What are the elements of orientalism in the film Lawrence of Arabia directed by David Lean?  

There are a number of elements of orientalism in the film Lawrence of Arabia. The film seems to portray the Arab world as a place where chaos and disunity prevail, with Lawrence being required to help them "find their feet." It is also shown that Lawrence is superior to the Arabs, despite his flaws. While there is much that is historically incorrect in the movie, it does seem to reinforce western stereotypes about the Arab people and their lands. Judge for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrXZkw9S6-k Transcript of clip: Lawrence: In my country we have a poet who says 'The doors of wisdom are never shut.' That'

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Despite the meticulous craftsmanship that went into David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, much of the film is dated and portrays typically stereotyped and "orientalist" attitudes about "the East" and the Arab world.

Much of the detail of the film is unrealistic, showing Lawrence (Peter O'Toole), though a flawed person, as also in some ways a nearly superhuman character, riding through the desert without a pith helmet, evidently because Lean wished to emphasize his courage and his blondness. The sudden ways in which Lawrence arrives at his inspirations on how to defeat the Turks are also a bit hard to take.

Apart from Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali, nearly all of the major roles are played by western actors. Regardless of the historical veracity of much of the script, the impression one gets from watching the film is that a European was required to lead the "easterners." Other epic films from the same period (the 1960s) show a similar approach, such as Khartoum, starring Charlton Heston as General Gordon, besieged by the "Muslim hordes" who attempted to expel the British from Sudan.

Near the end of Lawrence of Arabia,the Arab leaders are shown bickering with each other and unable to unify. This fits in with the British/French narrative that the Arab lands needed to remain European protectorates for as long as possible, and that even after independence was granted, the western countries had to stay on to guide them. While there is a grain of truth in this, the film seems, as stated, to reinforce stereotypes, and is a clear example of what Edward Said called "orientalism."

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Examples of orientalism in David Lean's 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia can be said to exist, but an argument can be made that the film goes some distance in presenting the Arab population in question in a reasonable light, especially if one is a serious student of the Middle East. Inspired by T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and embellished considerably with respect to Lawrence's role relative to other "Westerners," Lean's film is nevertheless a highly sympathetic portrait of the indigenous tribes that populated the Arabian Peninsula during the early-20th Century.

Lawrence of Arabia can be said to reflect the Western perspective of Arabia by virtue of its Western production. The screenplay was written by a Westerner and the film was directed by a Westerner. A Mexican-born actor named Anthony Quinn, fitted with a preposterous prosthetic nose to appear more Semitic, portrayed a key Arab figure in the film, Auda abu Tayib. Most significantly, the film reflects the condescending perspective of non-Westerners towards "Third World" populations that is a key characteristic of orientalism. Western ways are modern and, consequently, better. The Arabs are portrayed as simple, backwards people in need of Western guidance. One of the film's most important characters, Sherif Ali, is a cold-blooded killer, but evolves into one of the film's most noble figures. This nobility is reflected in his desire to study Western -- read: superior -- political systems....

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At one point, the American journalist Jackson Bentley, noticing that Sherif Ali is carrying a Western-published children's book on politics, inquires as to the Arab figure's aspirations. When Ali's answer proves murky, he innocently asks the wise journalist whether he, Ali, answered well, prompting Bentley's reply, "You answered without saying anything. That's politics."

Lawrence himself, highly sympathetic of Arabs and suspicious of his own government's intentions towards Arabia, displays an arrogance toward Arabs that exposes his own jaundiced view of these people: "So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people -- greedy, barbarous, and cruel, as you are." Throughout Lawrence of Arabia, Arabs are portrayed as weak and riven with divisions that allow them to be prey to stronger, European powers. Lawrence of Arabia can be considered to be "orientalist," but, it can in some ways be viewed as a film that respects its subjects, especially given its criticism of British policies and ambitions in the Middle East.

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