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

Finally, Ferraj and blue-eyed Lawrence (in his Bedouin robe) reach the Suez Canal, where they first realize that they have arrived when a ship looms up in front of them on the narrow canal - an unforgettable image. They signal a motorcyclist (director David Lean in a brief cameo) on the other bank who cries back:

"Who are you?"

Lawrence's reply is silence - a mute answer to his paradoxical identity as both a Britishman and a 'native' Arab, and as an individual driven by both ambition and sadomasochism.

The two are delivered into the heart of Cairo, where despite resistance, Lawrence - still in his Arab garb - marches into the Officer's Club and at the bar orders drinks for himself and his Arab servant: "We want two large glasses of lemonade." When he is just on the verge of being thrown out and ostracized due to racist attitudes, Col. Brighton appears and asks Lawrence to explain himself. Lawrence proudly announces his military success:

Lawrence: We've taken Aqaba.
Brighton: Taken Aqaba? Who has?
Lawrence: We have. Our side in this war has. The wogs have. We have...
Brighton: You mean the Turks have gone?
Lawrence: No, they're still there but they've no boots. Prisoners, sir. We took them prisoners, the entire garrison. No that's not true. We killed some, too many really. I'll manage it better next time. There's been a lot of killing, one way or another. Cross my heart and hope to die, it's all perfectly true.
Brighton: It isn't possible.
Lawrence: Yes it is. I did it.

In preparation to see General Allenby, Brighton agrees with Lawrence that he needs a shave and adds: "You'd better get into some trousers too."

Before General Lord Allenby, Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau, and Col. Brighton, Lawrence first listens to a description of his background from his file, and then is questioned about the strategic take-over of Aqaba:

Allenby: Undisciplined, unpunctual, untidy. Several languages. Knowledge of Music, Literature, knowledge of, knowledge of ...You're an interesting man. There's no doubt about it. Who told you to take Aqaba?
Lawrence: Nobody.
Allenby: Sir.
Lawrence: Sir.
Allenby: Then why did you?
Lawrence: Aqaba's important.
Allenby: Why is it important?
Lawrence: It's the Turkish route to the canal.
Allenby: Not any more. They're coming through Beersheba.
Lawrence: I know. But we've gone forward to Gaza.
Allenby: So?
Lawrence: So that left Aqaba behind your right.
Allenby: True.
Lawrence: And it will be further behind your right when you go for Jerusalem.
Allenby: Am I going for Jerusalem?
Lawrence: Yes.

With his idealistic motivations, Lawrence has ultimately prepared the way for later imperialists to take over territory. Although accused of "acting without orders," Lawrence asks a rhetorical question: "Shouldn't officers use their initiative at all times?" Allenby answers that independent actions may be too dangerous, but then promptly promotes Lawrence to the position of Major, wishing him to return to the desert. However, the self-doubting and disturbed Lawrence believes that he is "unfit" and should be relieved of further duty - he knows that the war has been progressively corrupting him. In addition, he makes the frightening confession that he enjoys bloodshed:

Allenby: I want you to go back and carry on the good work.
Lawrence: No thank you, sir.
Allenby: Why not?
Lawrence: Well, I, it's, uh, let me see, I killed two people, I mean two Arabs. One was a boy. That was yesterday. I led him into a quicksand. The other was a man. That was before Aqaba anyway. I had to execute him with my pistol. There was something about it I didn't like.
Allenby: Well, naturally.
Lawrence: No, something else.
Allenby: I see. Well that's all right. Let it be a warning.
Lawrence: No, something else.
Allenby: What then?
Lawrence: I enjoyed it.
Allenby: Rubbish...What do you mean by coming here dressed like that? Amateur theatricals?
Lawrence: Oh yes, entirely.
Allenby: Let me see that, uh, that hat thing or whatever it is. Fascinating gear that they wear. How do you think I would look in this, Harry?
Brighton: Downright ridiculous, sir.
Allenby (to Lawrence): Here, you keep it.
Lawrence: What I'm trying to say is I don't think I'm fit for it.
Allenby: Really! What do you think, Dryden?
Dryden: Before he did it, sir, I'd have said it couldn't be done.
Allenby: Brighton?
Lawrence: I know what he thinks.
Brighton: I think you should recommend a decoration, sir. I don't think it matters what his motives were. It was a brilliant bit of soldiering.

