Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957
Directed by David Lean
Nominated for 8 Oscars, Won 7
Up Against: Peyton Place, Sayonara, 12 Angry Men, Witness for the Prosecution

Sorry for the hiatus, friends! It's crunch time at school as I write my final exams and finish up my college education in 2 weeks! But I found a little free time to watch a long movie. So here we go!

The Bridge On the River Kwai is set in WWII. It's the story of British soldiers who surrended to the Japanese army and are now in a prisoner of war camp in Burma. When the Japanese Colonel Saito commands that all the British prisoners ("not soldiers!") participate in building a bridge over the River Kwai, which would be an addition to the Burma-Siam railway and help advance the war by feeding the Japanese soldiers. He commands that the Officers are also expected to participate in the manual labor. Captain Nicholson flat-out refuses. The Geneva Convention (which he pulls out a copy of) states that Officers should not be used for manual labor in POW camps. Saito uses the Geneva Convention against him and slaps him with it, and puts him in a tin hut ("the oven") where he sits for days and weeks until Saito, who knows he will have to commit hari-kari (ritual suicide) if he fails to build the bridge in time, realizes he needs Nicholson and his officers to help boost the working pace of the prisoners, who are not working quickly at all. After this, Nicholson takes on this project obsessively. He and other officers take over the bridge project, moving it down stream after they realize the original bridge is in a very bad location, as it's too muddy. Clipton, a military doctor, suggests that others may think they are committing treason, and aiding the enemy by building this bridge as best they can, but Nicholson insists they are setting an example. And he does it for his own pride, forgetting the larger picture that they are, in fact, helping the Japanese, and hurting their own side. Additionally, we get the story of an American soldier named Shears, who, by a miracle, escapes the camp and is enlisted by the British Army (after spending time in a medical center to recover) to return to the camp to blow the bridge up with several men, and we see their journey into the jungle, with Asian women aiding them, in their plans to attack.

This movie is an interesting one. It's so different from all the other WWII movies I've seen. It's not action packed nor is it bloody or violent. It had an interesting message. And it's quite a unique story. Colonel Nicholson is played by the brilliant Alec Guinness. It's a war epic of a different kind. While the story was drawn it, it never felt too long or boring. Interestingly I was kind of enraptured in the story, having no bloody clue how anything would end.

Colonel Nicholson, from my perspective, was a bit of a crazy guy. He was rigid and an old-school soldier. He believed in integrity, and for standing up for what is right. When approached about escape plans, he uttered that they shouldn't because they had surrendered so technically they would be breaking some sort of war/prisoner rules, even though they all knew they would die in this camp.

And then we have Colonel Saito. He is just as rigid and stubborn. He refuses to cave into Nicholson's requests, and the two are constantly going head-to-head, and both are quite mad. Saito insists all the officers work. He is to commit suicide if this bridge fails or isn't complete on time. And that scares him. We also see a scene of Saito weeping privately after Nicholson and his Officers take over the project, in which he was directly in charge of. He is ashamed.

This plot becomes ever complex as we realize what building this bridge means, and how much pride Nicholson takes in it. We feel so many mixed feelings as Shear and the 3 other soldiers arrive to blow up the bridge and the ammunition train.

Alec Guinness is fantastic in the role, and rightly won an Oscar for it. Japanese actor, Sessue Hayakawa, who played Saito, was also nominated, though did not win. The 2 had fantastic adversary chemistry, and were fantastic enemies who come to understand each other in a way. They were fantastic in their respective mad characters.

Additionally, this cinematography was fantastic. There were some great shots, and it showed off the jungle landscape so well, and really hit all the right spots. The costumes were great, and it overall had a great look. The music was used very sparsely, but what we did hear was very good too. Honestly, there's not much to complain about in this movie. I can't really think of much at all. WWII have been incredibly overdone in the past 75ish years since it concluded, with stories about German soldiers, British soldiers, Americans, Canadians, etc, etc. And while this story did include British and Americans, it took a look at the Japanese soldiers, and the name Hitler was not uttered once. Nor was Germany spoken about.

The movie was an interesting look at 2 different people, who were, at the same time, quite similar. Saito comes from a country where you cannot dishonor your family. You should kill yourself rather than bring shame. He strives for excellence so as to not bring shame, and to appear great. Conversely, Nicholson does not come from a country that upholds honor in the same way, though he comes from an Upper Class society (being a colonel), and wants to uphold the laws and regulations that his society holds up. Both want to maintain their reputations and neither will break. But eventually both do.

The ending is so interesting, and really made me think. I won't spoil  it for you, as it's so unique. But it made me think, what's more important: your personal pride and accomplishments, or the country you're fighting for and the pride and duties to your army? I'll leave it there.

Thinking I was going to find this movie boring, I was surprised when I actually loved it. My 3 choices of movies were Braveheart and The Best Years of our Lives (both war movies, the latter also about WWII soldiers), I was glad I chose this one. It was a thought-provoking and truly epic masterpiece. It was never too long, too boring, or cliche. It struck things in all the right places, and made for an interesting and insightful watch into a different aspect of WWII. Something other than Hitler.

Acting- 9.5/10     
Directing- 8.5/10     
Screenplay- 8/10     
Music – 8/10    
Visuals- 8.5/10     
Entertaining- 7.5/10    
Emotional Connection- 7.5/10     
Rewatchability- 7/10     
Overall Enjoyment- 8.5/10     
Overall Package- 9/10      

Total: 82/100 

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