Director David Lean's masterful 1957 realization of Pierre Boulle's novel remains a benchmark for war films, and a deeply absorbing movie by any standard--like most of Lean's canon, The Bridge on the River Kwai achieves a richness in theme, narrative, and characterization that transcends genre. The story centers on a Japanese prison camp isolated deep in the jungles of Southeast Asia, where the remorseless Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) has been charged with building a vitally important railway bridge. His clash of wills with a British prisoner, the charismatic Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), escalates into a duel of honor, Nicholson defying his captor's demands to win concessions for his troops. How the two officers reach a compromise, and Nicholson becomes obsessed with building that bridge, provides the story's thematic spine; the parallel movement of a team of commandos dispatched to stop the project, led by a British major (Jack Hawkins) and guided by an American escapee (William Holden), supplies the story's suspense and forward momentum. Shot on location in Sri Lanka, Kwai moves with a careful, even deliberate pace that survivors of latter-day, high-concept blockbusters might find lulling--Lean doesn't pander to attention deficit disorders with an explosion every 15 minutes. Instead, he guides us toward the intersection of the two plots, accruing remarkable character details through extraordinary performances. Hayakawa's cruel camp commander is gradually revealed as a victim of his own sense of honor, Holden's callow opportunist proves heroic without softening his nihilistic edge, and Guinness (who won a Best Actor Oscar, one of the production's seven wins) disappears as only he can into Nicholson's brittle, duty-driven, delusional psychosis. His final glimpse of self-knowledge remains an astonishing moment--story, character, and image coalescing with explosive impact. Like Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai has been beautifully restored and released in a highly recommended widescreen version that preserves its original aspect ratio. --Sam Sutherland Stills from The Bridge on the River Kwai (click for larger image) Beyond The Bridge on the River Kwai The David Lean Collection WWII 60th Anniversary Collection The True Story of the Bridge on the River Kwai (History Channel)
You make me sick with your heroics. There's a stench of death about you. You carry it in your pack like the plague. Explosives and L-pills - they go well together, don't they? And with you it's just one thing or the other: destroy a bridge or destroy yourself. This is just a game, this war! You and Colonel Nicholson, you're two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? How to die like a gentleman... how to die by the rules... when the only important thing is how to live like a human being.
It is quite understandable. It's a very natural reaction. But one day, in a week, a month, a year, on that day when, God willing, we all return to our homes again, you're going to feel very proud of what you have achieved here in the face of great adversity. What you have done should be, and I think will be, an example to all our countrymen, soldier and civilian alike. You have survived with honor, that and more, here in the wilderness. You have turned defeat into victory. I congratulate you. Well done.
You were an accountant in Montreal?
Yes sir. Uh, not really an accountant, sir. That is, I didn't have my charter.
Exactly what did you do?
Well, sir, I just checked columns and columns of figures which three or four people had checked before me, and then there were other people who checked them after I had checked them.
Sounds a frightful bore.
Sir, it was a frightful bore.
I've been thinking. Tomorrow it will be twenty-eight years to the day that I've been in the service. Twenty-eight years in peace and war. I don't suppose I've been at home more than ten months in all that time. Still, it's been a good life. I loved India. I wouldn't have had it any other way. But there are times when suddenly you realize you're nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being there at any time made to anything. Hardly made any difference at all, really, particularly in comparison with other men's careers. I don't know whether that kind of thinking's very healthy; but I must admit I've had some thoughts on those lines from time to time. But tonight... tonight!
By the way, sir, I meant to tell you, there are trees in this forest very similar to elm. And the elm piles of London Bridge lasted six hundred years.
Six hundred years, Reeves?
Six hundred years. That would be quite something.
Sir, it's most annoying. The say, in view of the time element, they don't think a few practice jumps would be worthwhile.
No, they say if you make one jump, you've only got 50% chance of injury, two jumps, 80%, and three jumps, you're bound to catch a backache. The consensus of opinion is that the most sensible thing for Major Shears to do is to go ahead and jump, and hope for the best.
With or without a parachute?
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