"I know a good thing when I see one," says a "clever" Allenby, who cannot afford to let the heroic Lawrence go. The intense young hero is ceremonially marched down the stairs and to the officers' club where it is publically announced that he is now a Major. With a change of heart, Lawrence enthusiastically describes how his small desert Arab force of a thousand men could hold down the entire Turkish army and continue to inflict destruction with guerrilla warfare:

Lawrence: A thousand Arabs means a thousand knives, delivered anywhere day or night. It means a thousand camels. That means a thousand packs of high explosives and a thousand crack rifles. We can cross Arabia while jolly Turkey is still turning round, and smash his railways. And while he's mending them, I'll smash them somewhere else. In thirteen weeks, I can have Arabia in chaos.
Allenby: You are going back then?
Lawrence (smiling): Yes. Of course I'm going back.

Lawrence wishes to fulfill his promises to unite the Arab tribes when he continues his work in the desert with British support of arms, money, and training:

Lawrence: Arabia is for the Arabs now. That's what I've told them anyway. That's what they think. That's why they're fighting.
Allenby: Oh surely.
Lawrence: They've only one suspicion. We let them drive the Turks out and then move in ourselves. I've told them that that's false, that we've no ambitions in Arabia. Have we?
Allenby: I'm not a politician, thank god. Have we any ambition in Arabia, Dryden?
Dryden: Difficult question sir.
Lawrence: I want to know sir, if I can tell them, in your name, that we've no ambitions in Arabia.
Allenby: Certainly.
Lawrence: Two thousand small arms, not enough. I need five.
Allenby: Right.
Lawrence: Money. It'll have to be sovereigns. They don't like paper.
Allenby: Right.
Lawrence: Instructors for the Lewis guns.
Allenby: Right.
Lawrence: More money.
Allenby: How much more?
Lawrence: Twenty-five thousand now. A lot more later.
Allenby: Dryden?
Dryden: It can be done, sir.
Lawrence: A couple of armored cars.
Allenby: Right.
Lawrence: Field artillery.
Allenby: Right. I know to give you every blessed thing I can, Major Lawrence, because I know you'll use it. Congratulations and thank you.

Separated from his fellow officers who stand inside the club behind a window pane, the non-conformist Lawrence is in the courtyard, garbed in his white Arabian robes. But he is congratulated, although embarrassed by the attention, when he steps inside. With Lawrence not present, Allenby ruthlessly and manipulatively agrees with Dryden that the Arabs must not be made entirely independent:

Dryden: You give them artillery and you've made them independent.
Allenby: Then I can't give them artillery, can I?
Dryden: For you to say, sir.
Allenby: No, it's not. I've got orders to obey, thank god. Not like that poor devil. He's riding the whirlwind.
Dryden: Let's hope we're not.


A syndicated American journalist from the Chicago Courier, Jackson Bentley (Arthur Kennedy), is introduced to Prince Feisal. Bentley, who wishes to record Lawrence's exploits as a public figure, wants to know where to find Lawrence. The cynical reporter knows that the Arabs lack artillery and therefore are "handicapped" and "restricted to small things." He offers an unsolicited opinion about the character of General Allenby:

Bentley: Watch out for Allenby. He's a slim customer.
Feisal: Excuse me?
Bentley: A clever man.
Feisal: 'Slim customer.' It's very good. I will certainly watch out for him. You are being very sympathetic, Mr. Bentley.
Bentley: Your Highness. We Americans were once a colonial people, and we naturally feel sympathetic to any people anywhere who are struggling for their freedom.
Feisal: Very gratifying.
Bentley: Also, my interests are the same as yours. You want your story told. I badly want a story to tell.
Feisal: Ah, now you are talking Turkey, are you not?

