After I published the post about my favorite year in movies [here it is, if you haven’t seen it], many expressed complete incredulity at how I could write a post about my favorite films of 1957 without including The Bridge on the River Kwai. The answer is really very simple: I had never seen the movie before. Many of the comments told me that I must rectify this. Even if it’s not going on my top list, I should watch it. This along with my dad constantly lamenting that he raised daughter who has never seen this film, led me to watch it. Honestly, it was well worth it. Writing this review was quite a hurdle for me, though. Since I haven’t watched many war movies, I don’t have much to compare it to. I have to judge The Bridge on the River Kwai on its merits as a cinematic experience. I don’t know much about what actually happened on the river Kwai (all I know is that its nothing like the movie), but I do know a little something about great movies.
This is a World War II movie, probably one of the most famous ever filmed, but we are never in the heat of the battle. It’s a film about British soldiers who are prisoners of war in Japanese occupied Burma. They are instructed to build a bridge for their captors. Their leader, played masterfully by Sir Alec Guinness,is extremely honorable and proud. He’ll break before he bends. He is horrified that the Japanese are not abiding by the Geneva Convention. Commanding officers are forced into physical labor, which is a major faux-pas (the Convention mentions that specifically as a bad thing).
The highlight of this film has to be the characters. It is a psychological study of the effects of war on different personalities. These men are thrown into horrible situations and are faced with difficult decisions. I find it completely fascinating, and I have to admit I was not expecting that at all. The whole film is also entrenched in irony (especially the fantastic ending).The men lose sight of the bigger picture. In order to prove the superiority of the British soldier, they end up helping the Japanese.
You leave the film with a wonderful mix of satisfaction and disappointment, which is an extremely difficult balance to achieve. Traditionally it is a happy ending, but the way that the story is crafted it comes across as bitter-sweet.
All the trailers I found were awful. This famous scene is a better introduction to the film than anything else:
Some Good Old-Fashioned Scene Analysis: The scene above is one of the most famous in cinematic history. It is our introduction to the British soldiers and damn do they make an impact! They march into camp, as prisoners, with their heads held high, whistling and marching in perfect time. Their shoes are broken and they are filthy, but their spirits are not broken. The men in the camp look at them in utter confusion. The Japanese officers look more befuddled than anyone. Here comes a group of captives, but they seem prouder than the men imprisoning them.
Why Hadn’t You Watched It Before?: I am not too big on war movies, never have been. I don’t hate them, but sometimes they bore me. They tend to be really long, which means that I really have to purposefully sit down one afternoon/evening and watch it… and that kind of foresight and planning isn’t really my thing. I’m more likely to do it for the genres I love, but for war, not so much.
How to Watch: This movie needs that big screen experience, but more than that it needs great sound. The sound for this movie, whether diagetic or not, is probably among the best I’ve seen. That clip above is a wonderful example. You hear the men’s boots, their clear whistles and then the orchestra seamlessly blends in. It gives me goosebumps.
Who to Watch With: Anyone can watch this. There is nothing crude or graphic. It’s great for people who aren’t into war movies, too (like me!).
Final Verdict: There is a reason this is so famous. The characterization is amazing, as is that super catchy whistling tune. It’s worth it.
Now, watch it and let me know what you think!