Said to be one of the greatest films of all time, Lawrence of Arabia, a 222-minute movie directed by David Lean released in1962, achieved numerous accolades from popular award-giving bodies, among them the award for Best Cinematography. Through its cinematography, the desert was transformed into a character and major motivator of the film’s narrative, which was achieved through numerous ways. In the initial portions of the film, the desert was featured as calm, quiet, vast, mysterious and beautiful, which was why Lawrence expressed much excitement towards his assignment as an English army soldier.
The extraordinary shots of the desert sunrise, and the extreme long shots of Lawrence (and his army) with the desert as its backdrop were breathtaking as they seemed like still photos from postcards. Pan shots from left to right denoted their journey, which were all skillfully captured on film. As the movie further unfolds, however, the desert assumes a different character as it shows its less appealing side – how it can be harsh, ruthless and merciless, without giving much preference to who or what it desires to take.
This is shown during the times when Lawrence and the soldiers are having difficulties crossing the desert without water supply, and when one of Lawrence’s helpers is taken under a quicksand. Despite the bleakness of the circumstances, the sequences were still deftly shot and presented to the viewer. And then again, it changes further later on when it becomes the venue for bloodshed, as Lawrence stages wars and succeeds in conquering more territories. In some way, the desert seems like the love interest of the main character in the film because quite noticeably, there are no female characters in the film’s entirety.
It was also expressed by Lawrence himself that he liked the desert because it was clean. Somehow, it seemed like Lawrence saw the desert as directly contrasting his character because although his actions may have been glorified by the Arabs, Lawrence knew that he was just a pawn in the power play of those who were in authority. The desert provided Lawrence a way to be a hero for others, which is the rationale for his decisions to go into battle.