Contrary to Popular Opinion…Doctor Zhivago Heal Thyself

This entry is part of the Contrary to Popular Opinion blogathon, hosted by SisterCelluloid and MoviesSilently.  This blogathon is designed to allow classic film bloggers to share their unpopular opinions, be that a love for a hated movie or a desire to knock a sacred classic off a pedestal.  Please take this entry with the spirit it is intended…this is my unpopular opinion about DOCTOR ZHIVAGO.

It would be nice to think that all classic film fans love all classic films, but this simply is not the case.  As with modern films, classic films have some entries that are best left forgotten.  Every classic film fan has a few films they don’t like and this usually is not big deal.  But mention an idolized classic in disparaging tones and suddenly the room becomes very quiet, and you are left very alone.  People slide quietly away, shaking their heads and muttering “And she calls herself a classic film fan”.  Too dramatic?  Okay, so maybe it isn’t exactly like that but I am willing to bet that pretty much every classic film fan has a deep dark secret, a film that they can’t stand but one that is so revered by the entire classic film community that they dare not mention it aloud.  Instead they hide their disdain behind polite smiles and nods of the head all the while silently cringing inside.  Well, today is the day that I come clean.  I have a film that I just cannot abide and it is…DOCTOR ZHIVAGO from 1965, or as I call it “Three hours in Russia with selfish people”.  Blasphemous, I know but there it is.  And why is this, what has caused me to have such negative feelings toward a great film classic?

The Length

Look, I like a good epic sometimes.  Pop the popcorn, lock the doors, take the phone off the hook, and settle in for a daylong journey.  But honestly, there needs to be some movement to the story, some urgency and there just isn’t in this film.  But, I hear you say, the history, the nuances, the emoting, the revolution!  I get that, but if you took all the main plot points, the history, the revolution, you would have a movie that could probably run about two hours.  Sometimes you can argue that movies don’t spend enough time on story and character development.  This is not one of those movies.  So much time is spent on minuscule details it becomes difficult to keep track of the important points of the story.  This is a problem that comes with trying to adapt a huge novel to the big screen and I get that.  But maybe there needed to be a little more editing?  Or at least some tightening up of some story points.  The three plus hours feel like a slog through Siberia in a blizzard and about halfway through I get woozy.  I start to lose focus around the time they show up at the ice palace…which reminds me.

The Constant Depression

I’m not saying that movies need to be all sunshine and cupcakes, but at a certain point you need a little levity just to get you through.  Watching DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and seeing all the terrible things that happen to, well pretty much EVERYONE, makes me feel like I am watching someone beat a dead horse with a puppy.  Seriously.  Let’s start at the beginning when Yuri Zhivago is orphaned.  Then let’s add in Lara’s mom trying to commit suicide when she finds out that her daughter is sleeping with the same married man she is.  And Pasha and everything that goes down with him. Then Lara gets raped.  Then WWI breaks out and people are wounded, missing in action, and drafted against their will.  Then Lara and Yuri fall in love but can’t be together.  And Yuri’s poems get condemned by the communist party.  Then Pasha again!  Yuri gets abducted from his family and conscripted by Communist partisans and Lara’s life is in danger.  Then the ENDING!  (Which I will get to in a moment)  It goes on and on…watching this for three plus hours by the end I am depressed for days.

Lara and Yuri

I just can’t get behind Lara and Yuri.  I can’t root for these two people who I feel are both pretty selfish.  I get that they are star-crossed lovers, but how many times have we seen films about two married people who fall in love but DON’T act on it out of respect for their spouses.  BRIEF ENCOUNTER anyone?  I mean the whole thing with the ice palace, running off to hide out and make love until they can’t hide anymore?  Yuri is supposed to be such a wonderful man and yet here he is leaving his family to have an affair with Lara, something he was judging her for at the beginning.  And there is something that bugs me about Lara being revered as the perfect woman and yet she starts out having an affair with a married man but not just any married man, the same one her mother is having an affair with!  There must have been some odd mother/daughter conversations going on in that house.

These two characters never feel fully realized to me.  Lara is wonderful because she is pretty and blonde?  Yuri is a great man because he writes poetry and has dreamy brown eyes?  It’s all very superficial and I get the feeling that this is one of those situations where there is a lot of stuff that was left out from the book, therefore removing the back story and needed motivations of the main characters.  Without this background there isn’t much left for me to care about when it comes to these two characters, which is a shame because when you are telling an epic love story you need to be invested in the lovers.  For me it’s less of a “will they won’t they” situation and more of a “are you serious, they are doing that” situation.

The Ending

I am going to spoil part of the ending of the movie here, so if you haven’t seen it stop reading now.  I’ll wait…all gone?  Good.  The last thing that really irks me about this movie is the ending.  Here we are at the end of our saga.  We have marched across Russia, slogged through Siberia, gone through EVERYTHING you could POSSIBLY have happen to you.  Now here at last will be the payoff!  After years and years of searching for each other, longing for each other, missing each other, at long last Yuri and Lara will be reunited.  We watch as Yuri struggles from the train and across the square, trying to catch the woman he believes is Lara.  He stops and opens his mouth to call out to her…and DROPS DEAD from a heart attack!!  Are.  You.  Serious.  I just went through all of that and he DIES!?  And it wasn’t even LARA!?  I get that this is what happened in the book and all that, believe me no one is a bigger proponent of staying true to the book than I am.  But after spending 197 minutes trudging through all of Russia with two main characters that I do not like or care that much about, and surviving every single, solitary, horrible thing that has happened to them it feels like a slap in the face when the ending you are hoping for gets wrenched away.

It feels good to get this off my chest and I hope I haven’t offended too many DOCTOR ZHIVAGO fans.  We all have films we secretly dislike and this is mine.  But just think, it could always be worse…just look at what happened to Yuri Zhivago.


