the bridge on the river kwai

December 31, 2008

“do not speak to me of rules. this is war! this is not a game of cricket!”

i love the way the film positions the viewer throughout.  we are constantly shifting from one character’s story to another, and their views and actions on war and life couldn’t be more different.  i love seeing the way that it portraits the two main officers in the film, nicholson (alec guiness) and saito (sessue hayakawa).  we see nicholson as a starch old war veteran, who absolutely refuses to lose his principle.  after being brought into the prisoner of war camp he stands up for what he believes in, and in a pivotal scene he refuses to make his officers work because of the geneva convention.  then the huge face-off between him and saito begins.  when nicholson eventually wins over the weaker minded japanese officer, he then takes up saito’s one plight.  he decides to build the bridge for the enemy, and not only that but he wants to put effort and achievement into it.

shears (william holden) on the other hand, wants nothing to do with the war.  he escapes from the prisoner of war camp only to be dragged back into the mix by circumstances beyond his control.  which seems to be a theme in the film.  characters are controlled by things beyond their own authority and sometimes even understanding.  nicholson gets so wrapped up in the building of the bridge that by the end of the film he’s found himself saying “what have i done?”.  saito is being put under intense scrutiny by his commanding officers to get the bridge built in a certain amount of time, or he will commit suicide.  they all find themselves striving for a goal (or being pushed back into the war), by things they cannot fully understand or command.

all the performances are really top notch, and i guess guiness won the oscar for his role.  will holden is a lot of fun just like he was in stalag 17, and it was nice to see him bring some levity to the film.  and throughout the film i kept getting the feeling that i was just watching classic cinema.  the performances are all hitting, the script moves fluidly, the cinematography is great and epic.  the same feeling i get when i watch something like the treasure of the sierra madré, of just knowing that you are watching something great.  it has that inescapable quality that cinema has of something magical.


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