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.