Lawrence of Arabia and Imperialism

We remember all the men and women who fought or sacrificed themselves in different ways in world war one. They are remembered for their bravery and determination to help our country. One man is remembered for more than that. He served his country well while trying to stand up for the little guy. T.E. Lawrence is remembered for his sacrifices and bravery while trying to help the Arab people. I think the film review, called “BFI Film Classics- Lawrence of Arabia” said it best when they stated “T.E. Lawrence remains one of the most appealing characters or ‘personalities’ in twentieth-century British history or one of its greatest poseurs”. Even though he loved his country he had a lot of sympathy for the Arabs and wanted what was best for them. This is shown in a spectacular movie called Lawrence of Arabia. This movie uses excellent characterization, along with good acting and directing, to help develop a strong theme about the power of imperialism.

The director shows us different points of view using one character, Lawrence. On one hand he is linked to European imperialism, and even helps it along because he knows what is going on the whole time with the French and the English wanting control over Arabia and he chooses to ignore it. On the other hand he is dedicated to the freedom of the Arab people. Lawrence feels torn between his homeland and its army, and his newfound comrades within the Arab desert tribes. All this helps us to understand the pressures on Lawrence. The major theme of this movie is that even a person with the best intention can let power blind them to what is really going around them. Such as when Lawrence knows what might be going on with the British in Arabia but the general makes him feel so important, this makes Lawrence believe in his own legend. His thirst for power and maintaining it is stronger than his thirst for justice of the Arab people. That is until he is captured beaten and suggestively raped. After this he knows he is not invincible as he once thought and he wants to quit but once again the general makes him feel like a hero again. This time he shows signs of doing it for the Arabs for a more justified reason. This Movie goes into great depth, it is very insightful and enjoyable to watch, and the theme is so easily interpreted. This movie was really a pleasure. As Stated by Kevin Jackson in “BFI film classics-Lawrence of Arabia”, “One cans help admitting to liking, and even admiring Lawrence of Arabia (1962)”.

Lawrence and Brighten throughout the movie seem to be fighting on the same side for the same cause. Lawrence and Brighton actually happen to be foil characters with one another. Brighton happens to be a loyalist, who believes that his country is the best and there is no other better. He does what is best for the British army no matter what. Lawrence on the other hand is more sympathetic to the Arab people, and their culture and way of life. He even goes to say “The desert is your ocean. You may go where you please and strike where you please. This is how you have always fought you should not change it.” This scene is near the beginning of the movie when they are in Fesial’s tent. This scene shows us the foil between Lawrence and Brighton best. Lawrence argues with Brighton about whether or not they should fall back on Yenbo and become under the control and protection of the British army, or if they should take Aqaba. Brighton says “British and Arab interests are one in the same”. He is speaking of Arabia as if it were a British colony. They argue about if the Arabs need training or guns. Brighton states that Great Britain is a small country much smaller than Arabia and even smaller in numbers than most, but it is great because it has discipline and training. Lawrence agrees with king Fesial when he argues that the British are great because of their navy. This navy is their advantage over everyone else; Lawrence suggests that king Fesial use the desert as his advantage over the Turkish army. This goes against everything Brighton wants and this makes them character foils. Brighton even goes as far to call Lawrence a traitor to his country.

Lawrence lets all the praise and power go to his head he falls for the same trick over and over again. He believes he is a prophet, the only man who can free the Arabs from their doom. Ultimately he believes what Jackson Bently has written him out to be. An example of this is when Lawrence returns to tell the general about their victory in Aqaba. The script goes like this: Lawrence-“We took Aqaba” General- “It isn’t possible” Lawrence- “Yes it is. I did it” Another example is when Jackson Bently is interviewing Lawrence he asked him “What do these people have to gain?” He replies “Their freedom and I am going to give it to them.” Or when Arabs are looting trains and leaving for home because they have enough stuff, and leaving Lawrence with little men. He says “They will come and fight for me” or when he says “They will come for Dimaskis and I am going to give it to them”. All this is not entirely Lawrence’s fault. The General plays on his weakness for power by promoting him two ranks, to major, and announcing it to everyone in the game room. Even when he wanted to quit, the general made him feel like he was a very important part of winning the war and that they could not do it without him. Also Sheriff Ali makes him feel like he has ultimate power after he rescues Gasim from the desert, because he must execute him for killing one of the other tribesmen. Sheriff Ali makes him feel powerful by saying “You gave life and you took it” this makes him feel like he has the power of God himself because he is the only one who could do that.

In this movie the director is very aware of imperialism and ultimately the racism toward Arabs. He uses it in this movie to help strengthen his theme, about British and French imperialism. The director also tries to suck us into the movie using the music to describe how Lawrence is feeling at the time and helps us to understand why he is feeling this way. The Variety Staff agrees with this statement in their article “Lawrence of Arabia” they say “Lean and cameraman Young have brought out the loneliness and pitiless torment of the desert with an artistic use of color and with almost every frame superbly mounted. Micheal Warre’s musical score is often overlooked but is always contributory to the mood of the film”. Eerie, even scary music is used when Lawrence is walking in the desert and comes to the conclusion to attack Aqaba by land. This lets us know how scared Lawrence is about doing this but he knows it is the only way. Another example is when Lawrence rescues Gasim from the desert and the trumpets sound. This describes how Lawrence feels glad to be alive and how he feels like a hero. And he feels like he has gained some respect from Sheriff Ali.
Throughout the movie sheriff Ali and Lawrence are character foils. The thing that is different about these two character foils is that by the end of the movie they switch into each other’s roles as the other’s foil. Toward the beginning of the movie sheriff Ali kills an Arab man in cold blood because he is drinking from his well. This man was Lawrence’s guide. While later or towards the end of the movie he feels sympathy for the Turkish army who is his enemy. While Lawrence at the beginning of the movie is furious with Sheriff Ali for killing this man they get into a huge argument. Then at the end of the movie Lawrence orders the slaughter of the Turkish army with no one left alive. This not only proves that they were character foils but also proves that they also switched roles sometime throughout the movie.
Some saw T.E. Lawrence as a saviour. Others saw him as just a man, but people such as myself believe he was somewhere in between. He was just a man who wanted what was best for everyone but he had a dark side lusting for power. This flaw makes us realize he is just human and helps us to relate to the man. Throughout this movie the great acting, and directing made this movie enjoyable, but also helped to get an important theme across. While the effective characterization of Lawrence helped to strengthen it.

Work Cited
“BFI Film Classics- Lawrence of Arabia” Film Review, Nov2007, p124-124
Ceplair, Larry “Righting A Wrong: Paul Jarrico and the Correction of Blacklist-Era Screen Credits.” Cineaste, Fall2007, p30-33
Kemp Philip “Lawrence of Arabia” Sight and Sound, Nov2007, p93-93
“Lawrence of Arabia” Variety Movie Reviews, 12/30/1998, p1-1