Today I obviously watched The Bridge on the River Kwai, directed by David Lean in 1957. I haven't seen this movie until now, and I was moderately excited to watch it. Moderately because it's almost three hours long, and I was tired and pouty. Ebert's essay sounds sort of unenthusiastic about the whole thing, but I really loved this movie. I was just so interested in the characters and plot, it didn't feel that long to me at all. I always heard mumblings about how so many people love this movie, and I really understand why now. After I watched it, my mom told me it was one of my her dad's favorite films. I miss him, but it felt really nice and special to watch it and think of him :)
Since so many people that I know have seen this, here's a really brief summary, from IMDB: "After settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men's construction of a railway bridge for their captors - while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it." Ebert says that the movie is about indiviuals, not about the war, and this is true, and this is also why the movie is so great. There is no morality play about which side was right or wrong, or the madness that war itself creates. It focuses more on the madness of the characters themselves. I felt like they probably were a little off before the war, if that makes any sense. The scope of the film is pretty limited, and even though it is so epic feeling (in length and plot) you never really see any effects of the war. You follow the actions of the main characters and story arcs so closely that you don't really see anything else. It's really interesting and it felt really unique to me.
The British colonel, Nicholson, was so fascinating as a character. Ebert's main criticism of the film seemed to be that the plot not involving him was not as interesting, which is true, because Nicholson is weirder and more fascinating to watch. He spends the first part of the movie resisting the orders that the Japanese officer named Saito gives him. He refuses to work, even stands stoically when Saito threatens to kill him for his refusal. But, as Ebert writes, "The story's great irony is that once Nicholson successfully stands up to Saito, he immediately devotes himself to Saito's project as if it is his own. He suggests a better site for the bridge, he offers blueprints and timetables, and he even enters Clipton's hospital hut in search of more workers, and marches out at the head of a column of the sick and the lame. On the night before the first train crossing, he hammers into place a plaque boasting that the bridge was "designed and built by soldiers of the British army...Nicholson is so proud of the bridge that he essentially forgets about the war" (Great Movies II, 86).
Nicholson basically gets Stockholm Syndrome or something here, and he forgets he's a captive. His idea of creating a great bridge to show that the British soldiers are intelligent and hard-working makes a certain kind of sense. Like, "The best revenge is living well" sort of sense, I guess. It actually sort of sounded like a good plan to me at first, because I love spiteful things like that. As the movie went on, I started to doubt that, however. Nicholson seemed too enthusiastic about his project, and actually no longer remembers, it seems, that he is working for the enemy.
There are things that were not perfect in the movie, but no film is. I just have to accept the movie for what it is, and I really like what it is. I got really involved with the characters and story. I found the end to be really tense, the 'pick-at-my-nailpolish-fidgety' kind of tense. I loved that it ended with a sort of Shakespearean irony, both sad and frustrating. You know the characters are making the wrong choices but you can't step in and stop them. You have to wait and watch them realize this for themselves, which is stressful (for me, at least). I really love irony like this, even though it's so uncomfortable to watch. I love the whole movie not just for having interesting characters and plot, but for working up to such an ironic and tragic ending.
If you haven't seen this, check it out! I'm really bummed out that I didn't get to watch the Blu-ray version (for some reason Netflix doesn't have it, even though it's been out for a while). I always though I'd like it and considered just buying it blind, because the special edition was always pretty cheap. I wish I had, but now I know I for sure want to pick it up in the future, maybe when I have a paycheck again. :)
Enough about me, you need to see this movie if you haven't, especially if you like interesting and unique war films. Let me know what you think if you see it!
Have any thoughts on The Bridge on the River Kwai? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie essay on The Bridge on the River Kwai
(if you don't want to wait for a copy from your rental service of choice, it's available on Amazon On Demand)