Game in Doctor Zhivago

There are two kinds of men, and only two, and that young man is one kind. 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. He is the kind of man who breeds unhappiness; particularly in women… There’s another kind. Not high-minded. Not pure. But alive.

Victor Komarovsky, talking about betas and alphas, in Doctor Zhivago.

In the movie, Lara (played by the rather gorgeous Julie Christie) is engaged to Pasha Antipov, who is extremely earnest, idealistic and eager. Even at the start of the movie, their relationship is shaky; she tells strangers that she’s his sister not his fiancée, and she prefers to stay home and study rather than go out with him. Then competition comes on the scene, in the form of Komarovsky, her mother’s lover, who is rich, charming, sophisticated and worldly. Which man will Lara choose? The answer, of course, is both – she stays with Pasha but has an affair with Komarovsky. When her mother discovers the double betrayal, she attempts suicide. None of this bothers Lara – Komarovsky sums her up “There are two kinds of women and you, as we well know, are not the first kind” – but when he rapes her, this is too much; she shoots him at a party, and confesses all to Pasha. Pasha, naturally, is devastated, but rather than get angry with her he breaks down in tears, and marries her anyway.

This whole section of the film is one of the clearest examples of Alpha and Beta you will ever see in a movie. Komarovsky is clearly gaming Lara at several points – for instance, when Lara goes to leave on one of their dates, he doesn’t try and stop her, and just tells her disdainfully she’ll come back. Naturally, she doesn’t leave. And when he rapes her, she doesn’t try and stop him. Pasha, meanwhile, is pure beta, constantly supplicating and painfully unaware of his fiancée’s betrayal. What’s also notable is that the alpha Komarovsky is not only deeply immoral in his personal conduct, he’s a pure parasite. Pasha, meanwhile, could have been a great man if he had not been seduced by Bolshevism, so the film also reflects the maxim that everything worthwhile is done by betas.

Omar Sharif plays Yuri Zhivago as pure beta, yet all the women fall for him, at least in part. On the other hand, Lara turns him down at first, and she only sleeps with him when he’s the only eligible man within one thousand miles. Meanwhile, he marries a woman who he doesn’t love, just because it’s expected of him. However, he behaves very badly too. Tonya is a perfect wife to him and he betrays her.

One thing to note: the film takes a crazily female point of view of non-judgement. Yuri’s wife, Tonya, writes “I must honestly admit that [Lara] is a good person.” This is the same Lara who cheated on her fiancé with her mother’s lover, then seduced Yuri while his wife was pregnant. No way Tonya would ever write that. The film is merely putting into Tonya’s letter how Lara feels about herself – no doubt she has excuses for all the bad things she did. But the film needs to excuse Lara, otherwise the audience won’t be able to sympathise with her. But ultimately, it’s bullshit. Komarovsky had Lara bang to rights when he told her, “You, my dear, are a slut.”

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