I was young when I first saw Doctor Zhivago. It would be fair to say that I didn’t really understand it. Primarily, I remember a series of visuals, and perhaps the music. I had watched it a few times since.
It wasn’t until this year (well, last year now) that I read the book (the English translation). Thought he plot was similar, the emphasis of the book was very different from the film. After finishing the book, I re-watched the film.
To compare the book to the film, I must first decide what the book was about. As with much literature, the central message of the book doesn’t jump right out at you. You might say it is a love story, albeit a non-traditional one. The author and the protagonist both have a tendency to value and emphasize the beauty of life happening around them, and there is some philosophical discussion in the book about this topic. The book contains what seems to be a realistic depiction of the hardship of life during and after the revolutions. However, while it does not whitewash these things, it also does not seem particularly critical about them. There was only the barest hint about government suppression of poetry. The author was Russian, with Russians being the intended audience (though publication was not allowed by the Soviets, and it was ultimately published in Italy).
The film was made in western Europe by British filmmakers and released in 1965, the height of the cold war. Naturally, the screenplay emphasized and added scenes and dialog depicting the darker aspects of Soviet authoritarianism. None of the philosophy made it into the film, and though there were moments intended to show Zhivago’s appreciation of beauty, none of these were verbalized. Instead, the film follows the core plot of the novel, emphasizing breathtaking visuals and hauntingly beautiful music. The film is clearly anti-Communist, while the book is simply a frank depiction during those times.