Jim A.

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO

17 posts in this topic

I just finished watching Doctor Zhivago (1965, Omar Sharif, Julie Christie) for the first time in over twenty-five years--and I still don't understand certain things.

Like why Pasha (Pavel) Antipov felt he had to hide his true identity--after the revolution he was known as "Strelnikov"--and chose to kill himself when it was found out. Had his family been aristocracy? I heard no explanation.

Other things, too, I didn't quite catch. Is it me, or does the film suffer from a bad psycho-epistemology?

Whatever the case, the picture is worth seeing, though very tragic, and is inferior to the novel--and film of--We the Living; We the Living deals with the root cause of the revolution and all its resultant horrors; Doctor Zhivago only deals with the symptoms.

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I also haven't seen Dr. Zhivago in a very long time. Sorry I can't answer your question right now. I agree that it's worth seeing - on the plus side, I recall that it's excellently acted and is a dramatic story (and Julie Christie is just amazingly beautiful in the movie.) One big downside is that the movie ends on a "see what the great Soviet state is achieving" note, which is really disgusting.

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Novelist Valdimir Nabokov (like Ayn Rand, an anti-Communist Russian emigre) despised Dr. Zhivago because, among other reasons, it downplayed the Kerensky revolution that overthrew the Czars, and viewed the Communist revolution as the only important one.

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I realize this thread was started for the movie, not the book; but I think comments on the source material are highly relevant. I just found this, in an interview with Nabokov, at http://www.lib.ru/NABOKOW/Inter22.txt :

Did you tell Robert Bingham [who requested a review] what you thought of Dr.

Zhivago?

What I told him is what I still think today. Any

intelligent Russian would see at once that the book is

pro-Bolshevist and historically false, if only because it

ignores the Liberal Revolution of spring, 1917, while making

the saintly doctor accept with delirious joy the Bolshevist

coup d'etat seven months later-- all of which is in

keeping with the party line. Leaving out politics, I regard the

book as a sorry thing, clumsy, trivial, and melodramatic, with

stock situations, voluptuous lawyers, unbelievable girls, and

trite coincidences.

Yet you have a high opinion of Pasternak as a lyrical

poet?

Yes, I applauded his getting the Nobel Prize on the

strength of his verse. In Dr. Zhivago, however, the

prose does not live up to his poetry. Here and there, in a

landscape or simile, one can distinguish, perhaps, faint echoes

of his poetical voice, but those occasional fioriture

are insufficient to save his novel from the provincial banality

so typical of Soviet literature for the past fifty years.

Precisely that link with Soviet tradition endeared the book to

our progressive readers. I deeply sympathized with Pasternak's

predicament in a police state; yet neither the vulgarities of

the Zhivago style nor a philosophy that sought refuge in

a sickly sweet brand of Christianism could ever transform that

sympathy into a fellow writer's enthusiasm.

The book, however, has become something of a classic. How

do you explain its reputation?

Well, all I know is that among Russian readers of today--

readers, I mean, who represent that country's wonderful

underground intelligentsia and who manage to obtain and

distribute works of dissident authors-- Dr. Zhivago is

not prized as universally and unquestioningly as it is, or at

least was, by Americans. When the novel appeared in America,

her left-wing idealists were delighted to discover in it a

proof that "a great book" could be produced after all

under the Soviet rule. It was for them the triumph of Leninism.

They were comforted by the fact that for better or worse its

author remai! ned on the side of angelic Old Bolsheviks and

that nothing in his book even remotely smacked of the true

exile's indomitable contempt for the beastly regime engendered

by Lenin.

[Note: since most of the site is in Russian, I can't comment on its authoritativeness; but the comments certainly sound like what I've heard before from Nabokov on this subject.]

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I realize this thread was started for the movie, not the book; but I think comments on the source material are highly relevant. I just found this, in an interview with Nabokov, at http://www.lib.ru/NABOKOW/Inter22.txt :

Did you tell Robert Bingham [who requested a review] what you thought of Dr.

Zhivago?

What I told him is what I still think today. Any

intelligent Russian would see at once that the book is

pro-Bolshevist and historically false, if only because it

ignores the Liberal Revolution of spring, 1917, while making

the saintly doctor accept with delirious joy the Bolshevist

coup d'etat seven months later-- all of which is in

keeping with the party line. Leaving out politics, I regard the

book as a sorry thing, clumsy, trivial, and melodramatic, with

stock situations, voluptuous lawyers, unbelievable girls, and

trite coincidences.

