Lawrence of Arabia

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Jackson Bentley: What is it, Major Lawrence, that attracts you personally to the desert?
T.E. Lawrence: It's clean.

Lawrence of Arabia is a historical epic film directed by David Lean about British officer T.E. Lawrence's activities leading the Arab revolt against the Turks during World War I. Producer Sam Spiegel bought the rights to Lawrence's own account of his experiences in the Middle East, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom for Lean to direct. Previously Lean had directed the Spiegel-produced The Bridge on the River Kwai to great success. Lawrence took two years to make, in locations like Jordan, Morocco and Spain. It won a ton of awards when finally released in 1962 including the Best Picture Oscar, and remains highly-regarded by most critics decades later. The movie is intelligently written and well-acted, although some critics have issues with the historical accuracy. On a visual note, it contains some absolutely beautiful desert scenery, and Peter O'Toole is terribly pretty in the title role.

Tropes used in Lawrence of Arabia include:
  • The Alliance: And collecting the various Feuding Families to form this is a large part of the movie.
  • Ambadassador: Lawrence is an emisary to the Arab Revolt.
  • Armchair Military: Played with by British command promoting and supplying Lawrence once his tactics prove effective.
  • Asexuality: Lawrence never shows any sexual interest in anyone.
    • Ambiguously Gay: In real life, his relations with his male "companions" were (and are) considered very suspect.
  • Background Music: Some of the best remembered background music in movie history.
  • Badass Bookworm: Lawrence, whose knowledge of the area makes him more effective at his job than his comrades.

"'I cannot fiddle, but I can make a great state from a little city.' - Thermistocles"

"I say, you have blue eyes." And then it gets worse.

  • Break the Cutie: The movie is one long string of personal tragedies for Lawrence, as he watches his friends die and does various things that he does not enjoy. And more tragically still, things he wishes he didn't enjoy.
  • Brick Joke: "You, sir! I'd like to shake your hand!"
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: Lawrence.
  • Celibate Eccentric Genius: Celibate Bunny Ears Lawyer Badass Bookworm.
  • Celibate Hero: Lawrence, being an Edwardian British upper-classman.
  • The Chessmaster: Feisel and Allenby.
  • Composite Character: Sherif Ali (Ali ibn el-Kharish) was clearly based on Ali ibn el Hussein, the brother of Feisal, but was stripped of his royal identity and made a generic tribal leader.
    • Many of the British officers are also composite characters.
    • Mr. Dryden
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Lawrence is caught between loyalty to his country and the Arab Revolt. In fact he talked much of this in Real Life, though when you think of it, it is inevitable in any officer seconded to an allied force. But in any case it is considerably dramatized here.
  • Cool Horse: Auda Abu Tayi's favorite part of the Plunder.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Plenty of snarking to go around.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Lawrence crosses it following Daraa, becoming more broken and bitter.
  • Do You Want to Haggle?: Allenby, Dryden, and Feisal spend a session at the end haggling over Damascus, and by implication over the corpse of the fallen Ottoman Empire.
  • Dramatization: It's based on history, but they took some liberties for dramatic effect.
  • Epic Movie
  • Estrogen Brigade Bait: Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole (somewhat averted by the latter's aversion to sex).
  • Feuding Families: Major source of problems amongst Arab tribes throughout the film.
  • Foregone Conclusion: If you don't know how the real T.E. Lawrence met his end, the opening moments of the movie show you.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Lawrence's guide, whom he thinks of as a friend. He becomes friends with Ali, his murderer, quite quickly.
  • Going Native
  • Guile Hero: Lawrence.
  • Heroic Bastard: Lawrence.
  • Heroic BSOD: Lawrence has a major one of these after Daraa.
    • And earlier, after he's unable to save Daud from quicksand.
  • Hidden Depths
  • Hollywood History: A very, VERY reliable source for it. For one, the British general staff and Lawrence were on overwhelmingly good terms save for a few exceptions. Lawrence was, however, quite contemptuous of the military rank-and-file and their strategic objectives (he saw it as his aim to subvert the Sykes-Picot agreement which wanted to divvy up Syria instead of creating an Arab state). Secondly, the taking of Aqaba was not a glorious cavalry charge into the town but a prolonged melee for a pillbox a few miles outside of town. Thirdly, the relations with the Saudi-dominated Najd are almost completely ignored when in fact they were a crucial part of diplomacy Lawrence was involved in. And this is before we get into the issue of who exactly liberated Damascus (Western Allies or Arab rebels), which is STILL a matter of pride that is fiercely contested to this day.
    • To be fair this was because the screenwriter Robert Bolt based the movie off of Lawrence's memoirs because there were too many conflicting sources. The accuracy of his writings has been brought under serious scrutiny by recent historians
  • Intermission
  • Intrepid Reporter: Mr. Bentley
  • Jedi Truth: Brought up around midway through the film:

