Lawrence is a man who badly wants to be someone else, when we first meet him, it’s clear that he does not belong in the rigid confines of the military and his interactions with the rank and file just increase his desire for isolation, both mental and physical. Lawrence is finally given the chance to move beyond the confines of his station with a secondment to Prince Faisal with his mission being an assessment of Faisal and to report back. Lawrence begins his great romance with the desert, to him, it represents a certain purity that does not exist in England. Prince Faisal does not share his view of the desert, to him it’s a lonely, desolate place.
They say a man’s character is revealed through adversity so in Lawrence’s case it revealed an Iron Will to succeed. It also revealed his compassion as his decision to go back for Gassim is considered suicide by Ali but Lawrence proves them all wrong as he returns to Ali with Gassim in tow, Ali is so moved that he burns all of Lawrence’s clothes and effectively make him an honorary Arab, this is probably the worst thing he could’ve done even if it was done out of a sense of love. Lawrence’s next move once they had crossed the nefud to convince Auda Abu Tayi, leader of the Howitat to join them in securing the garrison at Aqaba. Lawrence once again succeeds by manipulating Auda by focusing on his greed and it works. The attack on Aqaba is an astonishing success, it took everyone by surprise except for Lawrence, he gambled and it paid off.
The second half of the film finds Lawrence waging a war with the Turks by destroying the supply lines with Ali and Auda as his lieutenants. Lawrence has started to believe his own hype thinking he can only be killed by a ‘golden bullet’, it’s this line of thinking that allowed his ego to overtake him completely and he formed a kind of Jesus complex, even as his men begin to resent his attitude that they should move mountains for him. Lawrence’s final act of hubris occurs as he enters Derra, a Turkish stronghold thinking that he can pass unnoticed as an Arab, it backfires horribly as Lawrence is subjected to a beating (and implied rape). The idea that he could conceivably pass for an Arab is laughable and he finds out the hard way. It’s also the turning point where he realizes that he will never be an Arab and so flees back to the British military, it’s telling that his efforts to fit in with the establishment just comes off as brown-nosing. It’s uncertain whether Lawrence’s desire to be an Arab stems from self-loathing or his contempt for England or both but it’s clear he fetishizes the idea of Arabia and the people within it.
Lawrence’s guerilla warfare is taking a toll on him mentally, despite his best efforts to retreat to a sense of normalcy, the military brass just want the winning streak to continue so General Allenby convinces Lawrence to join them in the final push on Damascus, at this point though, Lawrence has been pushed to his breaking point, his army of followers have now been reduced to paid mercenaries. Ali remains Lawrence’s conscience up until Lawrence and his army come across a column of Turkish soldiers including their wounded, his decision to attack the column is what truly damns him. It’s a massacre, Jackson Bentley, the reporter who has been cultivating the legend of Lawrence through the newspaper is disgusted by what Lawrence has become.
As an act of redemption Lawrence and his army arrive at Damascus before Allenby. Lawrence tries to form a kind of UN with the Arab tribes but it’s pretty much a disaster as the council devolves into in-fighting and squabbling while there is no power and a fire breaks out, in the end, Lawrence is deserted by the tribes, all except Auda and Ali. Lawrence’s dream of a United Arab States had come to an end along with Lawrence’s usefulness to both Faisal & Allenby. In some ways, he got what he wanted, to be ordinary but in the end Auda is right when he said “For you, there is only the desert”.