Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

In a second confrontation with Sherif Ali (Ali represented by a dark profiled image on the right of the frame, Lawrence by a blonder, paler, blue-eyed image on the left of the frame), Lawrence is accused of being stark-raving mad, or at the least, arrogant for proposing a painful, arduous trek across the beautiful but waterless, sun-drenched Nefud Desert:

Sherif: You are mad. To come to Aqaba by land, you should have to cross the Nefud Desert.
Lawrence: That's right.
Sherif: The Nefud cannot be crossed.
Lawrence: I'll cross it if you will.
Sherif: You! It takes more than a compass Englishman. The Nefud is the worst place God created.
Lawrence: I can't answer for the place, only for myself. Fifty men?
Sherif: Fifty? Against Aqaba?
Lawrence: If fifty men came out of the Nefud, there would be fifty men other men might join. The Howeitat are there I hear.
Sherif: The Howeitat are brigands. They will sell themselves to anyone.
Lawrence: Good fighters, though.
Sherif: Good...yes. There are guns at Aqaba.
Lawrence: They face the sea, Sherif Ali, and cannot be turned round. From the landward side, there are no guns at Aqaba.
Sherif: With good reason. It cannot be approached from the landward side.
Lawrence: Certainly the Turks don't dream of it. (He points in the direction of Aqaba.) Aqaba is over there. It's only a matter of going.
Sherif: You are mad.

Riding "in the name of Feisal and Mecca" and without Brighton's knowledge, Lawrence is allowed to take a small force of fifty of Feisal's men to set out for Aqaba "to work your miracle." For pragmatic reasons (and as a counterpoint to the strong-willed Lawrence), Sherif Ali joins the "Englishman" to cross the blazing Nefud Desert. At an oasis stop at the beginning of their journey, two outcaste boys Ferraj (Michel Ray) and Daud (John Dimech) who have secretly followed the guerrillas are appointed to be Lawrence's servants, although Ali disapproves after whipping them: "These are not servants. These are worshippers." One of the tribal Arabs named Gasim (I. S. Johar) interprets Lawrence's kindness as a good omen: "They will be lucky for you. Allah favors the compassionate."

When they reach the edge of the beginning of the Nefud Desert, Sherif Ali again reminds the single-minded Lawrence that the murderously-hot desert is impossible to cross:

Sherif: From here until the other side, no water but what we carry. For the camels, no water at all. If the camels die, we die. And in twenty days they will start to die.
Lawrence: There's no time to waste then, is there?

The awesome Arabian desert crossing is treacherous - searing heat in the "Sun's Anvil," dust storms and swirling cyclones - an endless trek that exhausts and kills some of the men. As they begin to reach the end of the desert, it is noticed that Gasim's camel is riderless, and Lawrence unhesitatingly insists and proposes going back for him:

Ali: In God's name understand, we cannot go back.
Lawrence: I can...
Ali: If you go back, you'll kill us all. Gasim you have killed already.
Lawrence: Get out of my way.
Another Arab: Gasim's time is come, Lawrence. It is written!
Lawrence: Nothing is written.
Ali (riding back with Lawrence): Go back, then. What did you bring us here for with your blasphemous conceit? Eh, English blasphemer? Aqaba? What is Aqaba? You will not be at Aqaba, English. Go back, blasphemer! But you will not be at Aqaba!
Lawrence (riding ahead and turning): I shall be at Aqaba. That is written...(He points at his head.) here!
Ali (shouting after him): English! English!

In a triumphant sequence, the heroic, courageous Lawrence retraces his steps, finds the half-dead Gasim (who has been wandering aimlessly), rescues him, and returns into the oasis/camp with Gasim clinging to his saddle. As his camel mount is surrounded by the men, the now-charismatic, sun-baked-faced "Englishman" gives a penetrating, searing look at Ali, and before drinking from water offered to him, he defiantly and proudly repeats himself (in a parched voice):

Nothing is written.

Later, Ali acknowledges Lawrence's remarkable, dramatic, miraculous rescue. The young "Englishman" is given an easier-to-pronounce, deified, Arabian name as a symbol of his rebirth and new identity. He replaces his bastard heritage with an Arabian one:

Ali: El Aurens. Truly for some men, nothing is written unless they write it.
Lawrence: Not El Aurens. Just Lawrence.
Ali: El Aurens is better.
Lawrence: True... [He reveals his illegitimacy - his father, Sir Thomas Chapman, never married his mother.]
Ali: I see.
Lawrence: I'm sorry.
Ali: It seems to me that you are free to choose your own name then.
Lawrence: Yes. I suppose I am.
Ali: El Aurens is best.
Lawrence: All right. I'll settle for El Aurens.

