This is a strikingly different scene visually than what we've been treated to before. As opposed to General Murray's office, which is a cluttered bit of British Imperialism, Dryden has a more minimalist approach to decorating his office. Instead of dark wood and cannon, we are given impressionistic paintings, white flowing drapes (more foreshadowing of Lawrence's transformation), and even greek columns. The decoration speaks volumes about the man: sparse, spartan, subdued, and vaguely menacing. It is the difference between a dull man who fancies himself a warrior (Murray) and one who knows himself to be a diplomat in a foreign land (Dryden).
It also serves as the final launching point for Lawrence's adventure. The scene is quieter, more subdued, and full of odd visual ticks...
DRYDEN: Find out what kind of man he is [Prince Faisal]. Find out what his intentions are. I don't mean his immediate intentions.
DRYDEN: That's Colonel Brighton's business, not yours. I mean, his intentions in Arabia altogether.
LAWRENCE: Oh! That's new.
Lawrence notices the cat statue off to the side. It's a fun bit of mise-en-scene that's played on throughout the film, and interesting that it draws Lawrence (who is associated with the sun so often in the film) towards it.
It is, of course, the cat god Bastet. During and after the Ptolemaic period of Egypt's history, during which Greek and Egyptian mythologies intermingled, Bastet was considered the daughter of Isis. Thus Bastet was part of the "lunar" pack of deities in Egyptian mythology - which makes its placement here next to the "sun" painting further in the background amusing. In a sense, the moon and sun are juxtaposed here, as Dryden and Lawrence are; one the elder, one the younger.
That we cut away from this scene to a blazing shot of the sun rising (and then, later, see the moon reflected in a pool of water towards the end of the film) serves to bolster this theme. The movie deals in ancient concepts of elements: earth, wind, fire, water; stars, moon, sun.
LAWRENCE: Where are they now?
DRYDEN: Anywhere within three hundred miles of Medina. They're Hasami Bedouins. They can cross sixty miles of desert in a day.
LAWRENCE: Oh, thanks, Dryden. This is going to be fun.
DRYDEN: Lawrence, only two kinds of creature get fun of the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you're neither. Take it from me; for ordinary men, it's a burning, fiery furnace.
Now, even Dryden's dialogue recognizes that we are dealing with heady subjects of gods, destiny, and elements.
LAWRENCE: No, Dryden. It's going to be fun.
Again we return to Lawrence's masochism. He is a "different" sort of person, and he likes to point this out quite often. He reaches for some matches on a circular granite table (visually echoing the moon).
DRYDEN: It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun.
Now the camera "pops" over to an startling image of the flame, the god Bestet, and Lawrence. If you look closely you will notice that it's a bit of a continuity break. In the previous shot, there's no way the camera could get this shot framed in just this way. Peter O'Toole had to be moved and rotated in order to get this framing.
Which is absolutely perfect to do so. The "continuity error" is used to great effect. This is something lesser filmmakers never quite understand: there is no such thing as a "continuity error" as is typically understood in the layworld of film watching. There are only images and sound, moving like the water of the sea across the screen.
The jarring off-axis move serves to focus the audience on the shot, and Lawrence's quiet as he contemplates the match more so.
And with that, Lawrence blows out the flame this time (with his breath also, humorously enough, traveling through Bestet's ears) - rather than use his fingers as in the dank cartography basement. David Lean could have easily had him do the same as before - and in fact we rather expect him to. It is again a touch upon the airy, elemental, mythological "Dryden" environment. In a sense all of this is telling us that here is a man that aspires to tweak the gods, and even tear them down. The man we originally thought of as a clownish young upstart may actually be more than that.
Next up: The Desert!
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