On Friday Of This Week, Doctor Zhivago (1965)

On Friday of this week, just two days from now, Turner Classic Movies will broadcast David Lean's film, Doctor Zhivago (1965).

This film has been one of the major cultural events of my life, and I try to watch it, or a recording of it, whenever it is broadcast.

I first saw this film in a "sit down" theater with my mother (my parents preferred dirve-in theaters).  It was my first exposure, my very first, to the Orthodox Faith---beginning with the first scene of the film, a wide landscape shot in which an Orthodox Cross is scene to the lower right of the screen.  It was also a more elaborate exposure to the history of the Bolshevik Revolution---which I had read, very briefly, about in a world history text directed at elementary school-level students.  During the that showing, in the theater in which most of the seats fpr that showing were empty, I had to explain to my mother exacly what the Revolution had been.  I did not know, and did not know that I did not know, what the Orthodox Church believed, and how its Faith improved on certain aspects of Western theology (which I would not begin to study for another year and a half).

I do remember having a very sad, radically sad, reaction to the announcement, about mid-way through the film, that the Czar and his family, had been murdered by the Bolsheviks.  The reaction of Zhivago's father-in-law to this news is so achingly poignant that, for four decades afterward, I would attempt to avoid that particular scene in the film, either by fast-forwarding, or stepping out of the room, or whatever might avail me to escape it.  Only when my inclination to the Orthodox Faith commenced was I able to understand that the Romanov family were martyrs, and that they continue to live, now with Christ our Lord in Heaven.  I like to think that the Tsarevitch, Alexei, had been my patron among the saints prior to my formal conversion to Orthodoxy.

I first read Boris Pasternak's novel, which inspired the film, during the final exams week of my first Freshman term at college, at the end of November 1976.  The finals for that term began on Saturday, November 20th.  Only one of my three classes required a final, and mine was on that first day.  My parents were unable to transport me to their residence (and to my reunion with J-Wave, and with my family's two Cocker Spaniels, Penny and Monica) until Tuesday evening the 23rd, so I had plenty of time to occupy.  To reward myself for what I believed had been a good exam in Political Science 101, I walked down to the college bookstore, which was, surprisingly, open on that particular Saturday (due to finals week).  Browsing, I found a paperback copy of Pasternak's novel, purchased it, and began to read.  I don't think I actually put it down that day, or the next two.  It reminded me of the film, most certainly, and also expanded my view of the story, since, the film (as they all do) omitted a lot of material that the novel had supplied.  

All of these strands of memory will come together for me, in two days, when I again have the privilege to watch Doctor Zhivago.


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