The film stars Omar Sharif in the title role as Yuri Zhivago, a married physician whose life is irreversibly altered by the Russian Revolution and subsequent Civil War, and Julie Christie as his married love interest Lara Antipova. The supporting cast includes Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness, Tom Courtenay, Ralph Richardson, Siobhán McKenna and Rita Tushingham.
Contemporary critics were generally disappointed, complaining of its length at over three hours, and claiming that it trivialized history, but acknowledging the intensity of the love story and the film's treatment of human themes. Over time, however, the film's reputation has improved greatly. At the 38th Academy Awards, Doctor Zhivago won five Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design; it was nominated for five others (including Best Picture and Best Director), but lost four of these five to The Sound of Music. It also won five awards at the 23rd Golden Globe Awards including Best Motion Picture - Drama and Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama for Sharif.
As of 2016, it is the eighth highest-grossing film of all time in the United States and Canada, adjusted for ticket-price inflation. It was ranked by the American Film Institute in 1998 as the 39th greatest film on their 100 Years..100 Movies list, and by the British Film Institute the following year as the 27th greatest British film of all time.
The film takes place mostly against a backdrop of the pre-World War I years, World War I itself, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Russian Civil War. A narrative framing device, set in the late 1940s or early 1950s, involves KGB Lieutenant General Yevgraf Andreyevich Zhivago (Alec Guinness) searching for the daughter of his half brother, Doctor Yuri Andreyevich Zhivago (Omar Sharif), and Larissa ("Lara") (Julie Christie). Yevgraf believes a young woman, Tanya Komarova (Rita Tushingham), may be his niece and tells her the story of her father's life.
When Yuri Zhivago is orphaned after his mother's death in rural Russia, he is taken in by his mother's friends, Alexander (Ralph Richardson) and Anna Gromeko (Siobhán McKenna), and grows up with their daughter Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin) in Moscow.
In 1913, Zhivago, as a medical student in training, but a poet at heart, meets Tonya as she returns to Moscow after a long trip to Paris. Lara, only 17, is involved in an affair with the older and well-connected Victor Ippolitovich Komarovsky (Rod Steiger), a friend of her mother's (Adrienne Corri). One night, the idealistic reformer Pavel Pavlovich ("Pasha") Antipov (Tom Courtenay) drifts into left-wing extremism after being wounded by sabre-wielding Cossacks during a peaceful demonstration. Pasha runs to Lara, whom he wants to marry, to treat his wound. He asks her to hide a gun he picked up at the demonstration.
Lara's mother discovers her affair with Komarovsky and attempts suicide. Komarovsky summons help from his physician (Geoffrey Keen), Zhivago's former professor, whom he accompanies back to Lara's home to treat her mother. When Komarovsky learns of Lara's intentions to marry Pasha, he tries to dissuade Lara, and then rapes her. In revenge, the humiliated Lara takes the pistol she has been hiding for Pasha and shoots Komarovsky at a Christmas Eve party, wounding him. Komarovsky insists no action be taken against Lara, who is escorted out by Pasha. Zhivago tends Komarovsky's wound. Although enraged and devastated by Lara's affair with Komarovsky, Pasha marries Lara, and they have a daughter named Katya.
During World War I, Yevgraf Zhivago is sent by the Bolsheviks to subvert the Imperial Russian Army. Pasha is reported missing in action following a daring charge attack on German forces. Lara enlists as a nurse to search for him. Yuri Zhivago is drafted and becomes a battlefield doctor.
During the February Revolution in 1917, Zhivago enlists Lara's help to tend to the wounded. Together they run a field hospital for six months, during which time radical changes ensue throughout Russia as Vladimir Lenin arrives in Moscow. Before their departure, Yuri and Lara fall in love, but Yuri remains true to Tonya, who is now his wife.
