Doctor Zhivago, a 1965 film based on a Russian novel of the same name, tells the story of Yuri Zhivago and how his life was constantly changed throughout the Russian revolution. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich describes the daily routine that Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, an inmate in a labor camp, goes through for eight years to fulfill his sentence. Doctor Zhivago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich are both set in Soviet Russia, an obvious similarity. Though both works take place in Soviet Russia, they take place at different time periods.
Doctor Zhivago takes place from 1912 to 1923, years that had three very important events occurring; The Russian Revolution, the Russian Civil War, and World War I. On the other hand, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich took place during the 1950’s as Stalin was in office. In Doctor Zhivago, Lenin was in office, another difference in the movie. As the movie and book progress we are introduced to the protagonists. Doctor Zhivago introduces us to Yuri Zhivago, a poet and doctor; while One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich introduces us to Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a prisoner in a labor camp who has been imprisoned for 8 years.
Both characters, when looking at them by society means, are opposites of each other. Yuri has a better life than Ivan, he has a love life, food, and he does not have to worry about surviving throughout the day. Yuri is a free man, while Ivan is not. Though these two characters are very different, they do share some similarities. Yuri and Ivan both have an item that means a lot to them, something that reminds them of where they are from. Yuri has his balalaika, a Russian triangular instrument, who his mother gave to him; while Ivan has the spoon that he made himself while in the camp.
The balalaika reminds Yuri of his deceased mother, someone that is dear to him. Ivan’s spoon gives him a sense of civilization and dignity, an object to remind him to never forget he is a human, and to never act as a wild animals. Doctor Zhivago takes place in many parts of Russia, but One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich takes place only in Siberia. As One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich progresses we really do not know what is happening outside that camp besides that there is a big Soviet Russia gulag system going on uring that time. But in Doctor Zhivago, as mentioned before, there are three things happening throughout the movie. They are clearly shown as the movie goes on, we see how the military is, their influence, and the government’s power as well. In both the film and novel we can see the power that the government has. In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich the government went and controlled the sun and said when it was noon, showing that at that time the Soviet government was extremely powerful and could do whatever they pleased to do.
In Doctor Zhivago the government has Lara, one of the main characters, in close watch. This then becomes a great part of the plot, leading Lara to depart from Yuri’s side and go into safety, which from that day forward Lara and Yuri never saw each other again. All this was caused by Lara’s husband, a commissar, committing suicide and now the ‘army’ is now looking for Lara. If they got a hand of her, they would surely incarcerate her or even kill her. The whole concept of the gulags is obviously shown in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, but in Doctor Zhivago it is not brought up as much.
Only twice did I actually see a reference to the gulags. When the main characters are in a train, there is a detachment solely for conscripts heading for the gulags. Second and last time a gulag was mentioned was close to the end of the movie, where the narrator explains to us that Lara was never seen again, that she could’ve either vanished or died in a labor camp. Her number without a name that was put on a list which then was misplaced, so there was no record of her ever again.
In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, we see the idea of a labor camp obviously show up constantly, since the main character and everyone in that case is in one. In conclusion, both the film and the novel have their similarities and differences. They might be quite hard to spot immediately if one has not read the novel, or has a bit of information on Soviet Russia. If you have read the novel, you can tie many things back to the film, but you will notice how both of them can relate somehow but not fully to the point where you can say that both give out the same message.