Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Film Review: Doctor Zhivago (2002)

Growing up, I somehow decided that "real love" had some sort of tragedy involved.  In fact, I didn't think it was romantic or a deep love if tragedy didn't separate the couple in some way.  I know.  As an adult I now realize how sick I was (and am), and that I've set myself up for a repetition of my own sick ways.  I won't go into my own love life, but I will say that tragedy was involved.  Do I think that was real love?  Yes, but I can't say that it is "romantic," nor a way to spend one's life.  Thankfully I have realized that's not the best form of love, but I do still, strangely, like tragedy!

Having backed up my view on tragedy, I have to precede my review of Doctor Zhivago with a quick explanation.  I grew up on musicals and old movies.  An 8-Track of Camelot piped through our house on Saturday mornings while we cleaned--in fact, I can't hear the song "Camelot" without feeling like I need to pick up a dust rag!  Although Doctor Zhivago isn't a musical, "Lara's Theme" is haunting and fits the film.  Yes, the film is sad and tragic, but I have loved it for a very long time.  This is why I had to watch the new, updated version with Keira Knightley that came out in 2002.

Synopsis:  From, "A man torn between two women amid the chaos and brutality of the Russian Revolution.  One of the world’s most famous love stories and half a century of Russian history come to life in this adaptation of Pasternak’s masterpiece by celebrated screenwriter Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Pride and Prejudice). War and revolution bring poet and physician Yury Zhivago (Hans Matheson) together with the beautiful Lara (Keira Knightley), his muse and all-consuming passion. But both are haunted--Yury by guilt over his betrayal of Tonya, his beloved wife, and Lara by fear of Komarovsky (Sam Neill), the powerful man who means to have her any way he can."
Review:  This mini-series was good, but just didn't reach the epic scale of the 1965 film version of the story.  The acting in the series was surprisingly good, as well as the sets, and I thought that their demonstration of the conflict in Russia to be necessary.  Having said that, I somehow couldn't get past Keira Knightley as Lara.  I think that Knightley is beautiful and an amazing actress, but have to admit that I missed our more vulnerable Lara in Julie Christie.  Zhivago was also hard for me to take in Hans Matheson, mainly because his roles in other films have been so diverse as to distract me and remind me of his other characters.  For instance, he has played Marius in the film version of  Les Miserables, but also the dastardly scoundrel Alec D'Urberville in the amazing new adaptation of Tess of the D'Urbervilles.  Honestly, I saw him more as Alec, so couldn't sympathize as much with him.  Yes, he is a great actor, and one that I think has amazing talent to have me so riled up at his individual performances, but will admit that I'm overly influenced by these other parts he has played.

If you are a fan of the original Doctor Zhivago, I say you really must watch this version.  If you are not familiar with it, have a culturally iconic flashback moment and watch the older version of the film.  Actually, they are both are worth your time.  Let me be honest in saying that the story is sad and tragic, but is interesting in its treatment of love and marriage.  This movie haunts me, and to this day has me wondering if the loss in the film is worth it for that chance to have loved at all?  As the adage goes, "It's better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."  In the case of this film, we encounter that adage up close, and I'm still not sure if that's true.  All I know is that I hope that's not my own destiny!

By the way, although the novel is dense with Russian politics that can be confusing, this is also a great novel.

What do you think?  Do you think it's better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all? 


  1. I've seen both versions as well, and I agree with you that the 2002 version just doesn't have the same epic feel as the one with the inimitable Omar Sharif. The older one has scenes that stick in your mind FOREVER, like the train cars being completely encased in ice. And Matheson is cute, but he's no Sharif.

    Actually, I think I reviewed the newer version on my blog somewhere... I will have to search for that review since I don't remember much about it!

  2. I found it! It's only one paragraph so I thought I'd share: "Dr. Zhivago (the miniseries version from 2003) has also been playing on Ovation. If you thought the 1965 movie was long, this one is like five hours. Oy. I actually haven't seen the whole thing yet. I was going to watch part two tonight, but my dad decided he wanted to go to sleep instead. At this point, though, I am already forming the opinion that it's not as good as the '65 film. I do like Keira Knightly's performance as Lara much better than Julie Christie's, but she and Hans Matheson (as Dr. Zhivago) have no chemistry. He's supposed to be in love with her at this point, and I'm like, really? In the original film, you spend the first half hour being like, "When will they meet, when will they meet, when. will. they. meet?!?!?" and then when Yuri and Lara finally do meet, it's like, omgawwwwwd, they're going to fall in lurrrrrrrve!!! But for the miniseries there didn't seem to be any spark or tension between the two characters, even though they spent more time setting it up. And Hans Matheson can't hold a candle to Omar Sharif. He really, really can't. Furthermore, I love Sam Neil, but he's just not creepy enough as Komarovsky; not to mention the whole thing looks like it was shot in England instead of Russia. It's just not as good. But I feel compelled to keep watching, if only out of curiosity of whether or not we'll finally be able to hear some of Zhivago's famous poems."

  3. I was excited when I had heard there was a newer version of Dr. Zhivago, but I didn't love it. I wasn't happy with Keira Knightley in it either.

  4. I had no idea that they had made a new version of Dr. Zhivago. I've never seen the old one all the way through though, so I'll have to watch that one first.

  5. I have been casting longing glances at this movie for a while now, I think I had better cave sometime soon and buy it. As for the book, I might end up reading it soon.

  6. Heidenkind--Thanks for sharing! You're so right, and I'm glad someone agrees with me! I love your review. Your reasons for not liking Zhivago and mine are for different reasons, but it seems pretty universal!

    Shelley--Agreed. Good actors, but it just didn't work!

    Gretchen--Yes, do! I love the old one better, so don't watch the new one until you do.

    Irisonbooks--I struggled with the politics mentioned in the book, but I can see that it could be the same in the movie if you focused on it. The underlying story though is really great!

  7. Ioana Munteanu: On the contrary, I think Matheson is a very warm and emotional (even if not so distinguished as Omar Sharif) Zhivago, but it is Keira who puts me off. As for the historical background, it is not at all boring for us, eastern people: it is complicated and difficult to explain, but... it is still in our blood... The tragedy of those times is worth a great cinema fresco...