Yet you have a high opinion of Pasternak as a lyrical

poet?

Yes, I applauded his getting the Nobel Prize on the

strength of his verse. In Dr. Zhivago, however, the

prose does not live up to his poetry. Here and there, in a

landscape or simile, one can distinguish, perhaps, faint echoes

of his poetical voice, but those occasional fioriture

are insufficient to save his novel from the provincial banality

so typical of Soviet literature for the past fifty years.

Precisely that link with Soviet tradition endeared the book to

our progressive readers. I deeply sympathized with Pasternak's

predicament in a police state; yet neither the vulgarities of

the Zhivago style nor a philosophy that sought refuge in

a sickly sweet brand of Christianism could ever transform that

sympathy into a fellow writer's enthusiasm.

The book, however, has become something of a classic. How

do you explain its reputation?

Well, all I know is that among Russian readers of today--

readers, I mean, who represent that country's wonderful

underground intelligentsia and who manage to obtain and

distribute works of dissident authors-- Dr. Zhivago is

not prized as universally and unquestioningly as it is, or at

least was, by Americans. When the novel appeared in America,

her left-wing idealists were delighted to discover in it a

proof that "a great book" could be produced after all

under the Soviet rule. It was for them the triumph of Leninism.

They were comforted by the fact that for better or worse its

author remai! ned on the side of angelic Old Bolsheviks and

that nothing in his book even remotely smacked of the true

exile's indomitable contempt for the beastly regime engendered

by Lenin.

[Note: since most of the site is in Russian, I can't comment on its authoritativeness; but the comments certainly sound like what I've heard before from Nabokov on this subject.]

Thanks, Bill, for your response on this subject.

You're extremely well-versed in literature, and, judging from your post here, have probably read alot of the Russians'; I would assume you have familiarity with Dostoevsky's The Possessed (or The Devils, or Demons). Dostoevsky--what I've read of him so far--is difficult for me to read, probably because he is so dark, and therefore it's hard for me to see when I read him. But he excites my curiosity, and I'm very curious about The Possessed. I read it about twelve years ago, and I had trouble making alot of connections between character's deepest motives and their actions. I have, for a long time, wanted to read a good analysis of the work, but, so far, the ones I've read don't really seem to address the essential issues of the book. I'd really like to read an Objectivist professor's essay on the novel.

Have you ever thought of writing one, and perhaps submitting it to The Intellectual Activist? I think it would be especially pertinent now, with the rise of young American Muslim males going abroad to train with or study with terrorists; that is, in essence, what happens in The Possessed: young men of one country going off to another to be influenced and indoctrinated, then returning home to wreak havoc.

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I also haven't seen Dr. Zhivago in a very long time. Sorry I can't answer your question right now. I agree that it's worth seeing - on the plus side, I recall that it's excellently acted and is a dramatic story (and Julie Christie is just amazingly beautiful in the movie.) One big downside is that the movie ends on a "see what the great Soviet state is achieving" note, which is really disgusting.
Novelist Valdimir Nabokov (like Ayn Rand, an anti-Communist Russian emigre) despised Dr. Zhivago because, among other reasons, it downplayed the Kerensky revolution that overthrew the Czars, and viewed the Communist revolution as the only important one.

It didn't portray the Soviets very favorably. The book was censored in Soviet Russia before it could be published there in the mid 50's. The first publication was in Italy and it remained censored after it won the the Nobel Prize for Literature a month after the American publication.

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I just finished watching Doctor Zhivago (1965, Omar Sharif, Julie Christie) for the first time in over twenty-five years--and I still don't understand certain things.

Like why Pasha (Pavel) Antipov felt he had to hide his true identity--after the revolution he was known as "Strelnikov"--and chose to kill himself when it was found out. Had his family been aristocracy? I heard no explanation.

I read the book after I saw the movie and too long ago to remember much except that I was disappointed after seeing the movie.

According to the book -- looking at it again now -- Pasha was the son of a railway worker, not an aristocrat, and changed his name after release from captivity, but presumed dead, so he could join the revolution. But it wasn't a big issue in the story. I don't remember what kind of purge he was caught up in that led to the Party turning against him at the end and his suicide to avoid capture.

There were big differences in the story line between the book and the movie. The value of the movie was the passionate personal pursuit of values dramatically set against brilliant photography and sound.

