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Doctor Zhivago

Scheduled broadcast: Sunday, November 2 and 9, 2003
(Confirm with your local station)

First published in Italy in 1957 amidst international controversy, Doctor Zhivago is the compelling and multi-layered story of the life and loves of a poet/physician during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution.


Discussion Questions

Doctor Zhivago
by Boris Pasternak (1957)

  1. What are Yurii Zhivago's strengths? What are his flaws? Do you feel empathy for his character in the book? In the film? Does he display courage in his personal life? In his professional life?

  2. Compare Tonia and Lara. What draws Zhivago to each of them? What do you think motivates Zhivago to choose Lara over Tonia? Discuss the scene where the two women meet. How do you interpret what happens in that scene?

  3. Why do you think Yurii Zhivago writes poetry? In the film he says he writes about "The world. Love. Particular people. How extraordinary it all is. What a gift it is to be alive in the world and to know you're alive." Did this surprise you? How do other characters react to his poetry -- Tonia, Lara, Masha, Victor, Strelnikov? Why does Zhivago's poetry put him at risk politically?

  4. What do you think about the relationship between Komarovsky and Lara? How does Lara feel about him? How do her feelings change? Revisit the scene in which she offers herself to Victor. Why does she do this? How do her feelings change over the years?

  5. Is Doctor Zhivago a love story or a political film/novel? What other works of literature or films cross this boundary?

  6. Compare Doctor Zhivago to other famous Russian novels, poetry, and films, such as those by Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, and Chekhov. What themes do these stories have in common? How are women portrayed? How does the rise of Communism impact the characters?

  7. For those who have seen it, compare the Masterpiece Theatre film to the opening of the 1965 version of Doctor Zhivago starring Omar Sharif. How are they similar? Which details have been changed? Which version do you prefer?

© WGBH Educational Foundation 2003

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