Lawrence of Arabia Arabia set a new standard for movie epics. David Lean's sweeping, magisterial direction, the gnomic complexity of the screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, and the awe-inspiring cinematography by Freddie Young combined to make this a thinking person's spectacular. Peter O'Toole's intense, charismatic performance in the title role vaulted him to stardom; he has never been better than as the British army officer who becomes a leader of Arab warriors. The film's searching analysis of T.E. Lawrence's tortured psyche, his ambivalent heroism, and his descent into the horrors of bloodlust repay frequent viewings. Shortened after its initial release, Lawrence was restored to its full, incandescent glory.
When analyzing Lawrence of Arabia, the key feature to is the role of blocking and character placement on the screen. David Lean's technique is very important in understanding Lawrence's progress in his journey of self discovery. When analyzing the screen, the dominant character is on the left-hand side.
This character has control, confidence, and feels comfortable in the situation. The right-hand side is known as the subordinate side. This character feels uncomfortable and weaker. Lawrence will shift from the subordinate side to the dominant as his journey progresses.
Another aspect to a film is the soundtrack. This emphasizes scenes and adds a dramatic element to the film. For example, the tempo of the music may quicken when a battle starts. This will make the audience feel involved in the scene as a first hand observer of the event.
Another feature of film technique is the use of the camera. Panning, long shots, or close ups will emphasize certain elements of an object or a character. Long shots of the sun show the heat, power, and ruthless pain it inflicts on the travelers in the desert. Close ups of characters' faces give the audience a sense of how the characters are dealing with situations. David Lean frames Lawrence's face putting his bright blue eyes in the middle of the screen, which is the focus of the audiences attention.
The final film technique used in Lawrence of Arabia is the use of a "back flash". This makes the prologue and the epilogue into one. The audience gets their first impressions of Lawrence from people speaking about him at his funeral. Lawrence has died in a motorcycle accident. Lean has foreshadowed this by his use of the camera. Lawrence speeds by a sign which is located on the dominate side of the screen, "Warning, slow up, DANGER." He speeds along and crashes.
At his funeral the audience gets a bold impression of Lawrence from Holonel Brighton: "He was the most extraordinary man I ever knew." Then Bolt has contradicting views of Lawrence, General Muray: "He had some minor function on my staff in Cairo." From these statements Bolt has made a thesis and antithesis to the audience. The audience will judge if he is extraordinary or ordinary. Lean has the camera cut to Lawrence working.
Robert Bolt's screenplay immediately introduces a character who has not found his rightful spot in life. At the age of 29, Lawrence is discontented with a desk job in Cairo. Lean has Lawrence look up at a window and see camels pass by. This symbolizes where Lawrence wants to be and says, "Michael George Hartley this is a nasty dark little roomÃ¢ÂÂ¦we are not happy in it." Lawrence is looking for adventure in the desert. Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau proposes to General Murray that the scholarly, dedicated, knowledgeable but undisciplined Lawrence be assigned to special duty with a transfer to Arabia "He's of no use here in Cairo. But might be in Arabia. He knows his stuff." Bolt has Lawrence jump on the opportunity to go to Arabia, "Of course I'm the man for the job." Before he knows all the details he commits himself because his dream is to go to Arabia, "What is the job, by the way?" Lean has placed Lawrence on the dominant side because he feels confident and enthused about his new adventure to the desert.
Bolt introduces two questions for the audience about Lawrence. Dryden remarks, "Only two kinds of creature get fun in the desert. Bedouins and gods, and you are neither. For ordinary men it is a burning firing furnace." The questions are: is Lawrence ordinary and does Lawrence perceive himself as a god? Bolt makes Lawrence ask himself these questions many times in his journey of self-discovery.
Once in Arabia Bolt gives us Lawrence's view on himself. Lawrence tells Tafas (his guide in the desert) although he is from England, he is unique and not fat like most English people: "I am different." Lean has chosen to make Lawrence feel very comfortable in the desert. He doesn't complain about the heat and with his tan clothing and golden hair he blends into the surroundings. For humor Lean shows how Lawrence not an expert in the desert. Lawrence learns how to gallop on a camel. Once over the dune he falls on the ground. Lean has the towering Camel on the dominant side and Lawrence sitting on the subordinate side of the screen. Once feeling more confident Lawrence takes the lead from Tafas.
