This next sequence is particularly illuminating in regards to Lawrence's character. We've already been introduced to his whimsical nature, and themes of his potential masochism (putting out the match with his fingers); now we get to see his sudden temper, driven by a deep need to be "important."
Lean does a simple cut into the scene, starting with a shot filled with panes of glass -- another leight-motif that we've already been introduced to (Lawrence's motorcycle glasses, for instance). Here they serve as a dizzying backdrop to the little drama of Lawrence dealing with the rigid formalities of the British Army (and British class structure)...
Lean cuts away from this shot to a closeup just as the frame is seemingly "balanced" with six figures total: Lawrence, two men at the pool table, a soldier to the left, a soldier to the right, and a soldier seated center-frame. The film is a constant shifting between balance and off-balance.
Notice how the overhead light is framed above Lawrence, creating a slight claustrophobic, "hemmed in" feeling to the composition.
FREDDY: You're supposed to be... Do you usually wear your cap in the mess?
LAWRENCE: Oh, yes.
FREDDY: You're supposed to be on duty, aren't you? Where are you going?
LAWRENCE: Mustn't talk shop, Freddy. Not in the mess. Matter of fact I'm going for a 'powwow' with the General.
FREDDY: I'm not asking as a superior; I'm asking as the secretary of this mess. We don't want chaps in here who should be on duty.
FREDDY: Where are you going, please?
Note that Lawrence grabs the white cue-ball.
And here we see our fastidious British officer, neatly aligning pool balls. Not the red on the hats of the bartender and waiter, connected with the "red arrow" of pool balls. It's a balanced scene just begging to be tossed apart by Lawrence, who has grown angry at being accosted by Freddy.
BRITISH OFFICER: I must say! Lawrence!
Consider that a lesser modern filmmaker might be tempted to smack us in the face with this visual metaphor of Lawrence busting up a neatly aligned set of pool balls. Perhaps a shot from the cue-ball's point of view? A "cool" overhead shot showing the balls flying all over the place? Not in this film, which is more mature and subtle than that...
FREDDY: You're a clown, Lawrence.
LAWRENCE: Ah well, we can't all be lion-tamers...
We may think that this shot has been "balanced" with the four men in the frame - but notice that as Lawrence steps back and awkwardly upsets the white-clothed table (echos of his famous garb in his near future), a sleeping soldier in the background is startled awake...
Note the detailed set decoration; white statues, hats on walls, pictures and paintings everywhere. It screams British Colonialism and serves as a stark visual contrast to the Spartan desert later in the film. Lawrence is obviously hampered and constrained by the ornate world of the British officer behind the front lines, which gets an even bigger role in the next scene. This world requires a certain set of manners to thrive in, a set that he just simply doesn't have.
Next up: Sand Table Battles.
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