Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) and the men riding camels next to him had just crossed a vast and brutal desert. Nobody wants to go back to look for one of their own men left behind. They believe is that man’s fate. Lawrence refuses to believe that and considers the possibility to save the man even if he risks his own life in the effort. Prince Ali (Omar Sharif) however, angrily yells at him and calls him blasphemer. Notwithstanding the offense, Lawrence goes back and saves the man’s life only to kill him later on in one of the many key scenes where director David Lean shows us T.E Lawrence’s contradictions of character. This was an ordinary man conflicted by his ambitions and his qualities as an extraordinary leader.
This 1962 film, with unequaled majestic views of the desert and its peoples, is as ambitious as the British officer of its story. Long and rich in colorful details, the audience must pay close attention to its important details to fully appreciate the whole picture of a man who became a legend of his times.
Lawrence is sent by the British army to observe only the conflict between the Turkish army and the Arab tribes, and report back to his superiors. But he does more than just observing. It’s World War I, and the information he can provide is very important in the fight against Germany and its ally, Turkey. Being fluent in Arabic and no stranger to the desert, he begins by advising Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness), the Arab leader, gains his trust and becomes himself a leader of the Arabs fighting the enemy, gaining important battles and with them, the admiration of both British and Arab alike.
Later, succumbing to the excesses of war and to his own vanity, he gets disappointed and frustrated by the never ending petty quarrels of the different Arab tribes. At the end, a sad Lawrence leaves the army feeling used by both parties whom he had brought together and now dismiss him.
Among several of the most important scenes there’s one where the same officer who once had slapped Lawrence hours earlier (who was dressed in Arab garments), now shakes his hand with respect and admiration while Lawrence stands stunned dressed in his British army uniform. This is the same man who later defends him when someone makes a derogatory comment at Lawrence’s funeral.
This is an epic film which story is about the courage to dream bigger dreams, but also about the courage to accept one’s limitations.
See also directed by David Lean: Doctor Shivago (1965)
See also with Peter O’Toole: Masada (1981)