The scene in Feisal's tent explains Lawrence as an officer and as a person. Feisal is the leader of the Arabs. Lawrence enters with a superior officer Colonel Harry Brighton. Brighton told Lawrence, "What I want to say to you is this, that whatever you are, and whoever you're with, you're a British-serving officer and here's an order. When we get into that camp, you're to keep your mouth shut." When all are seated, Lean has Lawrence in the middle of the screen on the subordinate side of the Brighton. Feisal is on the right side of Lawrence. Lean has made use of a "communication triangles." The conversation begins between Feisal, Salim, and Brighton (Diagram 1). Once Ali enters, the tribal leader of the Harith, he is placed between Brighton and Lawrence (Diagram 2). Once there is a separation between Lawrence and Brighton Lawrence doesn't follow the order from Brighton and begins to add his view. This irritates Brighton to the extent of, "Damn it Lawrence who do you take your orders from". Salim answers with "From lord Feisal, in Feisal's tent." Robert Bolt has placed these lines to interrupt the thought of Diagram 1 Diagram 2 Once Ali entered the scene, the line of vision between Lawrence and Brighton was broken. Lawrence was not under Brighten influence and the communication triangle changed. Lean executed this technical scene perfectly.
Lawrence siding with the Arabs over the British and develops the idea with Lawrence replying to Feisal's question: Lawrence: I think your book is right. The desert is an ocean in which no oar is dipped. And on this ocean, the Bedouin go where they please and strike where they please. This is the way the Bedouin has always fought. You are famed throughout the world for fighting in this way and this is the way you should fight now....Fall back...and the Arab uprising becomes one poor unit in the British army.
Bolt develops Lawrence as a traitor by having Brighton accuse him. Feisal stands up for Lawrence, "No, No Colonel he is a young man and young men are passionate they must say their say Wiser people must decide I know you are right." After Brighton and Sherif Ali leave the tent. Lawrence feels more comfortable with Feisal and Lawrence moves to the dominant side of the screen. Lawrence assesses the situation by his own point of view not the title before his name: Feisal: The English have a great hunger for desolate places. I fear they hunger for Arabia.
Lawrence: Then you must deny it to them.
Feisal: You are an Englishman. Are you not loyal to England? Lawrence: To England, and to other things.
Feisal: To England and Arabia both? And is that possibleÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Mr. Lawrence. We need a miracle! Lawrence is beginning to shift from England to Arabia. He believes that he can be loyal to both but Feisal doubts it. David Lean has made the character of Feisal the person who tries to find out who Lawrence himself is. Feisal is a key element for Lawrence in his self-discovery by keeping Lawrence on track and brings questions that need to be pondered. An example is, "To England and Arabia both? And is that possible" This is the first time the audience sees how deeply Lawrence feels for the Arabs and how he wants the best for them. The next scene shows how Lawrence contemplates what should be done. The camera does a vertical pan following the footsteps to Lawrence. The music of a cello plays in the background, slow deep sounds, emphasizing Lawrence's deep meditation. The next view of Lawrence is from Daud and Farash prospective on top of a sand dun. Daud and Farash are two peasant boys that play an important role later. Lean shows how insignificant Lawrence is compared to the desert. Daud tosses a rock at Lawrence and he doesn't respond. Just picks it up tosses it up and down as he exits the shot to the dominant side pondering the answer. The music increases in tempo and volume throughout the scene until it cuts off and Lawrence raises his head, the audience is focused on his eyes as he says with confidence, "Aqaba. Aqaba, from the land." A film technique of shining blue light on Peter O'Toole's face to bring out the bright blue eyes was used by Robert Lean. He also set up the shot with Lawrence taking most of the dominant side of the screen and blowing sand is on the right. This illustrates that Lawrence is in control and the desert isn't a picturesque place. Lawrence discovers his passion for the desert. He will achieve the miracle.
