Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Directed by David Lean

The story of British officer T.E. Lawrence's mission to aid the Arab tribes in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Lawrence becomes a flamboyant, messianic figure in the cause of Arab unity but his psychological instability threatens to undermine his achievements.

Ironically, although detractors such as Sarris called the film “impersonal” in the 60s, it can be seen today as one of the prototypes of the contemporary “personal” blockbuster in which the director’s own will to power is reflected in the ambiguous megalomania of the central character. […] Thanks in part to Lean’s example, [many biopic] films are about more than their ostensible subjects — they are also about the positions of their respective directors in leading hordes of people, dreaming big dreams, and reflecting on the metaphysical ambiguities of their power, all of which has tended to make most of these blockbusters bear an annoyingly monotonous and narcissistic resemblance to one another.


Some of the film’s greatest moments are elongated meditations on mountains, camels, and mirages — moments that give us a sense of space, history, and even psychology that goes beyond any of the particulars found in [Robert] Bolt’s extremely literate dialogue.


Magisterial, intelligent, handsome, mysterious, proud, brilliant, imperialist, bombastic, narcissistic: the film, like its hero, is all these things. Paradoxically, it is not really a film that admits hidden depths — the ironies and ambiguities are all there on the surface, which is one of the reasons I doubt that this is a masterpiece that can be combed indefinitely for buried treasures.

Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader, 1989)