After the war, Yuri returns to his wife Tonya, son Sasha, and Alexander (Anna has since died), whose house in Moscow has been divided into tenements by the new Soviet government. Yevgraf, now a member of the CHEKA, informs him his poems have been condemned by Soviet censors as antagonistic to Communism. Yevgraf arranges for passes and documents in order for Yuri and his family to escape from the new political capital of Moscow to the far-away Gromeko estate at Varykino, in the Ural Mountains. Zhivago, Tonya, Sasha, and Alexander board a heavily guarded cattle train, at which time they are informed that they will be travelling through contested territory, which is being secured by the infamous Bolshevik commander named Strelnikov.Part Two
While the train is stopped early one morning, Zhivago wanders away. He stumbles across the armoured train of Strelnikov sitting on a hidden siding. Yuri is summoned before Strelnikov, whom he recognizes as the former Pasha Antipov. During a tense interview, Strelnikov informs Yuri that his estranged wife Lara is now living in the town of Yuriatin, then occupied by the anti-Communist White Army forces. He permits Zhivago to return to his family, although it is hinted by Strelnikov's right-hand man that most people interrogated by Strelnikov end up being shot.
The family lives a peaceful life in a cottage at the Varykino estate until Zhivago finds Lara in nearby Yuriatin, at which point they surrender to their long-repressed feelings. When Tonya becomes pregnant, Yuri breaks off with Lara, only to be abducted and conscripted into service by Communist partisans.
After two years, Zhivago at last deserts and trudges through the deep snow to Yuriatin where he finds Lara. Lara tells Yuri that Tonya had discovered her while searching for him, and that his family is now in Moscow. She reveals a sealed letter Tonya had mailed to Lara 6 months ago to give to Yuri: Tonya, her father, and their children are being deported and will live in Paris. Yuri and Lara renew their relationship.
One night, Komarovsky arrives and informs them they are being watched by the CHEKA due to Lara's connection by marriage to Strelnikov and Yuri's "counter-revolutionary" poetry and desertion. Komarovsky offers Yuri and Lara his help in leaving Russia. They refuse. Instead, they return to the abandoned Varykino estate, taking up residence in the banned main house, where Yuri begins writing the "Lara" poems. These will later make him famous but also incur government displeasure. Komarovsky reappears and tells Yuri that Strelnikov was captured only five miles away while apparently returning to Lara, but then committed suicide en route to his own execution. Therefore, Lara is in immediate danger of execution herself, as the CHEKA had only left her free to lure Strelnikov out of hiding. Zhivago sends Lara and Katya away with Komarovsky, who has been appointed a government official in the nominally independent Far Eastern Republic of the early 1920s. Refusing to accompany a man he despises, Yuri remains behind to face his fate.
Years later, Yevgraf finds a sick and destitute Yuri in Moscow during the Stalinist era and gives him a new suit and a job. While riding a tram, Yuri spots a woman he surely thinks is Lara walking on a nearby street. Unable to call her from the tram, Yuri struggles to get off at the next stop. Yuri runs after her but suffers a fatal heart attack before he can even signal to her, and the woman walks away oblivious to Yuri's presence. Yuri's funeral is well attended, a surprise to Yevgraf as Yuri's poetry was officially "unattainable at the time". Lara approaches Yevgraf at the funeral and reveals she had given birth to Yuri's daughter, but lost her in the collapse of the White-controlled government in Mongolia. After vainly looking over hundreds of orphans with Yevgraf's help, Lara disappears during Joseph Stalin's Great Purge of the late 1930s, and "died or vanished somewhere...in one of the labour camps," according to Yevgraf.
While Yevgraf strongly feels that Tanya Komarova is Yuri and Lara's daughter, he is still not convinced. But as Tanya leaves, Yevgraf notices that she carries a balalaika, an instrument that Yuri's mother was especially gifted at playing. Questioning her further, he learns that Tanya is self-taught — in fact, her fiancé proclaims her an 'artist' with the balalaika. Yevgraf smiles, "Ah. Then it's a gift," thereby implying she truly must be Yuri and Lara's daughter after all.
