Saturday, September 18, 2021

In Response to Martin Scorsese...

It goes without saying that David Lean's classic, Lawrence of Arabia, is my favorite film of all time. I first discovered the movie when I was 15 and became obsessed with it, renting it weekend after weekend and it was the first DVD I ever bought.
I've always wanted to put together a list of my favorite films but I know for certain that at the very top is Lawrence and I know a lot of filmmakers who would do so as well.

Steven Spielberg has spoken about the influence it had on him when he first saw it as a teenager and how he goes back and revisits it before starting his next film. Another great filmmaker who recognizes it's brilliance is Martin Scorsese.

I recently came across a video from the American Film Institute featuring Scorsese talking about the film and he said something that got me thinking about it in a way I never had before.

Scorsese: He's constantly testing himself, pushing himself. Putting his fingers on the flame is just one thing but then going through the desert and going back out; what is he trying to prove? What is he fighting about himself?


Now, even though I haven't watched the movie from beginning to end in well over a decade, I have enough memory of it to go back and think about it and...yeah, Marty's absolutely right.
Lawrence is always pushing himself to dangerous limits. He does it at the beginning of the movie when we see him going incredibly fast on a motorbike that will eventually lead to his death (The film is told in flashback).

So was Lawrence really trying to prove anything to himself or to others? Was he battling an inner demon?
I have a theory on it and it's not one I've ever shared before.

Shortly after the film gets going, Lawrence is assigned by his commanding officer, General Archibald Murray, for a three-month expedition into Arabia to find Prince Feisal. Shortly before dismissing him, Murray makes one final remark:


I think it honestly comes down to that line from Murray, even though we don't see Lawrence's reaction to it. If anything Lawrence seems to be pleased about this opportunity even though those around him are seeing it as an opportunity to be rid of him.

You have to think about this though; when the real T.E. Lawrence was 17, he was bicycling across France either by himself or with a friend from school. In the summer of 1909, he set out on a three-month walking tour of Syria where he was studying crusader castles and travelled over 1600 kilometers. And he did this by himself.

All of this is prior to him enlisting in the British Army where he was stationed in Cairo, Egypt and placed in charge of map preparation and interviewed prisoners. None of which-aside from his duties with the maps-is ever mentioned in the movie. The closest we get is people saying that he's been well educated and 'knows his books'.

So I think that if I were to answer Martin Scorsese when he asks, "What is he trying to prove? What is he fighting about himself?" I think it's that Lawrence is fighting his own image and fighting the perspective that others have about him.

It's not so much that he wants to prove it to Murray but more to everyone around him. Later in the film when he returns to Cairo after helping the Arabs secure the city of Aqaba in Jordan, he finds out Murray's gone and simply says, "There's a step in the right direction."

But that's just my own opinion.
T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)


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