After offering his cooperation and guidance during the interview, Feisal remarks: "You know, of course, that we are destroying the Turkish railways." He then describes the barbaric nature of their warfare, led in part by tribal leader Lawrence, against their savage Turkish enemy:

Bentley: Major Lawrence is in charge of all this, is he?
Feisal: My army is made up of tribes. The tribes are led by the tribal leaders.
Bentley: Well, your people do think very highly of Major Lawrence though?
Feisal: Oh yes...In this country, the man who gives victory in battle is prized beyond every other man. One figure I can give you from my head because it never leaves my head. Since starting this campaign four months ago, we have lost 37 wounded, 156 dead. Do you remark at this proportion between our dead and wounded?
Bentley: Yeah. Four times as many.
Feisal: That's because those too badly wounded to bring away we ourselves kill. We leave no wounded for the Turks.
Bentley: You mean...
Feisal: I mean we leave no wounded for the Turks. In their eyes, we are not soldiers, but rebels. And rebels wounded or whole, are not protected by the Geneva Code and are treated harshly.
Bentley: How harshly?
Feisal: More harshly than I hope you can imagine.
Bentley: I see.
Feisal: Our own prisoners, Mr. Bentley, are taken care of, 'til the British can relieve us of them, according to the Code. I should like you to notice that.
Bentley: Yes, sir. Is that the influence of Major Lawrence?
Feisal: Why should you suppose so?
Bentley: Well, it's just that I heard in Cairo that Major Lawrence has a horror of bloodshed.
Feisal: That is exactly so. With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners. You may judge which motive is the more reliable.

As Bentley prepares to leave, he describes the nature of his interest in Feisal's people and "hero" Major Lawrence:

Bentley: It's very simple sir. I'm looking for a hero...certain influential men back home believe that the time has come for America to lend her weight to the patriotic struggle against Germany, uh and Turkey. Now I've been sent to find material which will show our people that this war is, uh...
Feisal: Enjoyable?
Bentley: Oh hardly that, sir. But to show them its more adventurous aspects.
Feisal: And you are looking for a figure who will draw your country towards war.
Bentley: All right. Yes.
Feisal: Lawrence is your man.

The camera cuts immediately to Lawrence, positioned on a sand dune ridge in one of the film's most memorable sequences - he pushes a plunger to detonate dynamite laid on the tracks of a Turkish train. The band of Arab guerrillas open fire with British machine guns on the derailed and sabotaged train, while the ambush is photographed by Bentley. Lawrence calls for his men to stop, then rises in his flowing white robes and runs in front of the line of fire, shooting flares to get his men's attention. Then, with one sweeping hand, he leads the bloody desert assault down the sand dune hillside:

Come on, men!

The men loot the train for treasures - Auda laughingly sports a trophy of war from the train, a battered black umbrella. Memorably, one finely-dressed, mortally-wounded train passenger staggers away from the wreck in a daze. Lawrence parades atop the wrecked train like a god, where he is shot in the right upper arm by a wounded Turkish officer. He faces and watches as the Turkish man unsteadily empties his 'broom-handle' Mauser automatic pistol directly at him. After Auda swiftly dispatches the man with his raised sword, Bentley comments:

Bentley: Never seen a man killed with a sword before.
Lawrence: Why don't you take a picture?
Bentley: Wish I had.
Auda: How is it with thee, Lawrence? Ho! (Seizing Bentley's camera) Am I in this?
Bentley: Huh?
Lawrence (translating for Bentley): Did you take his picture?
Bentley: Yeah. (Auda smashes the camera to pieces)
Auda (to Lawrence): You are using up your nine lives very quickly.
Bentley: Charming company you keep.
Lawrence: Auda? He's a bit old-fashioned. He thinks these things will steal his virtue. He thinks you're a kind of thief.
Bentley: Is it all right if I take your picture?
Lawrence: All right?

Bentley photographs Lawrence in front of his hero-worshipping followers. His arm bloodied, he climbs back aboard the top of the train, casting a giant shadow on the ground that the Arabs follow. In his flamboyant white robes, he is framed against the bright sun with his arms outstretched, as his men enthusiastically chant: "Aurens, Aurens." Ali considers the looting as "customary" "payment" for the men's services. Colonel Brighton thinks Lawrence's tribal army is solely composed of thieves who will carry off the loot to their homes - never to return, but Lawrence disagrees: "They'll come back." Asked if he is physically wounded by Brighton, Lawrence vainly and recklessly believes in his own legendary invincibility:

Not hurt at all. Didn't you know? They can only kill me with a golden bullet.

