Lawrence of Arabia’s Motorcycle


We’ve been talking in this series about Ins and Outs—Opening and Closing Images in books and movies.

Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif in “Lawrence of Arabia”

We declared that the first rule of Ins and Outs Club is

The Opening and Closing Images of our story should resonate with each other. They should look as alike as reasonably possible.

An example we cited was the 1953 Western Shane, where the lone-rider hero (played by Alan Ladd) enters the Valley on the In and exits via the exact same path on the Out.

We said that the second rule of Ins and Outs Club is

At the same time, the Out should be as far away as we can make it in emotional and narrative terms from the In—to show the extent of the change that the hero has undergone.

Again citing Shane, we saw that our hero entered the Valley with hopes of changing his life and exited knowing those hopes would never come true.

Let’s assay a third rule of Ins and Outs Club:

Both the In and the Out must be on-theme.

Remember the opening and closing images from Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif, directed by David Lean, screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson?

The movie starts in the driveway of a cottage in Dorset. A youngish man (Peter O’Toole as Lawrence) readies his motorcycle—a 1935 Brough Superior SS100—and rides off down a narrow country lane. Fast. Faster. Recklessly fast. Suddenly the rider encounters bicyclists in the road. He swerves, loses control, the bike crashes.

Cut to St. Paul’s Cathedral. A major state funeral is in progress, apparently for the young motorcycle rider. Several dignitaries are approached for comment. They give contrasting statements, linked by the acknowledgment that the young rider was Someone Extraordinary.

That’s the In.

Here’s the Out.

Seventeen years earlier. The British and their Arab allies have defeated the Turks in the Middle East theater of WWI. Bedouin warriors, who under Lawrence and their tribal leaders have captured Damascus, have been superseded by regular British troops. They are leaving—going home to their tribal territories.

An open Rolls-Royce military car speeds along a desert road. The driver is a British sergeant. In back sits Lawrence. He is a colonel, in uniform.

The Rolls speeds past a detachment of withdrawing Bedouin fighters mounted on camels. The car’s passage drives the Bedouin momentarily off the road. We see Lawrence rise in his seat with concern. His eyes track the Arab warriors with obvious pain and regret, even heartbreak. “So,” says the sergeant-driver to Lawrence, “Going home!” He means that the prospect of returning to England must be filling his passenger with joy. But Lawrence makes no reply, only sinks into his seat in despair.

At that moment, a British dispatch rider overtakes the Rolls and speeds past, pulling swiftly ahead and racing into the distance. Lawrence’s eyes track the rider wistfully and, seemingly, significantly.

The rider is mounted on a motorcycle.

The theme of Lawrence of Arabia (among a number of others) is the burden of Being Extraordinary.

That’s what the movie is about, above and beyond Lawrence’s military achievements, the valor of the Arabs, the treachery of the Brits, etc.

The In and the Out of Lawrence of Arabia are absolutely on-theme. They work together like bookends.

Lawrence’s Brough Superior SS100

As Colonel Lawrence watches the motorcycle rider speed past him on the desert road and vanish into the distance, we in the audience cannot help but be called back to the opening image of the film. Did Lawrence kill himself deliberately seventeen years later on his Brough Superior? Was his reckless speed intentional, a consequence of no longer being a part of great events? Could Lawrence no longer endure having to live life as an Ordinary Man?

Again, as we said in previous posts of Shane and Alien and Good Will Hunting, the opening and the closing images alone convey a tremendous part of the story.

Each is on-theme, and each works with the other.

They are the movie in microcosm.

Together the In and the Out frame the narrative and contain its meaning.


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  1. Mary Doyle on September 12, 2018 at 6:22 am

    As I’m reading this I’m thinking “of course the in and out has to be on-theme. Why didn’t I fit those pieces together myself?” That’s why I need you Steve, to keep me on the right path. Loving this series! As always, thank you, thank you, thank you!

  2. Daniel J Stutzman on September 12, 2018 at 6:33 am

    This series has been impactful for me. The last couple of movies I’ve watched – I’ve made a note of the opening and closing scene as they unfolded. Thanks Steve for the new awareness.

  3. Joe Jansen on September 12, 2018 at 6:34 am

    This week’s is timely. DH Lawrence’s birthday was yesterday: 11 September 1885. Another good post.

  4. Joe Jansen on September 12, 2018 at 6:46 am

    Wrong Lawrence. My bad. Still a good post.

  5. Sean Poage on September 12, 2018 at 6:53 am

    Good article. Not even realizing this rule, I did something similar in my historical fiction novel. You’ve inspired me in many ways, thanks!

  6. Jay Cadmus on September 12, 2018 at 8:36 am

    Again, you have provided a ponderous subject. Contemplating the meaning of a life in trajectory gives cause for re-study of your previous postings. Need that part of the puzzle which – by missing – tickles the thought process. And, tugs me forward in the quest for finding the lost piece.

  7. Eleanor Gamarsh on September 12, 2018 at 10:03 am

    Totally thought provoking. This rule of the In and Out seems to play in essays also, Yes? No? It sounds like premise and conclusion to me. Still this article gave me cause to pay closer attention to my current writing; revision of a group of short stories. I’m glad I have this connection to your site.

  8. Jansen Joe on September 12, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    I just got done watching “The Hunt for Red October“ (again). The In and the Out: Marko Ramius on the tower of the Red October, in a river inlet. On theme as the warrior seeking peace, delivering a first-strike weapon out of the hands of those who would misuse it, and at the end, no great designs other than to fish peacefully as he did as a boy.

  9. Julie Murphy on September 14, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    I thought I understood all I need to know on this topic after your first post…and the second. But now, I’m moving the pieces around in my book to capture this powerful tool.

    Thanks so much, Steve.

  10. Cliff Yates on September 20, 2018 at 7:13 am

    Wow, this was so enlightening. How have I never been taught or told about the importance of the in and the out of a movie, show or book. I will forever from here on, be looking at the in and the out with a different eye. Wow this insight of Lawrence of Arabia really hit home with me. As I am five years into my retirement from 35 years as a cop, actor and comedian, I find my self searching for what I really want to focus on now. My positive outlook and belief that all things are possible, can sometimes be a curse. I have piles of iron in the fire. Your books are causing me to focus and giving me clarity on my next chapter.

  11. Joe Jansen on November 23, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    Just watched “Jeremiah Johnson” (again).

    The In and the Out: communing with Bear Claw Chris Lapp.

    X-ray vision.

  12. Thomas R Trombacco on March 26, 2022 at 10:31 am

    The final scene of Being There with Peter Sellers as ordinary man Chauncey Gardner depicts him walking on water while an extraordinary man is being laid to rest. The quick inference was that perhaps the Lord Jesus too was just an ordinary man with a singular power to communicate to those around him as did Gardner in the film.

  13. Henry Molls on December 14, 2022 at 8:02 pm

    The world should be much greener. Check our program on Lbdessay. Thanks

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