BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge: The Bridge on the River Kwai, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen – the Battleship Pretension Top 100 provided just that challenge.
One of the reasons I undertook this challenge was to see films I have never seen before but always wanted too. The Bridge of the River Kwai is one of those films. It was also a film that I knew a surprising amount about despite never having seen it. I had seen the big train crash before and the classic whistling soldier’s scene.
This story of British soldiers at a Japanese POW camp who have been charged with building a bridge in a few short months is compelling and dramatic. It is also incredibly frustrating to watch Alec Guinness’ character Colonel Nicholson be so duty bound that he loses the bigger picture of the war they are fighting. The clashing of the Japanese and British cultures is personified by Major Saito against Colonel Nicholson. In the end, they both compromise but both keep their honor. It was heartbreaking in the last moments of the film to see Nicholson suddenly realize what his stubborn pride has cost him and what he did in the name of duty.
I tend to like films about World War II and The Bridge of the River Kwai’s angle of being about British prisoners was engaging. David Lean not only masterfully directs the film but he embraces the strong sense of British Pride, American arrogance, and Japanese honor that each character possesses. I am a Lean fan. He has, of course, directed many classic films like Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia but he also directed one of my favorite films of all time, Brief Encounter. Lean knows how keep a story grounded in his characters without feeling sentimental or melodramatic.
One thing that that really worked about the film was how in every moment and every shot you never forget how hot and uncomfortable it must be in the jungle. People are sweaty and dirty, they are often rail thin, and the jungle around them is dangerous and teaming with birds, bugs, and leaches. Major Saito has a slave whose only job is to fan him at all times. When Nicholson is in the “oven” you see the sun baking off the roof and can only imagine the heat and stink inside. The ever present reminder of their discomfort is a big part of why the film is so compelling.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
The Bridge of the River Kwai ranking: Battleship