Dryden: You give them artillery and you've made them independent.
Allenby: Then I can't give them artillery, can I?
Dryden: For you to say, sir.
Allenby: No, it's not. I've got orders to obey, thank God. Not like that poor devil. He's riding the whirlwind.

  • The Lancer: Sherif Ali (played by Omar Sharif).
  • Large Ham: Lawrence was Peter O'Toole's first film, and he'd only done stage work up until then. As a result, his performance was a little...outsized. Subverted by the fact that Lawrence, as portrayed in the film, pretty much exemplified this trope as well.
    • The stage doesn't get any bigger than a vast desert.
    • Anthony Quinn is hammy as Auda. He roars around like a big child, and at one point he walks across a table to yell at someone. And Jose Ferrer shows up for a whole scene to be a big, creepy, creepy ham.
  • Leave No Survivors: "NO PRISONERS" by Lawrence himself no less.
  • Lovable Rogue: Auda abu Tayi
    • Also, so a lesser extent, Lawrence and Daud/Farraj.
  • Magnetic Hero: Lawrence. Ali and Auda both are both good examples, as well.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Lawrence. Par for the course for any proinsurgency leader among tribal peoples.
  • Mooks: Ottoman Turkish soldiers. They drop like flies in just about every altercation.
  • Match Cut: A particularly famous one, when Lawrence blows out a match, cutting to the sun rising over the Arabian desert.
  • Meaningful Echo: Early in the film, Lawrence's Bedouin guide is shot by a man from another tribe (Sherif Ali), for drinking from his well. Angry, Lawrence yells at his retrieving back:

So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people; greedy, barbarous and cruel, as you are.

    • Later in the second half of the film, Lawrence's men slaughter a unit of Turks in revenge-fuelled lust (in which Lawrence himself snaps and kills at least two dozen Turks himself). Later, when Mr. Bently arrives at the scene, stunned, Sherif Ali essentially parrots what Lawrence had said to him before:

Does it surprise you, Mr Bentley? Surely, you know the Arabs are a barbarous people. Barbarous and cruel. Who but they! Who but they!

"Don't you know I can only be killed with a golden bullet?"