Boris Pasternak's 1957 novel was published in the West amidst celebration and controversy. Parts of Pasternak's book had been known in Samizdat since some time after World War II. However, the novel was not completed until 1956. The book had to be smuggled out of the Soviet Union by an Italian called D'angelo to whom Pasternak had entrusted the book to be delivered to Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, a left-wing Italian publisher who published it shortly thereafter. Helped by a Soviet campaign against the novel, it became a sensation throughout the non-communist world. It spent 26 weeks atop the New York Times best-seller list.
A great lyric poet, Pasternak was awarded the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature. While the citation noted his poetry, it was understood that the prize was mainly for Doctor Zhivago, which the Soviet government saw as an anti-Soviet work, thus interpreting the award of the Nobel Prize as a gesture hostile to the Soviet Union. A target of the Soviet government's fervent campaign to label him a traitor, Pasternak felt compelled to refuse the Prize. The situation became an international cause célèbre and made Pasternak a Cold War symbol of resistance to Soviet communism.
The film treatment by David Lean was proposed for various reasons. Pasternak's novel had been an international success, and producer Carlo Ponti was interested in adapting it as a vehicle for his wife, Sophia Loren. Lean, coming off the huge success of Lawrence of Arabia (1962), wanted to make a more intimate, romantic film to balance the action- and adventure-oriented tone of his previous film. One of the first actors signed onboard was Omar Sharif, who had played Lawrence's right-hand man Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia. Sharif loved the novel, and when he heard Lean was making a film adaptation, he requested to be cast in the role of Pasha (which ultimately went to Tom Courtenay).
Sharif was quite surprised when Lean suggested that he play Zhivago himself. Peter O'Toole, star of Lawrence of Arabia, was Lean's original choice for Zhivago, but turned the part down; Max von Sydow and Paul Newman were also considered. Michael Caine tells in his autobiography that he also read for Zhivago and participated in the screen shots with Christie, but (after watching the results with David Lean) was the one who suggested Omar Sharif. Rod Steiger was cast as Komarovsky after Marlon Brando and James Mason turned the part down. Audrey Hepburn was considered for Tonya, while Robert Bolt lobbied for Albert Finney to play Pasha.
Lean was able to convince Ponti that Loren was not right for the role of Lara, saying she was "too tall" (and confiding in screenwriter Robert Bolt that he could not accept Loren as a virgin for the early parts of the film), and Yvette Mimieux, Sarah Miles and Jane Fonda were considered for the role. Ultimately, Julie Christie was cast based on her appearance in Billy Liar (1963), and the recommendation of John Ford, who directed her in Young Cassidy (1965). Sharif's son Tarek was cast as the young Zhivago in the film and Sharif directed his son as a way to get closer to his character.
Because the book was banned in the Soviet Union, it could not be filmed there. Lean's experience filming a part of Lawrence of Arabia in Spain, access to CEA studios, and the guarantee of snow in some parts of Spain led to his choosing the country as the primary location for filming. However, the weather predictions failed and David Lean's team found the warmest winter in Spain in 50 years. As a result, some scenes were filmed in interiors with artificial snow made with dust from a nearby marble quarry. The team filmed some locations with heavy snow, such as the snowy landscape in Strelnikov's train sequence, somewhere in Campo de Gómara near Soria.
The film was shot over ten months, with the entire Moscow set being built from scratch outside Madrid. Most of the scenes covering Zhivago's and Lara's service in World War I were filmed in Soria, as was the Varykino estate. The "ice-palace" at Varykino was filmed in Soria as well, a house filled with frozen beeswax. The charge of the partisans across the frozen lake was filmed in Spain, too; a cast iron sheet was placed over a dried river-bed, and fake snow (mostly marble dust) was added on top. Some of the winter scenes were filmed in summer with warm temperatures, sometimes of up to 25 °C (77 °F). Other locations include the Estación de Madrid-Delicias in Madrid and El Moncayo. The initial and final scenes were shot at the Aldeadávila Dam between Spain and Portugal. Although uncredited, most of those scenes were actually shot on the Portuguese side of the river, overlooking the Spanish side.