23 thoughts on “Contrary to Popular Opinion…Doctor Zhivago Heal Thyself

  1. Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman) January 17, 2015 / 5:00 pm

    The unmistakable 1960s hair-dos are the first distraction for me. I want to like “Dr. Zhivago”. A lot of work obviously went into it (despite the anachronistic coiffure), but there really isn’t a lot about these folks that makes me care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nowvoyaging January 17, 2015 / 6:02 pm

      Exactly! I didn’t like Lara so I never got why she inspired such devotion from Pasha and Yuri. I feel like it is one of those movies where the book is probablu better.


  2. carygrantwonteatyou January 18, 2015 / 2:48 am

    I didn’t like the movie because I thought it was a poor shadow of the book, with a lot of bad choices made about what to cover & cut. Loved this description: “Three hours in Russia with selfish people.” It wasn’t a plot-driven story, and therefore I think it was a bad idea to screen it at all. But clearly many disagree with us:) Leah

    Liked by 1 person

    • nowvoyaging January 18, 2015 / 3:05 am

      It’s so hard to film these sweeping stories! Glad someone else agrees…but maybe I will have to check out the book!


  3. Silver Screenings January 18, 2015 / 1:40 pm

    I have never seen this film. Never cared to see it, because the runtime is too long and it looked pointless to me. I admit I’m now feeling a bit smug and self-satisfied after reading your review. And thank you for including the ending. I am not at all surprised it ends in this ridiculous fashion.

    However, you’ve made me want to read the book, and I think I’ll place a hold on it at the library.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nowvoyaging January 18, 2015 / 2:01 pm

      I’m intrigued by the book too! Let me know what you think if you read it!


  4. vcdrt January 18, 2015 / 4:43 pm

    Bahahahaha!—I was so glad to see someone ragging on this sacred cow, which I too have never been able to sit through (like at least one commenter).

    It’s a particular kind of movie, the sprawling epic, and mostly I stay away from these. For me a movie has to be totally justified to run longer than 2 hours, 90 minutes for comedies. I often feel like a movie is about to wrap up, all plot strands have been successfully resolved, when the writers throw a little Molotov cocktail into the works for one more round, and… it just feels forced.

    However, I am not putting the book on my list. The stack by the bed (and *on* the bed) is too big, and as I get older one of the compensations is feeling free to say No to certain major projects, like reading a 600-page book I’m not all that keen on…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. girlsdofilm January 18, 2015 / 7:22 pm

    Your post is certainly not contrary to my popular opinion, in fact, I wrote a post expressing very similar sentiments recently.
    Several things that annoy me include: the length, Omar Sharif’s unconvincing puppy-dog eyes, the creative licence the studio gave to Lean…
    But my biggest gripe? That, by focusing on rumination and languor over action, it reduces true events to a mere chocolate-box story. Real-world events are pushed to a footnote and there’s far too little contextualisation.
    Wonderful contribution to the blogathon!

    Liked by 2 people

    • nowvoyaging January 18, 2015 / 7:26 pm

      Thank you! I totally agree with you and your terrific post!


  6. Le January 18, 2015 / 8:12 pm

    I’m a Doctor Zhivago fan, and I’m no offended!
    What struck the most with me is now awful the Russian Revolution made people’s lives. I see Boris Pasternak, the author, wanted to criticize the revolution and created those characters to add a bit of a love story.
    And I have to agree the ending was VERY disappointing 😦
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • nowvoyaging January 18, 2015 / 8:17 pm

      Thanks for sharing! Good to know that even a fan sees some flaws too! Great entry!


  7. Bonnie January 18, 2015 / 10:06 pm

    Yes! Yes! And yes! Even the music grates on my nerves. I have a CD set of the greatest musical songs and skip over the Doctor Zhivago “bonus” track every time. [Thank goodness the bonus track on the other CD was “As Time Goes By.”]

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kristina January 19, 2015 / 3:38 pm

    I agree, I find it pretty boring. The only good thing about it is that it certainly depicts communism as the depressing life- and soul-sucking black hole it actually is. And I’m with you, a depressing ending after slogging through sad and hopeless stuff all the way through is such a downer! Great post

    Liked by 1 person

  9. cjcleach January 19, 2015 / 8:09 pm

    For me, what always ground my gears about Dr Z was the casting of Rod Steiger. His character is meant to be a used car salesman type. A suave smoothie who can talk his way out of anything and has a sharp sense of humor – James Mason was the original choice, and George Sanders would have been even better.

    Steiger was anything but smooth.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. shadowsandsatin January 20, 2015 / 2:43 am

    I actually bought Dr. Zhivago on VHS years ago, but I was never able to watch more than 20 minutes or so. And I always felt like I was missing out on something great, and that something must be wrong with me. But no more! Your write-up had me cracking up. Really, really good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nowvoyaging January 20, 2015 / 2:47 am

      Thank you! And no, you aren’t missing anything except for snow, depression, and goo goo eyes


  11. Movies Silently January 21, 2015 / 6:30 am

    I had an inkling of what I was in for when I saw Zhivago. I came armed with my knitting needles and completed an entire shawl while watching this mess. At least my time was not totally wasted.

    Seriously, why the heck are we following Omar Sharif and not Geraldine Chaplin’s character? Much more interesting than either Yuri or Lara.

    The worst of it? People see this and think that it’s what Russian movies are like. Nope. This is a bad copy of a bad copy of a bad Russian movie, it has nothing in common with the real thing.

    Thanks for joining in!

    Liked by 2 people

    • nowvoyaging January 21, 2015 / 9:43 am

      Thanks for hosting a great blogathon! And I agree, following Geraldine Chaplin would have been more interesting! Or Pasha!


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