  • Mercy Kill: The arabs kill most of their wounded so the Turks don't get them.
  • Mighty Whitey
  • Moral Myopia: Lawrence berates Sharif Ali for killing his guide after he drinks from a Harith tribe's well. At the same time he does not think it odd that Europeans should kill each other over Alsace-Lorraine.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Lawrence takes his pubescent assistants into the desert with him on his way to Cairo to announce his victory at Aqaba, brushing off any objections. On the way, one of them drowns in quicksand.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Lawrence insists on taking two clanless camp followers as batmen despite the fact that they are despised by other Arabs. Later he insists on them following him into an exclusive British officer's club which he is able to do because he captured Aquba.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Lawrence going after one of his men stranded in desert. Managing to save him. Inverted possibly by being forced to execute him
    • Subverted in another instance. Lawrence's servant has to be given a Mercy Kill because it is impossible not to leave him behind.
  • No Woman's Land: It is a World War I movie, but still - no women are shown on screen, except for a handful of veiled extras here and there. There are no women with speaking roles.
    • And ululating doesn't count.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Allenby, who is shown scheming and plotting behind the Arabs' (and Lawrence's) backs. Some say this is Historical Villain Upgrade.
  • Complimentary Combat Philosophies: As Allenby says, "I fight like Clausewitz and you fight like Saxe." Those who don't know the references can look them up. What he basically meant was that he hoped the Arab's Hit and Run Tactics could keep the Turks off guard long enough for him to get a solid blow at a point where the line could be shattered.
  • Plunder: The sack of Aqaba. Also the ambushed Turkish train.
    • On an international level much of the worries both at the Arab and British headquarters are like a gang of robbers trying to bargain over the share of a new guy who bought into an upcoming heist.
  • Pride: If Lawrence has one flaw it is his belief that he and his army are untouchable and can do anything. For a long time he is right, until he reaches Daraa.
  • Quicksand Sucks: Which meets Artistic License Geology -- quicksand shows up in the desert, when the second ingredient of quicksand is water.
  • Rape as Drama: Lawrence and the Turkish Bey. More like "implied rape as drama," but still disturbing.
  • Rated "M" for Manly: A movie about bedouin riding around on Cool Horses in scorching deserts, killing large numbers of Turkish soldiers.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Feisel.
  • Recycled in Space: Dune.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Arab uprising is portrayed leaving in the infighting, shallow motives and ruthless tactics.
  • Right in Front of Me: A British officer is honored to shake Lawrence's hand, unaware that Lawrence was the dirty wog he'd slapped earlier.
  • Scenery Porn: Never has a desolate desert wasteland looked so beautiful.
    • The film is oft-cited as reason enough alone to preserve three-strip Cinerama with wrap-around 70mm movie palace screens.
  • Screw Destiny: "Nothing is written."
  • Shoot the Dog: Lawrence has to shoot a man guilty of murder to prevent his alliance falling apart.
    • Which is also an example of Shoot the Shaggy Dog, since beforehand Lawrence went across the desert to save the man, though it did earn him the respect of some of the tribesmen.
  • Spiritual Successor: Lean's next film, Doctor Zhivago, was set in Glorious Mother Russia, this time with Russian steppe.
  • Starts with Their Funeral: Starts with Lawrence crashing his motorcycle, his funeral, and then flashes back to before he became famous.
  • The Stoic: Discussed. In the very start of the film Lawrence insists on practicing his resistance to pain by holding his hand on a burning match.
    • And how can this be? Because he is the Kwisatz Hadera- oh wait.
    • Or alternately, an implication of the real Lawrence's suspected masochism.

"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

      • Putting a match out with your fingers only hurts if you hesitate, so in a sense the trick is not minding that it hurts. Okay, maybe it hurts a little...
      • The line might also double as a quiet Badass Boast.
    • Or maybe a super-oblique reference to Gaius Mucius Scaevola?
  • The Strategist: Lawrence
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome: Omar Sharif... most definitely.
  • Thirsty Desert: The Arabian and Sinai deserts.
  • This Is Sparta: "I. Don't. Want. To be. Part. Of your. BIG. PUSH!"
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Although he would do it when he had no choice, Lawrence was known for being highly averse to bloodshed ("I've never seen a man killed with a sword before." "Why don't you take a picture?" // "Prisoners, sir, we took them prisoners, the entire garrison. No, that's not true. We killed some; too many, really, I'll manage it better next time."). That is, until Daraa; he returns a "changed man", despite Sherif Ali's claims to the contrary.
  • Warrior Poet: Lawrence, who is even described by a journalist who knew him, as "a poet, a scholar, and a mighty warrior" (as well as some less flattering things) in the opening.
  • Warrior Prince: Ali.
  • What the Hell, Hero?
  • Widescreen Shot: So many, it showed Lean was a master of them.
  • Worthy Opponent: The Turkish officer at the train.