Lawrence proposes his plan to Ali. Ali is in the shadows and on the subordinate side of the screen. Ali thinks Lawrence is insane to try his plan "You are mad. To come to Aqaba by land, you should have to cross the Nufud Desert." Lawrence is determined to take over Aqaba because he has the element of surprise on his side "Certainly the Turks don't dream of it. Aqaba is over there. It's only a matter of going," When he says this line he is on the dominant side of the screen and sticks his arm across Ali's body witch reinforces his determination of going. Feisal wonders who Lawrence represents and what his interests are, "Lawrence: since you do know, then we claim to ride in the name of Feisal and Mecca? / Feisal: Yes Lieutenant Lawrence you may claim, but who's name do you ride?" Lawrence has chosen not to tell Brighton about his adventure to take over Aqaba because it would be a treasonous action. Remember in Feisal's tent when Lawrence was just talking how upset that made Brighton. Brighton would discipline Lawrence to the extreme if he found out Lawrence's plan. Bolt is starting to illustrate in who's perspective Lawrence is extraordinary and in who's perspective he is ordinary.
At the last watering hole before crossing the Nefud Desert Daud and Farash come into the story. The audience learns that these two young boys are outcasts and parentless, Gasim: No, No, Aurens these are not servants, these are outcasts, parentless.
Ali: Be warned they are not suitable Lawrence: They sound very suitable Ali: These are not servants they are worshipers The idea of Lawrence as a god is brought up again with Daud and Farash begging and kissing Lawrence's feet. Bolt has made Lawrence detest physical abuse and have compassion for outcasts. Lawrence stops Ali from hitting the boys. The reason that Lawrence chooses the boys as servants becomes clear later in the film. Talking with Ali the audience finds out that Lawrence is fatherless and an outcast "Ali, he didn't marry my mother" This is the reason for caring about the boys.
The strong mindedness of Lawrence resonates to the audience every time someone tries to scare Lawrence. For example Lawrence and Ali are overlooking the desert, Sherif Ali: From here until the other side, no water but what we carry. For the camels, no water at all. If the camels die, we die. And in twenty days they will start to die.
Lawrence: There's no time to waste then, is there? Robert Bolt creates the impression of a strong and fearless Lawrence who is eager to jump in. Lawrence is gazing at the desert and can see himself doubtlessly crossing it.
Once they have passed the "Sun's Anvil" Lawrence is relieved, Lawrence: Have we done it? Traveler: No, but we are off the anvil Lawrence: Thank God for that anyway Traveler: Yes thank him Lawrence feels so happy that they have done the unthinkable. Lawrence only basks in his glory for a moment until they see Gasim's camel walking riderless. Lawrence immediately says, "We must go back for him." Ali tried to talk common sense into Lawrence, Ali: In God's name understand, we cannot go back.
Lawrence: I can...
Ali: If you go back, you'll kill us all. Gasim you have killed already.
Lawrence: Get out of my way.
Another Arab: Gasim's time is come, Lawrence. It is written! Lawrence: Nothing is written.
Ali (riding along back with Lawrence): Go back then. What did you bring us here for with your blasphemous conceit? Eh, English blasphemer? Aqaba? What is Aqaba? You will not be at Aqaba, English. Go back blasphemer! But you will not be at Aqaba! Lawrence (riding ahead and turning): I shall be at Aqaba. That is written...(He points at his head.)..in here! Ali (shouting after him): English! English! David Lean used many different types of shots to show the magnitude of Lawrence's heroism to return for Gasim. He would have the camera in one place and let the actor move across the screen. This emphasizes how small they are compared to the desert and how slow they move. In addition, shots of the sun show the torture, ruthlessness, and suffering from it. Also the music adds to the dramatic effect of the scene. With the shot of the sun, deep drums pound symbolizing the sun beating down on them. The only reason he is doing it is because Lawrence can't live with himself if he lets Gasim die. Bolt's character, Lawrence, doesn't do it for the possible reward of heroism but because it is has to be done. Lawrence only thinks of positive outcomes and he is the one that will produce miracles. The adventure to save Gasim is part of Lawrence's journey to self-discovery. Lawrence determines his own fate and this is strongly emphasized with his first words after returning to camp with Gasim "Nothing is written." This came after a strong stare at Ali. As Ali handed him water, this symbolized his admiration for Lawrence in a sense breaking bread with him. Lean has put Lawrence looking eye to eye with Ali to emphasize that they are equal. To show the respect Ali gave Lawrence his place to sleep.
That night Ali talks with Lawrence and congratulates him on his rescue, Ali: El Aurens. Truly for some men, nothing is written unless they write it.
