Episode 54: Doctor Zhivago

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Finally having returned from a double-header on Mars, Sean and Cody find themselves on the snowy steppes of Russia in the tumultuous era of the Bolshevik Revolution as they sink into this 1965 epic classic, one of the biggest blockbuster films of all time. In Doctor Zhivago, wistful sawbones and sometime poet Yuri (Omar Sharif) is living his best life with happy wifey (Geraldine Chaplin) and baby, until he suddenly gets the hots for the alluring Lara (Julie Christie) who’s married to someone else. But when the Revolution comes they’re all forced to put on red stars and salute Lenin, or at least the terrifying Comrade Strelnikov (Tom Courtenay), who, by the way, is Lara’s husband. If it sounds complicated, it is! Environmental issues discussed include the internal colonization of Russia into Siberia and across the Urals, how the tsars and the Soviet commissars used and exploited this area, the true nature of “pastoral” Russia as depicted in this film, and what Russia must have been like in the transition between capitalist monarchy and Soviet Communism.

How, environmentally and historically, was Russia’s colonization of Siberia like American colonization of the Western frontier? What did the Soviets plan to do with the vast lands across the Urals, and did they succeed? What happened to all those beautiful country estates, like the one seen in the film that Zhivago and Lara use as their love nest? What are the subtle environmental clues that this film was not made in Russia, but much farther south? What was the special purpose that the dreaded “House of Special Purpose” was used for? What’s the story behind the iconic theme song for this film, and why is it repeated over and over again? Why is the book on which this film is based virtually unreadable? Have you ever heard of a 1981 film called Comin’ At Ya, and why is it famous in film history? What is the John Huston Corollary to the Michael Gough Rule which governs the Five Crowns Award? All these questions are ready to charge the monarchists’ machine guns in this very revolutionary episode of Green Screen.

Modern (2015) recut trailer for Doctor Zhivago. Unfortunately all the versions of the original 1965 trailer are crummy 280p resolution!
Early in Doctor Zhivago, a peaceful protest against Tsar Nicholas II’s regime becomes a bloodbath on the streets of Moscow, with Antipov (Tom Courtenay) playing a key role. This sequence may be intended to depict the 1905 revolution.
On the eve of the Revolution, commanders urge their troops on but exhausted Russian soldiers are having none of it. This sequence communicates some of the epic scope and scale of the production of Doctor Zhivago.
Yuri (Omar Sharif) and his family begin the epic and arduous train journey across Russia from Moscow to Yuriatin across the Urals. You will also see a brief part of Klaus Kinski’s cameo as the cynical laborer.
At last, the kissy stuff we came to see! Yuri is finally reunited with his love, the mercurial Lara (Julie Christie) after years of separation occasioned by the Revolution.

Additional Materials About This Episode:

Pasternak’s Nobel Prize and the CIA:

Anna Sergeyeva-Klyatis, “International Provocation: On Boris Pasternak’s Nobel Prize,” Social Sciences, No. 3 (2011):

Environmental History of Siberia, Russia and the Soviet-era Ural Region:

Stephen Sabol, “Pre-Nineteenth-Century Expansion,” The Touch of Civilization: Comparing American and Russian Internal Colonization (University Press of Colorado, 2017):

Daniel Beer, The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars (Vintage Press, 2017) (Amazon link):

Yoji Koda, “The Russo-Japanese War: Primary Causes of Japanese Success,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 58, No. 2 (Spring 2005):

Paul Josephson, “Industrial Deserts: Industry, Science and the Destruction of Nature in the Soviet Union,” The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 85, No. 2 (April 2007):


List of highest-grossing films of all time (North American box office), adjusted for inflation:

doctor zhivago character map Stilfehler cc40

Chart of character relationships in Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago (keyed to the book, not the movie). Got all that? Illustration by Wikimedia Commons user Stilfehler, Creative Commons 4.0 license.
Trailer for the 1981 Western Comin’ At Ya!, briefly mentioned in the episode. If you have those red and green glasses you can see it in 3-D!

Where you can find Doctor Zhivago: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/doctor-zhivago-1965

Doctor Zhivago (1965) on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059113/
Doctor Zhivago (1965) on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/doctor-zhivago/

Next Movie Up: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

The image associated with Doctor Zhivago is presumably copyright (C) 1965 by MGM. Its inclusion here is believed permissible under fair use. We are not the uploader of any YouTube clips embedded here.

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