Judging by the almost universal acclaim and adoration for this film even 50 years after its release, it took me about twenty years too long for me to watch this film. I’ve never been particularly enamored by lengthy films, and a movie long enough to have an intermission is certainly in that category. After viewing it for the first time, however, I can honestly say that this is one of the best films I’ve ever watched.
Despite being nearly 4 hours long, the writers set a fantastic pace for the film’s story that easily makes it go by quicker than films half its length. It’s impressive how quickly it seems to shift from Lawrence making a fool of himself, to conquering cities with an Arabian army at his stead. The then-novel time-shift narrative serves well as a vehicle for the film’s psychological analysis of the titular character, who struggles throughout to understand his motivations and allegiances between the conflicting desires of the British military, the Arabian masses, and his own moral compass, and O’Toole handles the role with care and finesse as he depicts Lawrence at varying stages of his impressive military service.
Lawrence of Arabia’s enormous production budget is evident in all aspects of its creation, from its vast landscapes and awe-inspiring battle scenes, to its hugely affecting soundtrack. The picture quality is beautiful and a real treat given the year of its release, and cinematographer Freddie Young takes full advantage of it with a mix of eclectic Arabian landscapes. These landscapes feel foreign to the eye, and, when combined with the now-iconic soundtrack, feel like an entirely new planet away from the comforting familiarity of civilization. The film, above all, succeeds in painting the unique world of Arabia with beauty and finesse, perhaps the way T.E. Lawrence truly saw it.