Ukraine & Doctor Zhivago

First of all… I’ve never personally lived through a period of war that felt as real as the Ukrainian-Russian war happening right now. It’s strange in a way, because we were just watching Doctor Zhivago a couple of weeks ago, and so I read a bit about Russia’s history. Then this all happened. It is beyond inspiring to see how people have resisted in Ukraine. Suffice to say that anything I say at this time is irrelevant. Of course, it usually is, but now especially. So I’ll just say, peace to all the Russian forces who seem unwilling to even enter this fight, and sorrow for the everyday people on both sides who are suffering - in Ukraine because of being attacked, in Russia because of sanctions and a government that doesn’t seem to care about them.

Since what I say here is almost entirely irrelevant, let me indulge myself by doing something I have wanted to do since watching the aforementioned film, Doctor Zhivago, recently. This is my essay, which nobody needs, on why Dr. Zhivago is not the hero we think he is.

Why Dr. Yuri Zhivago is Not The Hero We Are Led To Believe He Is
by Will Adlard (with some paraphrasing.)

Yuri Zhivago. Hero or heretic? Here we shall discover which.

Yuri is portrayed as heroic by many of the characters, including his brother who often says how he was “a happier man than I”, and others who constantly “admire his poetry”. His actions throughout the film show him to be altruistic, such as when he helps a wounded person in the street after the horseback police massacre; fairly even-minded about what is best for Russia, as when he agrees with whatever side he is talking to about what they believe; morally upright, for example when he breaks it off with Lara in order to be with his family; and most of all, wildly in love with Lara, with examples being too abundant to be necessary.

Until! Until the moment which reveals his true nature. I’m talking, of course, about the fateful scene when he is faced with a choice, ah what a simple choice! The choice is this: stay with Lara and her young daughter, Katya, at Varykino and face almost certain death, or leave with Khomarovsky, Lara’s rapist and an abusive bully, on a journey that would allow them all to reach safety away from the war. Which does Yuri choose? Neither! He tells Lara and Katya that they’ll all go with Khomarovsky, sets the girls on their way, and then… Stays behind? And then when Lara realises this, she acts as if she’s not surprised, telling Khomarovsky “did you really think he would go with you? He’ll never leave Russia.”

After this we discover that Lara was pregnant with Yuri’s child, and she knew it. We can also assume that Khomarovsky, presumably forcibly, takes Lara as his partner as the child grows up with the last name Khomarovsky. He then somehow loses Lara, (maybe she escapes?) who ends up dead in a prison camp somewhere, and he also abandons her and Yuri’s child that he named after himself. Was this preventable? Looking at you, Yuri.
Let’s break down what happened here. Lara is the woman he loves more than anything, who has inspired his poetic magnum opus, who he’s likely got pregnant, and who has given up everything to come and be with him. Katya is like a daughter to him. Khomarovsky is a man he despises, primarily because he knows that he raped Lara. When faced with a choice, the real choice that he was thinking, of going with them, or going back, alone, penniless, to a Moscow where we see he ends up sick and destitute dying in the street, he chooses the latter. Why? Apparently because of his love of Russia? And his hatred of Khomarovsky? But if you hated Khomarovsky so much, and the reason is that he raped your true love, wouldn’t you then not give your true love and her daughter to him, knowing you’d never see them again? WTF?

The only conclusion, the only conclusion we can draw from this is that Yuri did not in fact love Lara as much as he claimed to, and that he is not the hero we thought he was. He is not altruistic, not moral, not romantic, not heroic! There’s just no good reason for him to have done that. If it’s because of the hatred of Khomarovsky, then he’s intensely self-centered to leave Lara in his hands. If it’s patriotism, then where was the evidence of that before? Up until now in the film, he’s shown little to no interest in fighting for his country or taking any sides, other than mildly agreeing with the communists. Nor does he fight for the country after he abandons Lara. Even if we consider that perhaps he values his art over Lara, well, Lara inspired his most famous poems, so surely he would want her to stick around!

There’s just no good explanation for it. It’s a weak move, a foolish move, a bad decision. One detail hints towards a motivation - when he lets Lara leave, he runs up to the window and looks out with tearful eyes, as if he can’t stand to see her go. He absolutely doesn’t have to! But perhaps we can discern from this that he is attached to misery, that he willingly inflicts heartbreak on himself, for some reason that we can only guess at. And thus it is concluded. Yuri makes one of the worst decisions in film history, and reveals himself as either too selfish, or perhaps too masochistic to do such a simple thing as be true to true love. And by Lara’s comments afterwards, maybe she knew it. That’s about as un-heroic as it gets, and so there it is. Yuri Zhivago: coward and fool.