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Sun, from "Lawrence of Arabia," a movie with Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif and Alec Guinness

Subthemes: Deserts and Droughts, Damage, Protection

The highly acclaimed movie, Lawrence of Arabia, directed by David Lean and starring Peter O’Toole, Alec Guiness, Omar Sharif, and Anthony Quinn, won seven Academy Awards. During much of O’Toole’s time on screen, the baked Arabian desert and its blistering sun form breathtaking panoramas. Here you can get a sense of the spectacle. Other subthemes of Sun and its effects can be gleaned.

Deserts and Droughts: Watching the long movie, you can feel the heat beating down, especially as the small band of warriors crawls for weeks across the killing tract landward from Akaba. The combination of much sunshine, but mostly too little rain, creates deserts. Deserts are hot primarily because of a lack of water. However, cold areas, such as Antarctica, can also be deserts, because they receive tablespoons of annual rainfall. Nearer the Equator, the pitiless sun shines on the ground, and its absorbed sunlight warms the ground’s temperature. Exacerbating this phenomenon, because sand is typically white so it absorbs even more sunlight (heat) than would darker soil. Air pressure also plays a role in desertification, as do nearby mountains that intercept moisture-laden clouds. Desiccated land that supports unusual flora and fauna, including some olive trees, other than near oases, deserts were inhospitable to large-scale human activity until the arrival of air conditioning, desalination, reservoirs, and water pumps.

Damage: We see dry, wrinkled skin in sun worshipers who have become raisins. More painfully, what reminds us all of the skin damage caused by the Sun is when the outer layer of the skin absorbs too much ultraviolet energy: sunburn. Over time, repeated UV exposure can trigger a cancer known as melanoma. The rays damage the DNA in skin cells and sometimes affect certain genes that control how the cells grow and divide. The affected cells may become cancerous. Dermatologists refer to the damage the sun does to skin by several names, including photodamage. Because photodamage happens in the deepest layers of the skin—the dermis— years can pass before the harm becomes visible.

Meanwhile, the Sun’s heat dehydrates people, sometimes to the point of death. Heatstroke is a condition caused by your body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. The most serious form of heat injury, also known as hyperthermia, can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 F (40 C) or higher. One more physical risk of the Sun (setting aside the disruption of a tryst) afflicts a person who stares at the bright Sun for too long. The cornea, the clear outer covering of the eye, can suffer the painful inflammation of sunburn. A sunburned cornea is called photokeratitis. Some more common names for photokeratitis are welder’s flash, snow blindness, and arc eye. Humans would not be on Earth were it not for the Sun, but the Sun can also harm humans.

Protection: The tribal warriors raiding with Col. Lawrence wore flowing, loose clothes to cope with the heat and were both swarthy and deeply tanned. Some cultures view a bronzed, tanned body as attractive, is indicative of someone who has been outdoors in the sporty, athletic life. Less affluent cultures often deem pale skin attractive because it means you have enough manual labor outdoors. The elites of those regions walk with parasols, stay indoors, and shade their patios. Affluent outdoors-types wear hats with broad brims and lather on sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF). Properly applied SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98 percent of ultraviolet B rays. Sunscreen with SPF values between 30 and 50 offers adequate sunburn protection, even for people who are most sensitive to sunburn. As a basic protection against dehydration, conscientious people drink plenty of water. Additionally, people wear sunglasses both to protect their eyes and to delay the onset of wrinkles around the eyes – not to mention to look Joe cool.


This epic movie features the scorching sands of Arabia. Dust storms, watering holes, camels impervious to the heat, parched skies without clouds or tequila-colored sunrises, and lack of water – all by-products of the fiery Sun – spread viscerally across the screen.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept of the Sun, consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, About. Or other Themes might intrigue you, or you might want to explore particular subthemes.

We invite you to read about other movies discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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