For some people, David Lean's name is synonymous with over-direction, but in Doctor Zhivago, as in Lawrence of Arabia, Lean had a theme and canvas to match his epic style. Boris Pasternak's novel was one of the best novels of the 20th century, and probably the best anti-communist novel ever written. The book is not a political novel so much as a romance -- but the doomed romance of Zhivago and Lara is a damning comment on an ideology and regime that robbed its people of their private lives and passions.
In Lean's hands, the book is transformed into a sprawling epic and a lot of the subtlety is removed -- but despite all the lurid images and overdramatic camera work, the result is not as overwrought as one might have expected. After all, Russia is a big place, and communism is a big subject. Fortunately, the screenwriters of yesterday were not as heavy-handed as today's, and often the dialogue is nearly as rich as the costumes and settings.
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