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Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and EthicsDoctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics


Doctor Zhivago (1965)


Famous for...

  • Being banned in Russia (then the Soviet Union) for its anti-communist views. It wasn’t shown there until 1994.
  • Lara’s theme, its romantic music. Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics


Set in...

Russia 1905-22 including the Russian Revolution of 1917, when one dictatorship (led by Lenin, pictured right,  and the Bolshevik communists) replaced another (led by the tsar, Nicholas II, the Russian king).

 Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

Based on...

The Russian, Boris Pasternak’s (pictured right) novel, Doctor Zhivago.



David Lean (pictured right), also director of:Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

  • Lawrence of Arabia.



Five including:Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

  • music.
  • adapted screenplay.

But it didn't win best film or director (won by The Sound of Music).


Key characters

Doctor Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif)- pictured right below.Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

Lara Antipova (Julie Christie), his lover - pictured right.

Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin), his wife.

Alexander Gromeko (Ralph Richardson), Tonya’s father.

Victor Komarovsky (Rod Steiger), politician and Lara’s lover.

Yevgraf Zhivago (Alec Guinness, star of The Bridge on the River Kwai), Soviet (Russian) communist general and Yuri’s brother.

Pasha Antipov (Tom Courtenay), revolutionary and general in the Bolshevik communist army.


The storyDoctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

After his mother dies and leaves him a balalaika, Yuri Zhivago (pictured right) lives with the Gromekos:

  • Alexander.
  • Anna, his wife.
  • their daughter, Tonya


  • becomes a medical student in Moscow and a renowned poet. Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics
  • sees Lara Antipova for the first time when attending to her mother, who has tried to commit suicide.
  • discovers that Lara has begun an affair with her mother's ex-lover, Victor Komarovsky (an influential lawyer and politician) - pictured right.

Lara is a friend of Pasha, a communist revolutionary Bolshevik. She marries him after shooting Komarovsky at a Christmas party.

During the First World War, Yuri (now married to Tonya):Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

  • joins the army as a medical officer.
  • runs a hospital with Lara, a nurse (pictured right together).

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Yuri:

  • returns to Moscow.
  • discovers that Anna Gromeko has died.

His son (Sasha), Tonya and her father, Alexander, are forced to live in their home with several other families by the Bolshevik government.

Yuri is furious that his family don’t have enough food or fuel, prompting him to steal some firewood.

His brother and Bolshevik general, Yevgraf Zhivago, then:

  • tells him that he and his family are in danger of being arrested for his subversive poetry. Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics
  • arranges their escape to Alexander’s country home at Varykino in the Urals.

They share a crowded train carriage with an anarchist intellectual, Kostoyed Amoursky. The train stops and Yuri gets out.

He meets Strelnikov, a cruel Bolshevik general (pictured right), and recognizes him as Pasha. He tells Yuri that Lara is living in Yuriatin, near Varykino.

Alexander’s main house at Varykino has been confiscated by the Bolsheviks, so they live in a small cottage next door.Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

(Alexander, Tonya and Yuri are pictured right on the journey from Moscow).

In the spring Yuri:

  • goes to Yuriatin.
  • begins a love affair with Lara, now a librarian.

Guilty (particularly after discovering Tonya’s pregnancy), he decides to end the affair, but he is arrested by a group of Bolshevik soldiers (pictured right below), working for them for two years as their doctor.Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics


  • escapes to Yuriatin.
  • is sadly guilty reading a letter from Tonya (given to Lara by her).

His family (including his new child) has emigrated to Paris.

Yuri and Lara:Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

  • are in danger because of her association with Pasha (Strelnikov), now out of favour with the government.
  • refuse Komarovsky’s offer to help them escape.
  • go to the big house at Varykino with Lara’s daughter, Katya (pictured right).

There Yuri writes his famous “Lara” love poems that would eventually be banned by the government.

Komarovsky returns, telling them that Lara is even greater danger since Strelnikov killed himself on his way to execution,  after having tried to see Lara again.

Lara and Katya leave with Komarovsky but Yuri stays behind.Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

Later Yuri returns to Moscow, where Yevgraf (his brother) gets him a hospital job. He dies from a heart attack in the street, chasing a woman he thinks is Lara.

She comes to his funeral and Yevgraf unsuccessfully tries to find her and Yuri’s lost child.

Years later Yevgraf finds the child, now a factory worker (pictured right). She is very musical and has a balalaika on her back, like the one Yuri received from his mother.


Lessons for happiness and ethics

 Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

1. Principles need people

Pasha (Strelnikov) dies a miserable man, because he ruthlessly put his political ideals before the people he loves like Lara.

He realizes his mistake by trying to see her before he dies.


2. Nobody is totally good or totally evil

Even the heroic Yuri cheats on his loving wife, and the evil Komarovsky partly redeems himself by helping Lara to escape.


3. Freedom can be a fallacyDoctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

The communists want to free the people from the tsar’s tyranny. Instead they replaced him with their own brutal dictatorship which:

  • bans Yuri’s poetry.
  • steals Alexander Gromeko's  property.
  • forces people to conform to their way of thinking.

This conformity prompts the anarchist Amoursky to say:

“I am the only free man on this train”.

 Doctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

4. Morality consists of choices

Yuri has to choose between Lara and Tonya.

He also steals firewood for his family, and Yevgraf ignores the crime for the sake of his brother.


5. The meaning of loveDoctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

Yuri shows that true love is kind and sensitive, unlike Komarovsky who brutally exploits women like Lara and her mother for his own enjoyment.


6. Integrity inspiresDoctor Zhivago - Happiness and Ethics

Lara admires Yuri’s skills and ideals as a doctor and so works very hard for him in the hospital.

She and Tonya will do anything for him, because they think he is a good man.


7. Art endures

Politicians (like Strelnikov and Komarovsky) perish but the beauty of Yuri’s poetry will last forever.


Key quotes on society

The personal life is dead in Russia. History has killed it, General Strelnikov ( Pasha).

I am the only free man on this train, Amoursky (the anarchist intellectual).


Key quotes on influence

We’re all made of the same clay, Komarovsky (telling Yuri he isn’t perfect either).

He is high-minded. He is pure. He is the kind of man that the world pretends to look up to and, in fact despises, Komarovsky (to Lara talking about Yuri).


Key quote on ethics

I hate everything you say, but not enough to kill you for it, Yuri (to Strelnikov).


Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)

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