Bridge on the River Kwai Essay
The film deals with the situation of British and American prisoners of war, who were captured by the Japanese during World War II and were forced to build a bridge over the river Kwai, in order to accommodate Japanese Burma-Siam railway. At first the prisoners were planning to sabotage the construction of the bridge, and to not finish the construction at the scheduled date. Because of that decision, the Japanese were forcing British officers to be working along the ordinary soldiers.
The head of the prisoners was Colonel Nicholson and he was the person, who fought for the soldiers’ rights and managed to save the officers from working, for the price of sitting in the “oven”, a closed room made of pieces of steel and located out in the sun, for a few weeks. In the mean time, while Colonel Nicholson was spending his time in the room, a few of the prisoners tried to escape, but only one of them was successful, that person was Commander Shears, who will later be one of the members of the group sent to bomb the bridge.
After Nicholson got out, all the soldiers started to look up to him and he persuaded them to build a proper bridge, unlike the shaggy wooden structure, that the Japanese were telling them to build, in order to show British intelligence and architectural skills. Colonel Nicholson arranged a meeting with Saito, the Japanese leader of the camp, the decision was confirmed and the construction of a proper bridge began.
While the bridge was being built, Colonel Nicholson was not realizing that he was unintentionally helping the enemy, also thinking that he is a hero, he took all the credit for the design and building of the bridge to himself, which shows him as having a very arrogant character. Meanwhile a group was sent to bomb the bridge and the train that was supposed to pass it on a particular day, at the same time; it was led by Warden and Shears.
They reached the construction site, set up the explosives and were waiting for the next day, to blow up the bridge just in time the train is passing through it. On the next day, while Nicholson was taking a walk on the bridge, he noticed the explosives and called Saito with his men, to go check what was happening. While walking down the bridge, they followed the TNT wires and reached a place, where the switch was set up. A young soldier was spotted and a gunfight broke out, everyone but Major Warden was killed and Nicholson, hile falling dead from the bullets that shot him, fell on the switch and activated the explosives, just in time the train was on the bridge. The mission for Warden turned out to be a success; not so much for Nicholson. The setting of the story is in Indochina, during the World War II, particularly river Kwai, where all the action is happening. Some of the name characters are: Colonel Nicholson, Commandant Saito, Seaman Shears, Major Warden, Major Clipton, Lieutenant Joyce, Colonel Green, Captain Reeves, Major Hughes, Privates Grogan and Baker.
The actual story of building of construction of this bridge is very different from what was depicted in the film. The most important fact that is not mentioned in the film is that 13000 of Dutch and American prisoners of war died and were buried right under the bridge, and 80000 to 100000 of civilians died in the course of the project, mostly because of forced labor. Those civilians were forced to the construction site from both banks of the river, a part of civilians from Siam and a part of civilians from Burma sides.
Also, as stated by the official sources most of the incidents that occurred in the film were absolutely fictional and had nothing to do with the original story, even some of the scenes that show suffering and bad working conditions are incorrect, for the reason that the actual working conditions were much worse. Colonel Nicholson, a Commander who betrayed his own people, for his own good, was never actually a person, instead there was Commander Toosey, who on the other hand was trying to delay the bridge’s construction for as long as possible and never betrayed his men.
The destruction of the bridge at the end of the film is also entirely fictional, there was no such thing, but actually there were two bridges built, wooden and steel. The wooden one was destroyed by American air bombings and the steel one is still in use today, slightly renovated of course. There were quite a few directors for the movie, including: John Ford, William Wyler, Howard Hawks, Fred Zinnemann and Orson Welles, each of them being in charge of different roles.
The movie was filmed in Sri- Lanka; most of the explosions were filmed in the deserted Kitulgala area, to make sure that no one will be harmed. The cast for the movie is: William Holden as US Navy Commander/Seaman Shears, Alec Guinness as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, Jack Hawkins as Major Warden, Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Saito, James Donald as Major Clipton, Geoffrey Horne as Lieutenant Joyce, Andre Morell as Colonel Green, Peter Williams as Captain Reeves, John Boxer as Major Hughes, Percy Herbert as Private Grogan, Harold Goodwin as Private Baker, Ann Sears as Nurse.
The film is made from the perspective of the American soldiers, because while watching the film it is definite that the filmmakers were sympathizing the American soldiers in a way that they show how badly they were treated. For example: the scene when Colonel Nicholson is trying to express Commander Saito the Geneva Conventions and he in reply to that just grabs them and tears them apart, after what sending Nicholson to the “oven”, that scene definitely makes us feel bad for the guy.
If we divide the film into two parts, for example: before the bridge was built and after the bridge was built, we can see that there are different characters playing in roles of heroes and villains. In the first part the hero is Colonel Nicholson for opposing to the unfair rules, of Commander Saito and then being sent to the “oven” and after all that, getting out of the “oven” and being respected by his mates.
The villain in that par would be Commander Saito, for doing all those evil things to him. However, if we look at the second part, the villain would be Colonel Nicholson, for betraying his own men and the hero would be Major Warden, for killing Nicholson and destroying the infamous bridge. The film portrays its characters in different way. For example: the prisoners of war are portrayed as “good” guys, who unfortunately got caught in these conditions and need to be saved.
On the other hand the Japanese soldiers are “bad” guys and they need to be destroyed, because they are basically torturing the innocent people. The message of the film is to provide people a bit of idea on what was it like to be a prisoner of war during the World War II. The film also tells us some of the events that were occurring during the war, maybe not factually correct, but it still gives enough information for people, who are not really into history.
The other message this film is trying to convey is that war was basically the argument between country leaders, not the people themselves, because as it shows in the movie, people were not killing each other, they were just carrying out orders from the leaders, but really they got nothing to be fighting for. The other thing is it was trying to show what happens to betrayers and people who are lying or doing immoral things to achieve some kind of self-benefit.
I liked this film, not just because it’s entertaining, but because it actually has some story behind it, unlike most of the movies that are made nowadays, where people just kill each other for no particular reason: said that, film Bridge On The River Kwai has history behind it and in some way describes what the life was like for the soldiers at that time, even though adding quite a bit of fictional details. From this film I learned more details about what the Japanese were doing during the WWII, because before the movie I didn’t quite realize what was their actual role and what were they up to during the war.
Yet after I watched the movie it became clear to me, what kind of action the Japanese were taking against the Allied forced and the civilians in the region, where the bridge was constructed. I would recommend this film for someone, who wants to watch a good fictional movie about WWII, slightly close to the actual event, but if the person wanted to use this film for history research, I would not, because it has too many historically incorrect and fictional events.