As he sleeps that night, Ali throws his British uniform/clothes into the camp fire and burns them. Lawrence's first, transfigured appearance in spotlessly-white Arab/Harith robes is unforgettable. Inside a circle of Arabs, Lawrence is told of his new being and heritage - as an Arab:

He for whom nothing is written may write himself a clan.

Piercingly blue-eyed and innocent, Lawrence proudly struts on a camel in his new apparel and rides off to an isolated area - symbolic of his separateness. He dismounts from his camel and contemplates his new costume - play-acting and fantasizing that he is an Arabian knight. Using his knife blade as a shiny mirror, he conceitedly holds it in front of him to view and adjust his headgear. [Later in the film after the massacre at Tafas, Lawrence again scrutinizes his face in his dagger blade.] He self-consciously smiles to himself, practices turning and bowing and various other theatrical postures, and then laughs outloud. Finally, he outstretches his arms like the wings of a plane, letting his robe balloon out behind him. As the wind catches his robe, he runs in a half-circle until his play-acting is interrupted by the appearance (on horseback) of hook-nosed, avaricious Auda abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn), the Arab chief of the Howeitat clan:

Auda: What are you doing Englishman?
Lawrence (embarrassed): As you see. Are you alone?
Auda: Almost. Are you with that party of thugs who are drinking at my well?
Lawrence: Yours?

A tense confrontation over drinking rights occurs at the well between Auda (and his young son brandishing a pistol), Ali, and Lawrence - who has his hands raised high into the air:

Lawrence: Auda! We are 50. You are 2. How if we shot you down?
Auda: Why then you have a blood feud with the Howeitat. You desire it?
Lawrence: Not the generals in Cairo nor the Sultan himself desire that. Call off your men.
Auda: Go now, boy. This honors the unworthy. I've only just begun to teach him.
Lawrence: And what are you teaching him today? Howeitat hospitality?
Auda: Be not clever with me, English! (To Ali, asking about Lawrence) Who is he?
Lawrence: A friend of Prince Feisal's.
Auda: Oh. So you desire my hospitality.
Lawrence: Yes.

Auda eventually grants his "hospitality" and invites them to dine with him, and the Harith Arabs are grandly welcomed to the Howeitat encampment. In his tent, the vain Auda asks about their Aqaba mission against the Turks. Lawrence speaks of Arab unity and seeks to identify himself with the Arab cause:

Lawrence: We do not work this thing for Feisal.
Auda: No! For the English then?
Lawrence: For the Arabs.
Auda: The Arabs?...What tribe is that?
Lawrence: They are a tribe of slaves. They serve the Turks.
Auda: Well, they are nothing to me. My tribe is the Howeitat.
Ali: Work only for profit.
Auda: Work at Auda's pleasure.
Lawrence: And Auda's pleasure is to serve the Turks.
Auda: Serve! I serve?
Lawrence: It is the servant who takes money.
Auda (rising enraged): I am Auda Abu Tayi. (Asking his men) Does Auda Abu Tayi serve?
All: No!..
Auda: I carry 23 great wounds, all got in battle. 75 men have I killed with my own hands in battle. I scatter, I burn my enemy's tents. I take away the flocks and herds. The Turks pay me a golden treasure yet I am poor, because I am a river to my people. (His men cheer) Is that service?
Lawrence: No.

Auda declares that the Turks pay him 100 golden guineas each month as service. Lawrence calls Auda's buy-off an insignificant amount, playing upon his pride and mercenary desires to recruit him to join them in battling against the Ottoman Turks at Aqaba. Auda is cautious of being seduced by Lawrence's wily, 'feminine' view of things, thinking: "You trouble me like women":

Lawrence: A 100, a 150, what matters? It's a trifle. A trifle which they take from a great box they have.
Ali: In Aqaba.
Auda: In Aqaba?
Lawrence: Where else? (Ali nods)
Auda: You trouble me like women.
Lawrence: (Laughing) Friends, we have been foolish. Auda will not come to Aqaba.
Auda: No.
Lawrence: For money...
Auda: No.
Lawrence: For Feisal...
Auda: No.
Lawrence: Nor to drive away the Turks...He will come, because it is his pleasure.
Auda: Your mother mated with a scorpion.

