I was incredibly jealous. I called Tim Ferriss and I said, “I can’t believe you got Seth Rogen on your podcast. ‘Superbad’ is my third favorite movie of all time, and that’s on a list that has Schindler’s List at number one.”
He laughed and said, “Well now I’m curious, what could possibly be number two.”
“Lawrence of Arabia,” I said and we moved on to other things.
It took me three times to watch Lawrence of Arabia and not fall asleep in the middle.
It’s incredibly long and boring. The first time I watched it (1994) I had spent an entire day watching MTV and then got the VHS (yes) tape for Lawrence of Arabia and put it in the VCR (yes).
Maybe I lasted a half hour that time. The second time maybe an hour. It’s horrible. It’s boring. It’s long.
It’s about an ambiguously sexual and eccentric guy named Lawrence who has no real reason to instigate a bunch of bloodthirsty Arabs to essentially kill everything in their path.
Lawrence has no master. He refuses to listen to his British bosses, the media, the Arabs, the Turks, his friends, nobody.
And in doing so, he becomes the master of all.
Which is to say, he becomes the master of his life. Until 10 seconds before the movie ends when he dies a young death for really no purpose.
So why is it the #2 best movie ever for me and perhaps the movie that has changed my life the most.
The desert is the main character of the movie. It is arid, it goes on forever. It will kill you.
Nothing can live there, it’s hot, there’s death at every step, there’s quick sand, there’s snakes, the sun will kill you, and there’s rarely a reason to go into it. And once you are in it, there’s no way out except to keep walking or you will die.
Lawrence has to conquer the desert to win over the Arabs. To develop the military strategy to allow the Arabs to conquer over the Turks. To challenge himself.
The Arabs can’t believe he will do it. As Claudia would say: “he’s too gringo”. He’s not used to the desert like they are.
So he drinks less than everyone else. He shows them he can make it from one side of the desert to the other. He takes on their clothes and their habits and perseveres.
In Shawn Coyne’s book, “The Story Grid” he says that in a thriller there is always an obligatory scene where the protagonist is at the total mercy of the villain.
The villain in Lawrence of Arabia is, of course, not his British bosses (bosses are just pathetic, they are never villains no matter what we think of them) nor are they the Arabs who will kill you without thinking.
The desert is the villain and there are long scenes of just Lawrence and his crew trudging through this enormous sand wasteland under the hottest sun for days, weeks, months. The scenes feel like they take months to finish.
The camera spends minutes pulling back and all you see is the silence and the vastness and the hotness with nothing else happening. Just Lawrence moving forward step by step.
The dialogue in the movie is sparse like the desert. The scenes are all sparse.
When Lawrence is initiated into the ways of the desert, his movements become more careful, his response to his overlords become less caring.
He is his own man because he has survived not only the pain and despair of the desert, but the overwhelming consistency of it. It is everywhere, your whole life has to mold to it or you will be left dead in it.
And that feeling of consistency permeates every aspect of the movie form the dialog to character to the lack of understanding of the people who can’t understand what Lawrence has conquered when fighting his own inner desert.
In your heads, right now, is that desert. The stories we tell ourselves that create not only who we are but who we aren’t: the excuses, the fears, the angers, the anxieties.
We have to cross that desert. To turn a lowly bureaucrat like TE Lawrence into “Lawrence of Arabia”, the man who singlehandedly united an entire empire.
It’s a long journey. It’s painful. I often feel like stopping and saying, “Ok, I need to stop here” knowing that if I do it will be the end of me.
And often I do stop. And it takes a lot of energy to get back on that journey I started so long ago.
People on every side laugh at you for trying. But they don’t know why you are doing things. What motives you have. Only you do.
If you let them dictate your motives you will be stuck behind that desk.
You will avoid the experience, which is so much more powerful than money. You will resent. You will excuse. You will get angry. And eventually, you pass away stuck in a prison where the doors were unlocked all along.
There are times when the people around you start to drop off, or change, or shift their own perspectives and if you stop to try and save them you can end up getting stuck in the quick sand also.
Consistency in words. Consistency in thought. Consistency in discipline.
Sparcity in reaction. The heat wants you to react. The thirstiness, the hunger, the other people mocking you. They all want you to react.
But do you react to them or do you stay true to what you believe in your heart?
Are you more tender to yourself, or to the obligations society thinks you owe it.
Like the sun above, drying out your insides, slowly burning you to nothing.
I spoke to Ev Williams, the founder of Twitter, the other day on my podcast. He also created Blogger.
When there was no money left at Blogger, and no employees left, and no prospects left, he kept going.
Every day he was CEO, customer service, tech development, community manager, business development.
He came through his desert. He got bought by Google. He started Twitter.
He comes from a town of 369 people. “I just wanted to make more friends,” he said, and then he created several of the biggest online communities in the history of the world.
Experience is the desert. Belongings are the chains. Adversity is the desert. Opinions of others is the quick sand.
Consistency of vision is the desert. Unhealthy relationships leads to reacting and anger and fear and regret, which will lead you to “I need a break.”
You can’t take a break in the desert.
Sorry Seth Rogen. And sorry Oskar Schindler. Lawrence of Arabia just maybe moved into number one. I’ve seen it probably 20 times.
And now I’ve probably lived it 20 times. And I’m sure (and afraid) I’m going to live it at least 20 times more.
[And by the way, Star Wars is #4 for me and the latest trailer is amazing].
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