Later, Bentley asks two questions "straight" of Lawrence before he returns to Western "fleshpots":

Bentley: One: What, in your opinion, do these people hope to gain from this war?
Lawrence: They hope to gain their freedom. Freedom.
Bentley: They hope to gain their freedom. There's one born every minute.
Lawrence: They're gonna get it, Mr. Bentley. I'm going to give it to them. Second question?
Bentley: Oh! Well, I was gonna ask, um, what is it Major Lawrence, that attracts you personally to the desert?
Lawrence: It's clean.
Bentley: Well now, that's a very illuminating answer.

Another Turkish train carrying wagonloads of horses is successfully attacked by Auda's tribe. Having taken an "honorable" loot this time, Auda prepares to go home, but he is called a "deserter" by Brighton.

Auda: When Aurens has got what he wants, he will go home. When you have got what you want, you will go home.
Brighton: Oh no I shan't, Auda.
Auda: Then you are a fool.
Brighton: Maybe. I am not a deserter.
Auda: Give thanks to God, Brighton, that when he made you a fool, he gave you a fool's face.
Brighton: You are an impudent rascal.
Auda (to Lawrence): I must go Aurens, before I soil myself with a fool's blood.
Brighton: Talking to a brick wall. (To Lawrence) So, what will you do now? What can you do?
Lawrence: I'll go north. That's what Allenby wants.
Brighton: Allenby wanted the Arab army behind Deraa.
Lawrence: Tell Allenby to hurry up. Or we'll be in Deraa before he's in Jerusalem.

On their way north to the Turkish-held town of Deraa, Lawrence and about fifty of Ali's tribe prepare to ambush a third Turkish train. As the train approaches, Ferraj is seriously injured in a freak accident with detonated explosives. To prevent his torture by the Turks if left behind, Lawrence executes his adored Arab servant/friend in a mercy killing at the scene of the aborted attack. Before the sacrifice, he tells Ferraj: "Salute him [Daud] for me."

Recognized as a serious Turkish threat, the Turks offer twenty thousand pounds for Lawrence's capture. During the winter when the fighting abates, Allenby doubts whether Lawrence will live long enough to rise again and rally the Arabs to him:

Allenby: What about next year? Will they still come back?
Brighton: I wouldn't be surprised. They think he's a kind of prophet.
Allenby: They do or he does?

Even Ali, his loyal desert leader, notes the decline of Lawrence's attraction by the men and the derailed efforts at Arab nationalism. But Lawrence persists in believing in his own mythological invulnerability:

Ali: Aurens, one more failure, and you will find yourself alone. I do not include myself.
Lawrence: I do not include the others.
Ali: So say they love you. The more reason to be thrifty with them. Give them something to do that can be done. But you? No! No! They must move mountains for you. They must walk on water.
Lawrence: That's right! That's right! Who are you to know what can be done? If we'd done what you thought could be done, we'd be back at Yembo now and nowhere. Whatever I ask them to do can be done. That's all. They know that if you don't. Do you think I'm just anybody Ali? Do you? (To the men) My friends, who will walk on water with me? Who will come with me into Deraa?
One of the men: Deraa is garrisoned. Will you take twenty against two thousand?
Lawrence: I'll go by myself if I have to...Because I told the English generals, the Arab Revolt will be in Deraa when they would be in Jerusalem.
One of the men: Or perhaps you are here for the English generals?
Lawrence: Who says this?
Ali: Rumor. (Lawrence spits in disgust to the ground)
One of the men: That is not an argument.
Lawrence: Oh, an argument. This afternoon, I will take the Arab Revolt into Deraa while the Arabs argue.
One of the men: Aurens? Can you pass for an Arab in an Arab town?
Lawrence (sarcastically): Yes, if one of you would lend me some dirty clothes.

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