The Bridge on the River Kwai

PhotobucketPhotobucketThrilling epic about British prisoners during World War II who are ordered to build a bridge to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway.  Director David Lean has wisely focused not on the overall conflict, but on the individuals involved and in doing so, has fashioned a perfect fable.  Set in a Japanese  POW camp, this landmark story features the now classic battle of wills between camp commander Colonel Saito and prisoner Colonel Nicholson.  Sessue Hayakawa and Alec Guinness bring a brilliant subtlety to their respective parts.  Their characterizations are transcendent: fully formed characters that are noble in their determination, yet critically flawed.  The ethical conundrum it raises is just one of the many plot points that makes this drama so mesmerizing.  Every 161 minutes of this film just flies by, and I don’t say that often.

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3 Responses to “The Bridge on the River Kwai”

  1. I thought this movie was brilliant! Seeing it recently for the first time, I didn’t know what I was missing. Alec Guiness was a master at delivering each line with such passion and emotion. Every minute captured my attention and emotion. Great Great movie.

  2. The script has a weakness and it’s in the inconsistency of all the main characters except (if I can identify the character by the actor who played him) Hawkins. Granted the screenwriters had to start from some exaggerated caricatures in the Boulle novel, they COULD have improved them more. Supposedly tough Hayakawa lets himself be buffaloed too easily and turns soft too soon. None of Guinness’s colleagues ever thinks to tell him straight out, “Colonel, you’re helping the Japs!” and Guinness, despite understandably mixed emotions about building the bridge, just isn’t so dense a person that he would have totally overlooked the conflict with his duties as a soldier. The most improbable behavior though comes from Holden’s weary cynic. The last thing this guy would’ve done is give his life to get a bridge blown up that makes no difference to anything in a war that all he wants to do is get out of. If the writers wanted him to be gung ho at the end, they should’ve introduced him as somebody in whom that quality at least was latent.

    • I will agree that Colonel Saito does go soft a little too quickly. It is somewhat explained that if doesn’t make some concessions, then the bridge will not be completed. This would bring so much shame, he would be forced to commit suicide.

      However, Shears (William Holden’s character) does NOT become “gung ho” at the end. He is FORCED to accompany the men on the expedition because he is threatened with being court-martialed. It is discovered he has been impersonating an officer after switching uniforms with the dead Commander Shears in an effort to get better treatment under the Japanese.

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