Movie: Railway Man
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Review: It is 1980 in Lancaster, England, and we see a group of aging WW II veterans reminisce about their wartime experiences as well as their current affairs. Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) has been telling his mates about his latest train trip where he met Patti (Nicole Kidman). He tells the fellows, “I came to the unlikely conclusion that I’ve fallen in love”!
Eric and Patti marry after a brief period of dating, and seem like a happily married couple. Alas, Eric and many of his veteran friends carry deep emotional scars from WW II, as they were part of a unit that surrendered to the Japanese in Singapore back in 1942. The Japanese warrior code considered soldiers who surrendered to be dishonorable cowards, and the British prisoners were treated with cruelty and frequent brutal beatings. Eric was singled out for torture because of his complicity in building a crude radio so that the British prisoners could hear periodic updates on the progress of the war, which was a lone source of hope in a bleak work camp. These were the British soldiers that were tasked with building the infamous Burma railway, which was made famous in the film “The Bridge On The River Kwai”. The conditions for the men in this camp were deplorable; many died from malnourishment and disease, over-work, and zealous beatings from the Japanese guards.
Eric, like many WW II veterans, repressed the horrors that he experienced. Since he could not discuss much of it with his mates, including his best mate Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard), he certainly could not share with his wife who would have no concept of what he had gone through. And he especially could never share what happened to him when the Japanese special police, the Kempetai, took him into the little white hut for interrogation about the radio. In one of life’s quirks, Eric discovers that the Kempetai Lieutenant who interrogated him not only survived the war, but was a tour guide in Thailand for a war museum.
This movie was based on the real life story of Eric Lomax. It is a deeply moving story of one man’s struggle to come to terms with the emotional and physically trauma that he suffered during the war, and then tried to repress deep into the corners of his mind so that he could carry on with his life. These days we call it Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but few of the WW II veterans received the care needed to deal with that level of psychological damage that they suffered. This film does an exceptional job in depicting the human condition and how war affects a man not just during the conflict, but for the rest of his life. This is a great movie, and should be given a wider audience than it is getting.
Huh? What the ….: Eric, despite being a prisoner of war in very primitive circumstances, somehow manages to retain expertly trimmed hair with a perfect part. Amazing.
Actors to Watch: Colin Firth is magnificent. One of the very best performances in his long career. Kudos to Hiroyuki Sanada who plays Lt Takeshi Nagase.
Dialogue Nuggets: When the Japanese lower the British flag in Singapore, Finlay sadly comments, “I’ve just witnessed the fall of the British Empire”.
Japanese officer to British prisoner: “You will be killed shortly. It will be to your advantage to answer my questions in the meantime”.
Post Credits Stuff: At the end of the film, there are photos of the real main characters, as well as some information about them. Eric lived a long life, only recently passing away in 2012.