he had never seen her, then he probably would have been faithful to Tonya for their entire married life.

Yet why Pasternack would make a beautiful woman the symbol for a bloody, ugly revolution, I have no idea. However . . . maybe I'm just grasping at straws, but . . . it could also be the other way around: it could be the Revolution that is a metaphor for the affair. In the same way that the affair made a good man into a cheater and a happy marriage into a lie, the Revolution ruined Russia and turned good men into Communists.

It's not a very cheery thought, though. Neither is it a perfect parallel. Though Zhivago and Tonya had a nice life, there were millions of other Russians in terrible living conditions.

It has been so long since I've seen the movie. If I ever do watch it again, Antonia, you'll be the first one I'll tell. ;)