Lawrence of Arabia: the importance of things past

Rather than the poster typically seen today, I decided to go for a slight more retro one...

Rather than the poster typically seen today, I decided to go for a slight more retro one…

When I joined the film group at my university this year, this classic was one of the films that I marked off immediately as one I had to see. I didn’t expect it to be as long as it was – I don’t really check such details anymore – and was stunned to be presented with a mid-film break! However, the challenge of sitting through more than four hours was worth it: despite some historical inaccuracies, the glimpses of politics was completely fascinating, for what happened and did not happen back in the early 1900s has huge implications for what’s happening in the Middle East today.

One thing that struck me as I was researching lightly for the purpose of writing this post is that photos of T.E. Lawrence show that the costume designer recreated what he wore with pretty darned good accuracy. Although history was indeed adapted for the needs of the theater, Lawrence’s level of empathy and integration into the groups of people he encountered was well captured. Considering how many Westerners are incredibly insular today, balking at the idea of cultural relativism and focusing on what’s in their interests without regard to the interests of others who share this planet, it’s fascinating to consider the experiences of someone who integrated himself so deeply into the Arab culture that he was deeply respected by many of them at the time.

It’s difficult to imagine such a tale today. Modern people so caught up in ‘getting results quickly’ that any seemingly impossible challenge would automatically be left by the wayside. Furthermore, the tendency today is for an ideal that is highly influenced by Western culture, which many justify by pointing to beliefs and practices that revolt us. Conversely, the practices and beliefs that make sense to us may be completely alien, even barbaric to them. This is not to say that I condone what is clearly problematic in terms of the rights of any person to life, food, shelter, education and so on, but I do have issues with the blatant condemnation of the so-called lack of rights that are not quite as ‘necessary’, so-to-speak. What I see instead is the great danger of losing all possibility of interacting with others if we do not even attempt to understand how they think. From what I have read since seeing this film, this is the argument that Lawrence tried to make for much of his life, and something that many people today would do well to learn.

About karice
MAG fan, amateur translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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