In their camp the night before the attack on Aqaba's undefended landward side, a potentially divisive event occurs that could split the rival tribes into a bloody feud, as Ali forecasts: "This is the end of Aqaba." One of the Harith Arabs has murdered one of Auda's men and the reason could be one of many: "theft, blood feud, it makes no matter why...It is an ancient wound." As a non-Arab neutral who stands above petty tribal rivalries and age-old blood feuds ("I have no tribe, and no one is offended"), Lawrence proposes to even-handedly execute the offender - becoming 'godlike' by deciding for himself who shall live or die. As the offender raises his head, Lawrence sees it is Gasim - the man whose life he saved in the Nefud desert when he risked his own life. With a look of disturbed shock, he cold-bloodedly fires all six shots from his pistol into Gasim's body. The two rival chieftains exchange words about the just execution and the emotional uncertainty displayed by Lawrence:

Auda: What ails the Englishman?
Sherif: That that he killed was the man he brought out of the Nefud.
Auda: Ah, it was written then. Better to have left him.
Sherif (to Lawrence): It was execution, Lawrence. No shame in that. Besides, it was necessary. You gave life and you took it. The writing is still yours. (Lawrence throws the gun away in disgust.)

The sea fortress at Aqaba is attacked the next morning, and the camera tracks the galloping approach of Lawrence's mounted group of Arab tribesmen as it overruns the Turkish garrison and reaches the sea - a sweeping pan of the city finds the powerful guns mounted toward the sea. After conquering the city, Lawrence rides his camel along the waterfront, bathed in the deep orangish-red color of the setting sun reflected on the seashore's water. Ali appears behind Lawrence (the "conqueror"), throwing him a red wreath of flowers that lands in the surf at his feet - but feeling like the outsider, Lawrence cannot accept the accolades of victory:

Sherif: The miracle is accomplished. Garlands for the conqueror. (Lawrence dismounts and grabs for the garland) Tribute for the prince. Flowers for the man.
Lawrence: I'm none of those things, Ali.
Sherif: What then?
Lawrence: Don't know. Thanks. My God, I love this country.

Lawrence instructs Ali to send a message to summon Prince Feisal and the Arab army on boats to Aqaba. His own plans are to go back to Cairo to report the victory, but Ali doubts Lawrence's true Arab loyalty:

Lawrence: I'm going to tell the generals - in Cairo. Yes, cross Sinai. Come on.
Sherif: Sinai?
Lawrence: Yes.
Sherif (gesturing to his two outcaste servant boys): With these?
Lawrence: They will be all right with me. Look Ali, if any of your Bedouin arrived in Cairo and said, 'We've taken Aqaba,' the generals would laugh.
Sherif: I see. In Cairo, you will put off these funny clothes. You will wear trousers and tell stories of our quaintness and barbarity. And then they will believe you.
Lawrence: You're an ignorant man.

The excitable, emotional Auda is angered and displeased while looting the Aqaba garrison when he finds only paper money and not a "box of gold." To appease his ally, Lawrence makes out a voucher for payment of gold to Auda before crossing the Sinai to reach Cairo:

Lawrence: Did Auda come to Aqaba for gold?
Auda: For my pleasure as you said. But gold is honorable. And Aurens promised gold. Aurens lied.
Lawrence: See, Auda. (He speaks the words as he writes out a promissory note) The Crown of England promises to pay 5,000 golden guineas to Auda Abu Tayi. Signed in his Majesty's absence by me. (He hands the voucher to Auda) In ten days, I'll be back with the gold - with gold, with guns, with everything.
Auda: In ten days. You will cross Sinai?
Lawrence: Why not? Moses did.
Auda: And you will take the children?
Lawrence (his voice echoing): Moses did.
Auda (shouting after him): Moses was a prophet and beloved of God...
(To Ali) He said there was gold here. He lied. He is not perfect.

While crossing the Sinai, Lawrence spots a cyclone of dust that he calls "a pillar of fire," alluding to Moses. A ferocious sandstorm confronts them, and Lawrence accidentally drops his compass. To keep from going in circles, they must ride "due West" toward the golden disc of the setting sun on the horizon. Daud is lost in a sinkhole - the desert's version of quicksand, and Lawrence is unable to use his headdress as a lifeline. [This tragic scene would be referenced in George Miller's post-apocalyptic action/adventure Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985).] Lawrence broods over the death of his young servant boy/follower. Ferraj throws water on his dusty face to awaken him from his trance.

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