Other winter sequences, mostly landscape scenes and Yuri's escape from the partisans, were filmed in Finland. Winter scenes of the family traveling to Yuriatin by rail were filmed in Canada. The locomotives seen in the film are Spanish locomotives like the RENFE Class 240 (ex-1400 MZA), and Strelnikov's armoured train is towed by the RENFE Class 141F Mikado locomotive. One train scene became notorious for the supposed fate that befell Lili Muráti, a Hungarian actress, who slipped clambering onto a moving train. Although she fell under the wagon, she returned to work within three weeks (and did not perish or lose a limb). Lean appears to have used part of her accident in the film's final cut.
Nicolas Roeg was the original Director of Photography and worked on some scenes, but after an argument with Lean, left and was replaced by Freddie Young.
Released theatrically on 22 December 1965, the film went on to gross $111.7 million in the United States and Canada across all of its releases and is the eighth highest-grossing film of all time adjusted for inflation. The film was also entered into the 1966 Cannes Film Festival. In 2002 Warner Bros. released the 35th Anniversary version of Doctor Zhivago on DVD (two-disc set), and another Anniversary Edition in 2010 on Blu-ray (a three-disc set that includes a book).
Upon its initial release, Doctor Zhivago was criticized for its romanticization of the revolution. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times felt that the film's focus on the love story between Zhivago and Lara trivialized the events of the Russian Revolution and the resulting civil war, but was impressed by the film's visuals.
Also critical of the film was The Guardian's Richard Roud, who wrote: "In the film the revolution is reduced to a series of rather annoying occurrences; getting firewood, finding a seat on a train, and a lot of nasty proles being tiresome. Whatever one thinks of the Russian Revolution it was certainly more than a series of consumer problems. At least it was to Zhivago himself. The whole point of the book was that even though Zhivago disapproved of the course the revolution took, he had approved of it in principle. Had he not, there would have been no tragedy". In a positive review, Time Magazine called the film "Literate, old-fashioned, soul-filling and thoroughly romantic".
Reviewing it for its 30th anniversary, film critic Roger Ebert regarded it as "an example of superb old-style craftsmanship at the service of a soppy romantic vision", and wrote that "the story, especially as it has been simplified by Lean and his screenwriter, Robert Bolt, seems political in the same sense Gone With the Wind is political, as spectacle and backdrop, without ideology", concluding that the political content is treated mostly as a "sideshow". Geoffrey Macnab of The Independent reviewed the film for its 50th anniversary and noted director David Lean's "extraordinary artistry" but found the film bordering on "kitsch". Macnab also felt that the musical score by Maurice Jarre still stood up but criticised the English accents.
The film won five Academy Awards and was nominated for five more:Won
Best Art Direction (John Box, Terence Marsh; set decoration: Dario Simoni)
Best Cinematography (Freddie Young)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert Bolt)
Best Costume Design (Phyllis Dalton)
Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre)
Best Picture (Carlo Ponti)
Best Supporting Actor (Tom Courtenay)
Best Director (David Lean)
Best Editing (Norman Savage)
Best Sound (A. W. Watkins, Franklin Milton, MGM Sound Department)
The film was nominated for six Golden Globe Awards, and won five.Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama
Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture (David Lean)
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama (Omar Sharif)
Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay (Robert Bolt)
Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre)
Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor (Geraldine Chaplin)
The film received three BAFTA Award nominations:Best Film from Any Source (Carlo Ponti, David Lean)
BAFTA Award for Best British Actor (Ralph Richardson)
BAFTA Award for Best British Actress (Julie Christie)
Other awards and nominations:Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or (David Lean) - Nominated
David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Production (Carlo Ponti) - Won
David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Director (David Lean) - Won
David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Actress (Julie Christie) - Won
Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media (Maurice Jarre) - Won
Laurel Award for Drama - Won
Laurel Award for Dramatic Performance, Male (Omar Sharif) - 2nd place
Laurel Award for Supporting Performance, Male (Tom Courtenay) - 3rd place
National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (Julie Christie) - Won
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director (David Lean) - 2nd place
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies – No. 39
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions – No. 7
AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
AFI's 10 Top 10 – Nominated Epic Film