Lawrence: Not El Aurens. Just Lawrence.
Ali: El Aurens is better.
Lawrence: True... [He reveals his illegitimacy - his father, Sir Thomas Chapman, never married his mother.] Ali: I see.
Lawrence: I'm sorry.
Ali: It seems to me that you are free to choose your own name then.
Lawrence: Yes. I suppose I am.
Ali: El Aurens is best.
Lawrence: Alright. I'll settle for El Aurens.
Bolt has given Lawrence a new name and an identity. Lawrence has finally found a place where he is accepted and is in a place where he feels he belongs. Ali burned his old clothes and gave him a white Harith robe. When Lawrence tries the new robe on the camera zooms out and Lawrence blends in with everyone.
Lawrence reflects by gazing into his knife when he is alone and enjoys what he sees so much that he smiles and laughs cheerfully as a child at Christmas. Lawrence plays with his robe and practices bowing. David Lean has finally shown the audience the other side to Lawrence, previously he has been a man deep in thought and a stale face. Reflecting on himself that he is more overwhelmed by being accepted to the clan than he was after doing a heroic deed.
Lawrence is interrupted by Auda abu Tayi, leader of the Howeitat. When Auda's son enters the scene, he salutes Lawrence and Lawrence returns the jester in the form of a Salem. Lawrence is not recognized as a Harith follower, Auda: Son, What fashion is this? Son: Harith, father.
Auda: What manor of Harith? Son: Beni wha Sheif.
Auda: Is he Harith? Son: No father, English Once again Lawrence is shown as an outsider who doesn't belong. The audience starts to understand Lawrence's character and Bolt will change it through a twist like this. Lean has made Auda stay high on the horse. This symbolizes that he is in control. On the other hand Lawrence maintains on the dominant side of the screen so Lawrence is still strong during the insult.
In Auda's tent Lawrence controls the conversation. He knows his identity and who he works for, Lawrence: We do not work this thing for Feisal.
Auda: No! For the English then? Lawrence: For the Arabs.
Lawrence is on the dominant side of the screen and convinces Auda to help join forces and take over Aqaba. Bolt has made Lawrence very strong and able to bring logical thought to the Arabs.
The night before the take over of Aqaba. Lawrence is put in an awkward situation. One of the Harith Arabs murdered one of Auda's men and the reason could be "theft, blood feud, it makes no matter whyÃ¢ÂÂ¦ It is an ancient wound" Lawrence being a non-Arab and neutral would have to execute the law to retain peace and to achieve the goal. When the murders head was raised it was Gasim. The director had Lawrence be the focus of the whole scene. After viewing Gasim the camera cut to Lawrence's face. Lawrence's look was one of shock. The whole execution was filmed with a medium shot of Lawrence waist up, firing the gun. Gasim's body was never shown again, Lean kept the focus on Lawrence as he did one of the hardest things in his life. Lawrence would do anything to accomplish the major goal no matter what it was. Details were not important.
Auda: What ails the Englishman? Ali: That that he killed was the man he brought out of the Nefud.
Auda: Ah, it was written then. Better to have left him.
Ali (to Lawrence): It was execution Lawrence. No shame in that. Besides, it was necessary. You gave life and you took it. The writing is still yours.
Bolt has Ali describe Lawrence playing god. Lawrence does not want to have that control so with a stressed facial expression throws the gun away. Robert Bolt made a wise decision by having Lawrence say very little. This makes the audience come to their own conclusions about how hard it was for Lawrence. Also the emotion shown on screen was so dramatic that words were not needed. Lawrence hides himself behind his blue eyes.
After the take over of Aqaba, Ali asks Lawrence who he is, Ali: The miracle is accomplished. Garlands for the conqueror. (Lawrence dismounts and grabs for the garland) Tribute for the prince. Flowers for the man.
Lawrence: I'm none of those things Ali.
Ali: What then? Lawrence: Don't know. Thanks. My God I love this country.
Lawrence likes the idea of playing god and having miracles come true. He starts referring to it, "Auda: In ten days. You will cross Sinai? / Lawrence: Why not? Moses did. / Auda: Moses was a prophet and beloved of GodÃ¢ÂÂ¦" On the trip over the Sinai Lawrence spots a cyclone and calls it, "a pillar of fire," alluding to Moses. Bolt will take the idea of "God" to its climax until it crashes.
