Lawrence of Arabia (1962): Narrative Structure–Scene by Scene

Narrative Structure:

The film is presented in two parts, divided by an intermission.

It begins with music and ends with exit score.

Overture: 0:05 minutes

Columbia Logo

Credits in white letters, on right side of the screen.

Part I

The film opens in 1935, when Lawrence is killed in a motorcycle accident.

A high angle shot shows Lawrence washing and polishing his motorcycle, which he then rides in an empty road, increasingly accelerating the speed.  To avoid an accident with bikers, he crashes his vehicle and dies.

In the next scene, a statue is seen, indicating his life’s longevity, 1888-1935; he was only 47.

Did it deserve a place there?

At his memorial service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a reporter tries (with little success) to gain insights into this remarkable, enigmatic man from those who knew him.

It’s noted that he was a poet, and “one of the most shameless exhibitionists who ever lived.”

The story then moves backward to the WWI, where Lawrence is a misfit British Army Lieutenant, known for his insolence and education.

Over the objections of  General Murray, Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau assigns him to assess the prospects of Prince Faisal in his revolt against the Turks, who ruled the region.

On the journey, his Bedouin guide, Tafas, is killed by Sherif Ali for drinking from his well without permission.

Lawrence meets Colonel Brighton, who orders him to keep quiet, make his assessment, and leave.

Lawrence ignores Brighton’s orders and meets Faisal, who is intrigued by the Brit’s outspokenness.

Brighton advises Faisal to retreat after a major defeat, but Lawrence proposes a daring surprise attack on Aqaba, claiming that its capture would provide a port from which the British would be able to offload supplies.

The town is strongly fortified against a naval assault but not ready on the landward side.

Lawrence convinces Faisal to provide fifty men, led by a skeptical Sherif Ali.

Two teenage orphans, Daud and Farraj, attach themselves to Lawrence as servants and follow him.  Gradually a bod develops between them.

They cross the Nefud Desert, which up until then was considered impassable even by the Bedouins.

They do it by travelling day and night on the last stage to reach water.

One of Ali’s men, Gasim, succumbs to fatigue and falls off his camel, unnoticed during the night. When Lawrence discovers him missing, he turns back and rescues Gasim, an act which wins over Sherif Ali.

As oken of appreciation and acceptance, he gives Lawrence traditional Arab robes to wear.

Lawrence persuades Auda Abu Tayi, the leader of the powerful local Howeitat tribe, to turn against the Turks.

Lawrence’s scheme is almost derailed when one of Ali’s men kills one of Auda’s because of a blood feud.

Aware that Howeitat retaliation would shatter the fragile alliance, Lawrence announces that he himself will execute the murderer himself.

He is then stunned to discover that the culprit is Gasim, the very man whom he risked his own life to save in the desert. But true to his word, he shoots him anyway.

The next morning, the Arabs overrun the Turkish garrison.

Lawrence heads to Cairo to inform Dryden and the new commander, General Allenby, of his victory.

While crossing the Sinai Desert, Daud dies when he stumbles into quicksand.

Lawrence is promoted to a Major and is given arms and money for the Arabs.

He is deeply disturbed, however, confessing that he had enjoyed executing Gasim, but Allenby brushes aside his qualms.

Lawrence asks Allenby whether there is any basis for the Arabs’ suspicions that the British have designs on Arabia. Pressed hard, the general states that they do not.

Part II

Lawrence launches a  violent guerrilla war, blowing up trains and harassing the Turks at every occasion.

American war correspondent Jackson Bentley publicizes Lawrence’s exploits, which makes him famous (celeb before the concept was invented).

On one raid, Farraj is badly injured. Unwilling to leave him to be tortured by the enemy, Lawrence shoots him dead before fleeing.

When Lawrence scouts the enemy-held city of Deraa with Ali, he is taken, along with several Arab residents, to the Turkish Bey.

In one of the film’s most disturbing scenes, Lawrence is stripped, ogled, and prodded. Then, for striking out at the Bey, he is severely flogged before being thrown into the street. The experience leaves Lawrence shaken.

He returns to British headquarters in Cairo but does not fit in.

A short time later in Jerusalem, General Allenby urges him to support the “big push” on Damascus. At first, Lawrence hesitates to return, but he finally relents.

Lawrence recruits an army that is motivated more by money than by commitment to the Arab cause.

They sight a column of retreating Turkish soldiers, who have just massacred the residents of Tafas.

One of Lawrence’s men is from Tafas; he demands, “No prisoners!” When Lawrence hesitates, the man charges the Turks alone and is killed. Lawrence takes up the dead man’s battle cry; the result is a slaughter in which Lawrence himself participates. Afterwards, he regrets his actions.

Lawrence’s men take Damascus ahead of Allenby’s forces. The Arabs set up a council to administer the city, but the desert tribesmen prove ill-suited for such a task.

Despite Lawrence’s efforts, they bicker constantly. Unable to maintain the public utilities, the Arabs soon abandon most of the city to the British.

Lawrence is promoted to a Colonel and is immediately ordered back to Britain, as his usefulness to both Faisal and the British seem to have ended.

As he leaves the city, his automobile is passed by a motorcyclist who leaves a trail of dust in his wake.