Dr. Zhivago (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and TR

Zhivago is my favorite proper noun. I've written a little song about it.

My kind of noun

Zhivago is

My kind of noun

Zhivago is ...

my kind of doctor, too

doctor who

cares for you

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Doctor Zhivago must be the most overrated book ever written.

OK, I realize that it is impossible to appreciate a work in translation, particularly a book full of poems. This is one reason why English speakers have been never been able to appreciate the genius of Pushkin, even though Russians consider him to be their Shakespeare, a man with a genius for a turn of the phrase that can make you weep in admiration of its sheer beauty when read aloud. Obviously, that poetic eloquence doesn't work well in translation. Since Boris Pasternak is obviously several levels below Pushkin in the literary pecking order, his character's translated poems seem like they were written by young girls with Monet prints on their bedroom walls. Given the translation problem, I basically overlooked the sappy poems, but my problem with this novel is that the whole story seems to have been written by one of those Monet girls. C'mon, somebody tell me the truth. Was Boris Pasternak really a man, or is that name just one of those manly pseudonyms that women were forced to use in order to get published in earlier times, like Acton Bell, George Eliot, or George Sand? This DVD has a biography of Boris Pasternak. Forget that. I want to see the results of his gender testing.

Here in the Movie House, we have a standard measurement which we use to calculate whether something is a chick-flick. We determine the estrogen level by subtracting the average IMDB score awarded by male voters from its counterpart among female voters. If the resulting estrogen count is 1.0 or more, we have lift-off. The chico de tutti chici, Dirty Dancing, is in orbit at 1.9 and may never be approached, but this version of Doctor Zhivago is certainly beyond the launching pad, having reached well into the stratosphere at 1.3.  It has a higher estrogen level than Steel Magnolias (1.1) and Beaches (1.2).

Think about that. It makes Steel Magnolias seem like a Dirty Harry flick. Pasternak contributed his share to that condition, and the music really closed the deal. The musical score for this mini-series is so completely syrupy it makes the musical treacle from the original Doctor Zhivago (remember Lara's Theme?) seem as hard and edgy as Depression-era delta blues.

Not only is the plot sappy, but it can be downright illogical, false to history, and even hilarious. Vladimir Nabokov pointed out:

Any intelligent Russian would see at once that the book is pro-Bolshevist and historically false, if only because it ignores the Liberal Revolution of spring, 1917, while making the saintly doctor accept with delirious joy the Bolshevist coup d'etat seven months later -- all of which is in keeping with the party line.

Leaving out politics, I regard the book as a sorry thing, clumsy, trivial, and melodramatic, with stock situations, voluptuous lawyers, unbelievable girls, and trite coincidences.

Zhivago is filled with character intersections that would embarrass Charles Dickens. For some fifteen years of his life, no matter where Zhivago goes in Russia, from an elegant restaurant in the capital, to a tiny isolated village, or to a corpse-strewn battlefield, he accidentally runs into Lara for yet another tearful reunion.

Hey, I can understand that. Russia is a small country.

A point worth noting is that the great David Lean once made a film of Doctor Zhivago. That is THE David Lean, the certified genius who made Bridge Over the River Kwai and Lawrence of Fucking Arabia, fer chrissakes. Even Lean could make nothing more than a mawkish, middling romance of this story.

Here's another point worth considering, this one aimed at you ambitious young filmmakers. If David Lean could not make a masterpiece of Doctor Zhivago, why would you want to try? For that matter, why would you want to remake any David Lean movie, whether great or merely good? Are you planning to fix something he screwed up, perhaps?

Oh, well, it is too late for those considerations. A director named Giocomo Campiatti has already decided to improve on David Lean's version of Zhivago, and he certainly pumped up the estrogen level. In fact, an estrogen score of 1.3 is right up there with Bridget Jones, the Edge of Reason. Let's look up the author of that Bridget Jones screenplay, shall we? Andrew Davies. Sounds familiar. What else has he written? Let's see: a TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. A TV adaptation of Vanity Fair. Both of those have estrogen scores over 1.0. What else?

Oh, yeah. The mini-series version of Doctor Zhivago.

TR's comments in yellow:

I am a tremendous fan of Russian literature.  I read anything I can get my hands on.  It is my version of self-induced suffering without owning a cat.  When I tell this to the numerous Russians with whom I travail they all recommend Pushkin.  It is my litmus test for the collapse of Intelligencia – when was the last time you quoted Pushkin next to the samovar?

My point is this:  No Russian I have met thinks Boris Pasternak is good.  Upon further research I found it may have been the rise of Ayn Rand (another Russian) and “Objectivism” in America that made “Doctor Zhivago” an appealing read – to AMERICANS! 

“Aha!  See? Here is a Russian crapping all over Socialism! More proof that I should pay low wages to my migrant workers.”

The whole Pasternak myth got a really good shot in the arm when the wrapper around “Lara’s Theme” was filmed.  Some people think the David Lean movie is a masterpiece – if only because Robert Bolt took a shit book and adapted it into a viewable screenplay.

As for Pushkin, try the very approachable “Tales of Belkin.”  I read it aloud to my sweetheart Yona Frioriksdotter one awful Wisconsin Winter and she left me. 

But she took the book with her back to Iceland.



  • Complete UK broadcast edition
  • 70 minutes of cast and crew interviews
  • Photo gallery
  • Boris Pasternak biography



Keira Knightley shows her breasts before and during a sex scene, but it is dark, grainy and inexplicit.

The Critics Vote ...

  • no major reviews online

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.8/10. The Top 1000 voters score it 5.9.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. Capable but extremely wimpy version of a story already too weepy-ass for most men. Avoid this unless you possess a minimum of one vagina. (Note: Do not consider mortgaging your manhood to see Keira Knightley's topless scene. It is brief, dark, grainy, and inexplicit.)

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