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Roger L. Simon

‘Nothing Is Written’ — Thoughts on the Death of Peter O’Toole

December 15th, 2013 - 8:05 pm

Of course, he was the one who decided to drive too fast. And throughout the film the question of free will is played with. As Sharif Ali tells Lawrence, when he seems to have come back from the dead after trudging for days without water across the Sahara:

Truly, for some men nothing is written unless THEY write it. 

Words for all of us, I suppose, although hard to live by.  Nevertheless, they are particularly pertinent now.  Lawrence of Arabia is a movie that seems a little bit different every time I see it, due to the changes in the world that have occurred.  It is always great, but is great in different ways, the sign of a timeless work of art.  At this point in history, we are in an era when the individual must act, exercise free will.  Move forward to our own personal Aqabas. Or, as it goes in the movie:

Prince Feisal: Gasim’s time has come, Lawrence. It is written.

T.E. Lawrence: Nothing is written.

Sherif Ali: You will not be at Aqaba, English! Go back, blasphemer… but you will not be at Aqaba!

T.E. Lawrence: I shall be at Aqaba. That, IS written.

[pointing to forehead]

T.E. Lawrence: In here.

So I take my inspiration from Lawrence of Arabia.  I could do worse. As for the astonishingly handsome Peter O’Toole, he was clearly one of the greatest actors of the modern era.  He had many fine roles (The Stunt Man), but none so great as T. E. Lawrence, a character with whom he will be identified as long as celluloid is projected.

Roger L. Simon, PJ Media co-founder, is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter.  He is writing about this years’ Oscar contenders at City Journal.

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Top Rated Comments   
Can't help feeling that O'Toole would be amused by all these attempts to sum him up. He was a very complex man who could talk, write and drink today's punditry under the table. He also had a genuinely refined sense of humor, which could be why.

So why the low road, why Said? Edward Said is dead and his ideas are in the ashcan. Samuel Huntington is also dead but his work lives on -- yet you choose not to mention him. Also un-named is T.E. Lawrence's timeless and very large Seven Pillars of Wisdom -- despite what you imply, the movie is actually true to its spirit and, often, factual. The book remains an epic inspiration for lotsa reasons, not least because of the majestic rant about Turks and muslims in the middle, and also because O'Toole read it closely and often.

There's room to disagree a little about the movie. The first part, two hours or more, is as timeless and majestic as its subject and interpreter; O'Toole was a giant of an actor who breathed authentic life into Lawrence. The last hour (after the intermission in the original release), not so much. FWIW, I believe The Ruling Class was his finest movie, though it's so closely observed you have to have seen and lived the life a bit.

Many years ago, when working in Britain, I saw O'Toole, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris and Omar Sharif boozing together, at length, in a pub in Wimbledon in SW London. Reed had a house nearby; he was the wildest of a truly wild and gifted bunch, though O'Toole and the others came close, real close. The rest of the bar went quiet, just to listen, until they closed the bar on the rest of us.

Where, you may wonder, have all the good guys gone?
This is the age of George Clooney and Matt Damon, of Oprah and cardboard-cutout presidents.
What happened?
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
O'Toole vs. Hepburn in "The Lion In Winter!" Sublime! R.I.P.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I believe it was Noel Coward who said," If Peter O'toole was any prettier they would have had to change the title to Florence of Arabia".He was a tremendously underated actor.
Only Burton could have matched his performence in,Lion of Winter.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (56)
All Comments   (56)
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Thank you for writing about Peter O'Toole's passing. I'd seen a notice, but hadn't seen much else. He was always my favorite actor ... such a joy to experience ... so vibrantly and passionately alive, brilliant and zany! He was incomparable -- unique -- a gift to all who saw him. RIP.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Saw O'Toole in a splendid, quiet movie a few years ago called Dean Spanley. His performance broke my heart and made me happy at the same time. All the actors were great and the story lives on "many levels". (See the film to get the joke.)
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've tried to watch it a couple of times but I just couldn't get past his appearance playing an Arab. It was almost comic in fact.

But I do agree with your assessment of the Godfather. I'd have to say Parts I & II were masterpieces. The third was a bomb. Each time I see them I see something which I missed.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nonsense. The greatest movie is It's a Gift starring W.C. Fields.
Don't believe me? Watch it on YouTube.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"he dies by driving too fast on a motorcycle."

HEY, how about a little spoiler alert warning, jeesh.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Peter O'Toole was a professional in his acting Lawrence of Arabia is a masterpiece...having read the contemporary book by the American traveling with Lawrence with pictures, the film is realistic (The other film by O'Toole is Goodbye Mr.Chips) after watching Midnight Express - the same deed -like in Hitchcock movies never shown- only hinted at and left to one's imagination. Peter O'Toole was a great actor and he will be forever recognized as Lawrence of Arabia.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I saw on PBS a version of Casanova with O'Toole playing the senior version of the caricature, it was not something I would have normally watched by he made it intriguing. Lord Jim and My favorite Year were incredibly entertaining. An interesting not is T.E. Lawrence basically owes his recognition to Lowell Thomas who found out his story and organized speaking tours and I believe gave him the title Lawrence of Arabia. RIP Mr. O'Toole and Tom Laughlin
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have never understood the appeal of Lawrence. It's like watching the 6 o clock news. Arabs kill each other, westerners think they can fix it, fail miserably, learn nothing, lather, rinse, repeat. All TE Lawrence needs to be completely contemporary is to say "Islam is a Religion of Peace." Boring.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
And don't get her started on the Iliad and Odyssey! A bunch of boring, repetitive war stories, followed by a sequel that's one long shaggy-dog travelogue. And the Arthurian cycles? Saxons and Celts kill each other, learn nothing; see a Grail but don't bring it home; both get taken over by the Normans in the long run anyway. She wants a refund, dammit!
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good grief! Did you happen to notice the rather distinctive setting and sound track? The six o'clock news you watch, must be a lot better produced than ours is.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
This was most disappointing as an obit/memorial.
Rather it is a political screed--Simon is not letting any tragedy go to waste. Kind of like Obama...
O'Toolle deserves better--much better.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes. For example, spelling his name correctly would be a good sign of respect.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's a typo, get over it....meeeoooowwww.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
RIP, Peter O'Toole and attention should be paid. Lawrence of Arabia and much of the rest of his work, like all great art, trumps most of the political or cultural points we might try to make of it/them. "Nothing is written," essentially denies classical conservative thought, which, in turn, contains its own contradictions about time-tested principles vs. what radical new things an individual can accomplish, be he an Obama or a Lawrence. Driving fast is generally risky, and on a motorcyle, even more so. Is that a time-tested truism on which we can agree? ;-)
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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