Quick recap: A group of PoWs build a bridge in a Japanese camp while another group of British soldiers make plans to blow the whole thing up. It sounds much more wacky than it actually was, sorry to say.
Fun (?) fact: The story is loosely based on the relationship between Lt. Col. Toosey and Maj. Risaburo Saito, who was actually a reasonable guy. Toosey defended him during the war crimes tribunal and after he died, Saito went to England to visit his grave.
My thoughts: War is hell, man. This is the thought I had not while watching the movie, but earlier today as I was scrolling through pictures of actual PoW camps from WWII. Not that I expected a film made in 1957 to be so realistic, but looking at a photo of the character Shears, with his muscles upon muscles and golden skin tone from hours of manual labor, next to a photo of a real PoW, all skin and bones, it startled me, to say the least. And, maybe unfairly, took away somewhat from what I had been feeling about the film.
The Bridge on the River Kwai is based loosely on real life, so I can’t down the tone too much. In the film, Col. Nicholson is the leader every soldier wants. He’s a rule follower to the point of risking his life to do what’s right and it pays off for him and his men. He eventually convinces Col. Saito, head of the Japanese camp ,to allow Nicholson and his officers to take over constructing the bridge, because it just so happens that a few of the men are engineers. It’s oddly convenient, but this is supposed to be the inspiring tale to end all inspiring tales, so let’s just run with it. The British soldiers respond much better when they are aren’t constantly threatened with death and so the bridge is built just in time.
Meanwhile, British forces are planning on blowing up the very bridge the soldiers worked so hard to construct, because, like I’ve said, war is hell. Had the movie only focused on the soldiers, I would’ve written off the whole film as shmaltzy, patriotic entertainment, but adding this element of Allies essentially working against each other makes everything so much more complicated. I wanted to root for Shears, who escaped the camp in the beginning, only to come back to help destroy it, but I also really liked the eventual friendship between Saito and Nicholson. In the end, SPOILER ALERT the bridge gets destroyed and it felt like a defeat. That might not have been the purpose of the movie, but that’s what I’m taking away from it. It felt unfair for everyone because three of the British soldiers on this secret mission died, the bridge was blown up and the train that the Japanese sent would’ve been used to transport sick soldiers to another camp. So, not all the heartwarming when you think about it. All I learned from this movie is that there are never any easy decisions in war and the decisions you think you are making for the good of many, might not be good after all.
Final review: 4/5. Alec Guiness as Col. Nicholson is worth watching for his role alone.
Up next: Paris, Texas