Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

The Dr. Zhivago problem

GIVEN OUR increasing inability to stay awake to the end of any movie that runs more than an hour and a half, it was an ambitious plan. Watch Dr. Zhivago, all 197 minutes of it.

Somehow, despite being a bit of a movie buff, I had never gotten round to seeing the 1965 epic. It won five Oscars and remains admired for its stunning widescreen photography and stirring soundtrack (whose main “Lara’s Theme” most everyone knows, even if they don’t realize the tune comes from the film).

The first challenge was finding a copy. It wasn’t available for streaming, so I ended up shelling out for a deluxe two-disc DVD edition I found in a secondhand store. Then we decided that an afternoon viewing might give us the best chance of keeping our eyes open all the way.

With cushions plumped and snacks at our elbows, we settled down on Sunday after lunch as I loaded our DVD player and hit “play.” And, after all that buildup and anticipation . . . what a disappointment.

I had a vague idea of the outline of the story, but what unfolded was baffling for me, let alone Marcia, who knew less about the movie or the original book. As the confusing opening scene of people jammed on a train passing through the snowy Russian landscape continued, I encouraged her to hang in there. Surely  there’d be a flashback soon that would put everything in context.

None came. Not even any opening credits. Our frustration, bewilderment and disappointment grew. And when, after about 40 minutes or so, one of the main characters died with more than two hours of the film remaining, I knew that something was seriously amiss.

Closer inspection revealed the problem—I had inserted disc two of the set.

And doesn’t life feel like that, sometimes? (Strangely enough, the name Zhivago is Russian for “life.”) You’ve been plunged into some kind of epic story, but the plot’s not clear and you don’t really know who all these characters around you are or what they are doing? What should be enjoyable is instead disappointing and frustrating.

That was certainly my experience when I was young, trying to make sense of the world and my place in it. But you have to start at the beginning if you want to know where you are and where you are heading. I needed disc one to really understand what was going on.

And I found that disc one was this: that a loving Creator stepped down into time to provide a bridge for us to find our way back home. Disc one is the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension. From there, everything else begins to fall into place. You can enjoy the rest of the story as it unfolds. Happy Easter.

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