Seeing Cinema in a New Light: Criticism, Essays and Observations about Classic Cinema

1960s Movies, Classic Movies, Film Criticism and Analysis, Historical Drama, Overrated, Rants

The Problem with Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Problem #7–and Conclusion: Dark-Haired Dude Chases Shiksa Goddess–What Else Is New?

By now, you’re wondering what the crux of my complaint is about this entire film. It’s not so much that Doctor Zhivago is dressing up a sleazy extramarital affair as a very passionate romance between two soul mates, that the main character is really a two-timing skuzzball or that Lara is basically just jerkoff material for the Playboy set. It’s that it wasted an epic on an affair that couldn’t have been less remarkable.

To put it another way, it would have made sense to spend over three hours of a movie depicting, say, the love affair between Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Not only was this pairing fascinating in its own right, it changed the course of history. I mean, what could be more intriguing than a love triangle that led to one of the most famous military battles of all time (the Battle of Actium), the most famous suicides of all time (Cleopatra and her asp) and the most famous military conquests of all time (Ancient Egypt)?

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as Mark Antony and Cleopatra in Cleopatra (1963)

But love affairs in which a dark-haired, dark-eyed guy dumps his dutiful and smart yet plain Jane dark-haired wife to score some blonde ass and loses track of the love child they spawned? These are a dime a dozen in human history–hell, that’s a normal day in Hollywood.

What on earth was so special about the romance between Dr. Zhivago and Lara that merited over three hours? Because it took place at a time long, long ago in a country far, far away that is considered exotic by Western standards? And had sweeping cinematography backed by romantic balalaika music? And had a dewy-eyed romantic for a protagonist played by an actor with a “windows to the soul” gaze that was one part basset hound suffering from separation anxiety and two parts Margaret Keane painting?

So fucking what?


  1. I had a similar reaction to Zhivago when I saw it as a teenager. I could never have explored it in such lucid detail or examined so many facets of it, but I had the distinct sense that the “love story” was offensive nonsense — selfish, adulterous, and based on virtually nothing. I was unaware of the sexist exploitation that you articulate so well, and I couldn’t contextualize all of it historically, but my raw impression was that the plot was pretentious and preposterous.

  2. George Campbell

    You have purloined to yourself the intention of the producer and director.
    Dr Zhivago (68) still works for millions including me. That was their intention. It seems close to the intention of Louise Pasternak. And even if not, so what? Contrivance is not the opposite of truth. More so when historical drama is being portrayed. Whether in revolutions or wars or at an Elvis concert love is malleable. Think not that you know the best course it should have taken. I have 5 Academy Awards in my suit. What do you hold? Stop intellectualizing yourself out of enjoyment.

    • Comment by post author

      I didn’t think you read a word of this essay.

      When you tell me to “stop intellectualizing,” what you’re telling me is to leave my brain at the door, so I can accept the movie’s subtext without question.

      The Academy Awards have been meaningless for a very long time, so I’m not sure what bragging about having won five is supposed to mean. Assuming you’re an “insider,” you know very well that the entire thing has always been driven by politics, quid pro quo, campaigning and pandering. You have five under your suit, but Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock received none for their work.

      • Christine

        I saw Zhivago for the 1st time a few months back. I thought what a cheater and a selfless fool. Slow moving and pretty but no real depth there.

  3. George Campbell

    Yes! I did read as far as the relevant trope. It threw me to the point that I even renamed Boris🤣. However, I certainly respect disagreement. But before I do go back and read the full article answer my perplexity. Will it invalidate my comment?

  4. RM

    thank goodness!!! i thought i was losing my mind!!! i just watched this for the 1st time a week ago expecting a ‘Gone With The Wind’ epic romantic movie and was sorely disappointed. so….i agree 100%!!! 🙂

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