Looking back at it now, I find it ironic -- because of my own experiences in rural Maine -- that Zhivago went to such great effort to take his family to the rural Urals in order to try to live a normal, peaceful life in pursuit of personal values in obscurity from the authorities -- only to find himself caught in the middle of brutality and chaos of the war. You can't get away from them.

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... I would assume you have familiarity with Dostoevsky's The Possessed (or The Devils, or Demons) ... I had trouble making alot of connections between character's deepest motives and their actions. I have, for a long time, wanted to read a good analysis of the work, but, so far, the ones I've read don't really seem to address the essential issues of the book ...

I'm not analytically-minded enough to write literary criticism, in any systematic way. Tore Boeckmann would be a good one to write an essay about Dostoyevsky!!!

I strongly recommend Constance Garnet's translations, over any other. Her translations are usually smoother, more elegant and easier to read. I don't think she ever translated The Possessed, though.

I do have one insight about the character of Stavrogin, in The Possessed: he makes no sense whatever ... except in light of Ayn Rand's statement that the most evil man in the world is "the man without a purpose."

Stavrogin has a certain psychological strength (in a sense) ... that's why so many people want to use him for their own purposes. But he has absolutely NO values and NO purpose. His life means nothing to him. He trifles with it (rather than actually trying to live) ... acting on sicker and sicker whims ... until his suicide is inevitable. As Ayn Rand wrote, he is one of Dostoyevsky's most repulsively evil characters.

Peter Verkhovensky, in the other hand, is on a far smaller scale ... He too is a nihilist, but at least he wants something: he wants power over people. In effect, he's a vicious little Jesse Jackson or Fidel Castro, using Marxism not out of intellectual conviction but because it's a convenient tool for pyschopathic power-lusters.

Shatov is based on Dostoyevsky himself.

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... I would assume you have familiarity with Dostoevsky's The Possessed (or The Devils, or Demons) ... I had trouble making alot of connections between character's deepest motives and their actions. I have, for a long time, wanted to read a good analysis of the work, but, so far, the ones I've read don't really seem to address the essential issues of the book ...

I'm not analytically-minded enough to write literary criticism, in any systematic way. Tore Boeckmann would be a good one to write an essay about Dostoyevsky!!!

I strongly recommend Constance Garnet's translations, over any other. Her translations are usually smoother, more elegant and easier to read. I don't think she ever translated The Possessed, though.

I do have one insight about the character of Stavrogin, in The Possessed: he makes no sense whatever ... except in light of Ayn Rand's statement that the most evil man in the world is "the man without a purpose."

Stavrogin has a certain psychological strength (in a sense) ... that's why so many people want to use him for their own purposes. But he has absolutely NO values and NO purpose. His life means nothing to him. He trifles with it (rather than actually trying to live) ... acting on sicker and sicker whims ... until his suicide is inevitable. As Ayn Rand wrote, he is one of Dostoyevsky's most repulsively evil characters.

Peter Verkhovensky, in the other hand, is on a far smaller scale ... He too is a nihilist, but at least he wants something: he wants power over people. In effect, he's a vicious little Jesse Jackson or Fidel Castro, using Marxism not out of intellectual conviction but because it's a convenient tool for pyschopathic power-lusters.

Shatov is based on Dostoyevsky himself.

Actually, Bill, you've said quite alot here, and the fact that Stavrogin's suicide is "inevitable" explains why his mother was able to guess from his last letter that he was going to end his life. Now I'm interested in reading the book again!

And it interests me that there are classics of Russian literature after the revolution whose authors apparently don't completely "get it", such as Pasternak with Zhivago and Sozhenitsyn with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (which, nevertheless, is a very sober and interesting book), and a novel by an author from the before the Revolution--Dostoevsky, with The Possessed--who, though a mystic, practically did.

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And it interests me that there are classics of Russian literature after the revolution whose authors apparently don't completely "get it", such as Pasternak with Zhivago and Sozhenitsyn with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (which, nevertheless, is a very sober and interesting book), [...]

I'm not sure what you mean by "get it" in the context of Solzhenitsyn, can you explain? Although it's been a really long time since I read him, and it was before I read Ayn Rand, he did an excellent job of describing the complete evil of the Soviet state. He wasn't very philosophical however, and was a Christian, so as I recall he didn't grasp the fundamental reasons for the evil - but in no way was he an apologist for it.