Robert Bolt has Lawrence experience another tragedy of a newfound friend. Daud is trapped into quicksand. Lawrence tries to save him with his headdress but to no prevail. After Daud goes under, the camera is focused on Lawrence and Farash. Like a father Lawrence shields Farash from the hole which took Daud. The camera zooms out and Lawrence and Farash are on the subordinate side of the screen. The power of the earth and the hand of god are more powerful than Lawrence.
David Lean is brilliant by showing the audience the deep side of Lawrence. For example, Lawrence and Farash reach the bunker at the Suez Canal and a lengthy shot of Lawrence's dusty face in deep meditation appears. This gives the audience a chance to think what he is contemplating, some possibilities are death of Gasim, Daud, or why he is British bunker but wearing Arab clothing.
When Lawrence got to the Suez Canal on the other bank a man on a motorcycle called out "who are you?" Lawrence did not have an answer. The camera did a close up of his face. Once again he is in deep thought. The audience asks themselves if this is the question Lawrence was previously contemplating. Robert Bolt keeps us in suspense all through the film.
Farash and Lawrence walk into the officers club ignoring the guard who says "You can't take him in there Sir." Lawrence shows his independence and self-confidence by proceeding onward. Lawrence is shown as the outsider with comments like, "Now look here Lawrence just clear out of here will you" and "Get that wog out of here".When the officer tries to touch Farash, Lawrence grabs the officer and defends Farash as a father. Robert Bolt has made Lawrence a father figure to Farash, this is reinforced when Lawrence puts Farash's accommodations before his own, "First, I want a room with a bed and with sheets, its for him". Robert Bolt has made Lawrence on a higher level than everyone else as a god. This is explained with his takeover of the officers club and when Brighton says, "AqabaÃ¢ÂÂ¦..It isn't possible" Lawrence responds with "Yes it is. I did it." This reinforces how Lawrence made the miracle and it was because of him it happened.
As the scene ends with Brighton exiting with Farash and Lawrence, he makes the comment to Lawrence "You'd better get into some trousers too." David Lean has Lawrence glare up at Brighton. The reason Lawrence took offense to that comment is it was what Ali foreshadowed, " I see. In Cairo, you will put off these funny clothes. You will wear trousers and tell stories of our quaintness and barbarity. And then they will believe you." Lawrence bitterly says "You're an ignorant man." This line was given with the same glare that was given to Brighton. Bolt uses the technique of foreshadowing and it works because it brings the audience back to the origin and every event remains fresh.
When Lawrence speaks with Allenby, the new person in command after General Murray who gave him his assignment, David Lean has Lawrence on the subordinate side. Lawrence doesn't feel comfortable in this situation. He is dressed in the white Harith robe, has to explain his reasoning for taking over Aqaba without orders and explain what to do next. Robert Bolt gives Lawrence the prefect answer to the Allenby's question, "You acted without orders?" with Lawrence's response, "Shouldn't officers use their initiative at all times?" This rhetorical question backs up the description Allenby read out at the start of the conversation, "Undisciplined, unpunctual, untidy. Several languages. Knowledge of Music, Literature, knowledge of, knowledge of ...You're an interesting man. There's no doubt about it." Bolt has Allenby as clever as Lawrence with answering, "Not rarely it is awfully dangerous Lawrence" The audience gets Lawrence's first reaction to the events of the desert. Lawrence, with a lump in is throat, confesses that he killed two people and went into details. Lean has the camera zoom from behind Allenby's shoulder into a close up of Lawrence's face for the lines, "No something else...I enjoyed it." This was referring to Lawrence killing them. Bolt keeps the camera on Lawrence's stale face. This keeps the audience asking the question, "what is he thinking?" The conversation moves outside and the audience realizes that Lawrence is not about to give up. Lawrence does know where his heart and mind is when he is questioned, "You are going back then?" Lean has Lawrence with a grin of confidence say "Of course I'm going back." As this line is said, Lawrence looks at the other officers showing his confidence in himself. Bolt has the next sequence of lines bring doubt to Lawrence in what he is asking, "Arabia is for the Arabs now." Lean cuts to a shot of Dryden who looks skeptical, then cuts to Lawrence with shifting eyes from Dryden to Allenby. The camera cuts to Allenby and he also looks skeptical before taking a drink. Lawrence continues, "That's what I've told them anyway. That's what they think. That's why they're fighting." Allenby says very casually "Oh surely." While continuing with feeding the fish and the scene plays on: Lawrence: They've only one suspicion. We let them drive the Turks out and then move in ourselves. I've told them that that's false, that we've no ambitions in Arabia. Have we? Allenby: I'm not a politician, thank god. Have we any ambition in Arabia, Dryden? Dryden: Difficult question sir.
