What is the movie Doctor Zhivago about?

Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Based on Russian author Boris Pasternak's 1957 novel of the same title, Doctor Zhivago is about a young, idealistic medical student and poet, the titular character, whose marriage to one woman and love for another takes place against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution and ensuing civil war. As is usually the case, the film is a truncated version of the novel, but it succeeds in capturing the tone of Pasternak's prose and providing a genuine feel for life in revolutionary Russia.

Told in flashback by his half-brother, a general in the Soviet Army who has been searching for the long-lost daughter of his now-deceased brother, Yuri, the filmed adaptation of Doctor Zhivago covers the protagonist, Yuri Zhivago's life very briefly, establishing that this orphaned boy is adopted by the Gromykos, a wealthy, aristocratic family whose demise following the overthrow of the czarist regime, serves to illustrate the decline of the old upper-classes of Russia after the Bolsheviks took power. As Yuri grows and prospers as a promising medical student, his marriage to the daughter of the family that raised him, Tonya, is assured. Yuri, however, meets and falls in love with Lara, the beautiful wife of a major figure in the Bolshevik movement known for his ferocity and for the devastation left in his wake wherever he travels.

As Doctor Zhivago progresses, the love triangle involving Yuri, Tonya and Lara becomes increasingly complicated, with the Gromyko family's post-revolution difficulties forcing them into a life of economic destitution. The Gromykos are forced from their once-palatial home to a small home near the Ural Mountains. When Yuri learns that Lara lives in a nearby town, he renews their affair. On one trip to town to see Lara, however, he is essentially kidnapped (or forcibly conscripted) by Bolshevik (or, Red) guerrillas fighting reactionary "White" forces. Kept in a form of enforced servitude, providing medical care to wounded combatants, Yuri eventually escapes only find that his family and Lara have all moved on.

Throughout the course of the film, Yuri loses and reconnects with Lara, their destinies seemingly entwined. In the meantime, the story's narrator, Yuri's half-brother, General Yevgraf, describes his own service in the Russian and then Soviet Army and his encounters with his brother. General Yevgraf takes it upon himself to help Yuri and his family escape the fighting in Moscow, securing for them a place on the train that takes them to the Urals, the aforementioned location of the cabin in which the family takes refuge. Another element of the story involves the character Komarovsky, a clever, intelligent and thoroughly Machiavellian figure whose illicit affair with Lara and subsequent attempts at "helping" Yuri and Lara survive this turbulent period in Russian history serves to contrast the benign, innocent nature of Yuri with the ruthless character of the man who would be his protector.

As the film draws to a close, Yuri has not seen Lara for several years, they having been separated when Komarovsky convinces Yuri and Lara to escape to the Russian Far East with him to avoid the spreading fighting. Yuri and Lara agree to go with Komarovsky despite their shared loathing of him, but Yuri backs out at the last minute, leaving Lara and Komarovsky to leave without him. As they depart, Lara reveals to Komarovsky, with whom she had maintained, in earlier times, a torrid and degrading affair that included Komarovsky's rape of her, that she is pregnant with Yuri's child. The child that will be born of this romance, we are led to believe, is the now-grown child for whom General Yevgraf has been searching. The film ends with Yuri's death following a heart attack he suffers after frantically trying to get to a woman he views from a trolley window and believes to be his long-lost love, Lara. The film then returns to the "current" period, where it began, with General Yevgraf, speaking with this grown woman at the enormous dam where she is employed. The general is convinced that this girl is his niece, but she is extremely reticent, as a general in the Soviet Union is an enormously powerful figure and she is but a laborer. She leaves the meeting with Yevgraf in the arm of her boyfriend, an operator of the dam, a symbol of the industrialization of a once weak and backward country.

Read the study guide:
Doctor Zhivago

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question