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And it interests me that there are classics of Russian literature after the revolution whose authors apparently don't completely "get it", such as Pasternak with Zhivago and Sozhenitsyn with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (which, nevertheless, is a very sober and interesting book), [...]

I'm not sure what you mean by "get it" in the context of Solzhenitsyn, can you explain? Although it's been a really long time since I read him, and it was before I read Ayn Rand, he did an excellent job of describing the complete evil of the Soviet state. He wasn't very philosophical however, and was a Christian, so as I recall he didn't grasp the fundamental reasons for the evil - but in no way was he an apologist for it.

No, that's right, he was not an apologist for the Soviet system, and I don't mean to imply that he was or is.

All I've read by Solzhenitsyn are One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, "A World Split Apart" (his 1978 Harvard commencement address), his Nobel Prize acceptance lecture, and parts of interviews. He is very critical of the Soviet system, but I like what one Objectivist lecturer said about Solzhenitsyn when I asked him his opinion about the Russian writer. He said that a terrible thing was done to that man (referring to his eight year imprisonment in the Gulags and his subsequent exile for three years), but that when someone goes through all that and ends up thanking his captors for giving him the experience of suffering--Solzhenitsyn believed that suffering was good for Man, that only through suffering could he make some connection with the divine Spirit--it is obvious he has not learned from that experience.

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He said that a terrible thing was done to that man (referring to his eight year imprisonment in the Gulags and his subsequent exile for three years), but that when someone goes through all that and ends up thanking his captors for giving him the experience of suffering--Solzhenitsyn believed that suffering was good for Man, that only through suffering could he make some connection with the divine Spirit--it is obvious he has not learned from that experience.

I see, thanks.

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... when someone goes through all that and ends up thanking his captors for giving him the experience of suffering--Solzhenitsyn believed that suffering was good for Man, that only through suffering could he make some connection with the divine Spirit--it is obvious he has not learned from that experience.

-- which was probably a view he started with as a result of the dark, mystical culture of Russia, exacerbated by his experiences. But it also wasn't his only point and not the essence of his criticism of the Soviet Union. A lot of Soviet dissidents wrote a lot of devastating material about the Soviets without ever catching on to the essence the way Ayn Rand did. However morbid their sense of life, having experienced that cesspool for so long, they showed a great deal of courage in speaking out against it and did their part in helping to expose it and bring it down in a context of world-wide adulation of Soviet "ideals".

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... when someone goes through all that and ends up thanking his captors for giving him the experience of suffering--Solzhenitsyn believed that suffering was good for Man, that only through suffering could he make some connection with the divine Spirit--it is obvious he has not learned from that experience.

-- which was probably a view he started with as a result of the dark, mystical culture of Russia, exacerbated by his experiences. But it also wasn't his only point and not the essence of his criticism of the Soviet Union. A lot of Soviet dissidents wrote a lot of devastating material about the Soviets without ever catching on to the essence the way Ayn Rand did. However morbid their sense of life, having experienced that cesspool for so long, they showed a great deal of courage in speaking out against it and did their part in helping to expose it and bring it down in a context of world-wide adulation of Soviet "ideals".

Very well put, ewv. And your comment has me choosing to start another topic: "Context and Volition".

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I remember randomly deciding to watch this movie some time in high school. Since then I've watched it many times. I'm not smart enough to judge it for its historical and philosophical merits, but I love it on a purely aesthetic level.

Have any of you seen the making of the movie? Apparently when Lara was kissed by Komarovsky as they were riding together, she wasn't told he would do it so as to make the surprise on her face more genuine. Heh.

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In post #5, I think I over-extended myself. I made mention of the "rise" in young American muslim males going overseas to train at terrorist training camps.

I don't know for a fact that there is such a trend (though I would not be surprised if there is). Whatever the case, I'd like to "withdraw" that sentence.

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In post #5, I think I over-extended myself. I made mention of the "rise" in young American muslim males going overseas to train at terrorist training camps.

I don't know for a fact that there is such a trend (though I would not be surprised if there is). Whatever the case, I'd like to "withdraw" that sentence.

The fact that it is happening at all, such as the one who was caught in Afghanistan at the beginning of the war there, is itself a "rise" compared to the past. That's why it made the news so prominently as opposed to being passed over as routine. It's significance in comparison with other events supporting or caving into the Muzzl'ems, however, is probably minor.

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