Lawrence: I want to know sir, if I can tell them, in your name, that we've no ambitions in Arabia.
With Bolt's lines and Lean's blocking, the scene portrays to the audience that Lawrence doesn't know the British intentions. Lean has had this topic seem very awkward for the generals. This topic ends with sounds of triumphant horns has Lawrence observes the crowd on the balcony surrounding the court. Lean follows Lawrence's eyes with the camera and shoots the balcony. The camera speeds up as it is panned around the balcony and becomes out of focus. The next shot is of Lawrence's and Allenby's feet. Allenby is in boots while Lawrence is in sandals. From this view it seems that an Arab man and British man are talking not two British men. When the audience realizes the topic of the conversation Lawrence is representing the Arabs and asking for supplies from Allenby. The transition was perfectly done by Lean because it made the drastic topic change flow very smoothly. The conversation ends and the generals leave.
Robert Lean has Lawrence standing in the middle of the courtyard, being stared down by British officers. Lawrence makes his exit into the crowd wondering if they will insult him as previously when he entered the officer's club. The music is a high pitched flute, very slow and gives the audience a weary feeling. As Lawrence stepped into the club, the music becomes upbeat and everyone congratulates Lawrence. Lawrence recognizes the appreciation by bowing not saluting. Lean is showing that he has their respect but his heart and loyalty is with the Arabs.
A Chicago courier named Jackson Bentley is introduced to Feisal. Bolt has introduced this character to have a British perspective of Lawrence in the desert. Lawrence is the main topic of the conversation and Feisal talks very objectively of him. The key lines are "Laurence is with my army" referring that it is the Arab army not a British subsidiary. Also "My army is led by tribes, and tribes by tribal leaders." Bolt has this line placed here to tell Bentley that Lawrence doesn't have the control of Feisal's army. Feisal says very general answers when questioned by Bentley, "Your people think very highly of Major Lawrence?" Bolt has made Feisal very philosophical and answers, "The man who gives victory in battle is prized beyond every other man." Feisal does make the direct comment about Lawrence, "With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me it is merely good manors. You will judge which motive is the more reliable." Lean has Feisal on the dominant side while the only discomfort Bentley feels is from the heat and loosens his tie.
The camera cuts to Lawrence on top of a dune ready to push a plunger that would detonate dynamite laid to derail the Turkish train. Lean has made this shot a close up of Lawrence's upper body and he determined look sets the mood. When the audience sees Lawrence in full view they notice he is wearing, boots with a white robe over it. It has seemed that Lawrence has been integrated into both the British and Arab lifestyles. Once they started robbing the train Lawrence stands on top of the train like a god with both arms in the air. Lean has put Lawrence on the subordinate side of the screen, This foreshadows he doesn't have control. Then he is shot by a wounded Turkish officer. Bolt has made Lawrence see himself as invincible and just stands looking at the Turkish man as he shoots at Lawrence. Auda killed the Turkish man and said, "You are using your nine lives very quickly." Bolt has inserted this line to make Lawrence realize he is not a god and has just received some good luck. Other people question Lawrence's view of himself, Brighton says, "They think he's a kind of prophet." Allenby answers "They do or he does?" Lawrence views himself as a god and Lean plays it to the extreme in the next scene.
Lawrence is back on top of the train wreck. Lean has set up the scene so Lawrence's shadow is cast over the Arabs. He walks along the train and we see the Arabs looking up at Lawrence, following his shadow and chanting "Aurens, Aurens" as worshipers do. Then Lean frames him against the bright sun, his arms outstretched, he turns around in the sun acting as a god with a blue sky in the background. The music is very holy and upbeat. The next shot is of Lawrence's feet. He struts showing off his boots and his robe that blows in