Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Railway Man [2013]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars)  RE.com (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  AARP (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
AARP.org (M. Grant) review
RE.com (C. Levine) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

The Railway Man [2013] (directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson, based on the memoir of Eric Lomax [IMDb]) tells the remarkable story of Eric Lomax (played as a young British signals officer soon POW after the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese during WW II by Jeremy Irvine and 35 years later as an older still wounded WW II veteran by Colin Firth).

The ignominious defeat of the British by the Japanese in Singapore has been largely blamed on Brits'  simultaneously arrogant and incompetent Imperial commanders who had convinced themselves that the Japanese would "never be able to reach Singapore" much less by land via Malaysia (Well they did ...) and when Japanese arrived they proved unable to organize a coherent defense against them.  The Commanders' failures, of course, were then horribly paid-for by both Singapore's heavily Chinese citizenry as well as the rank-and-file British/Colonial troops who they handed-over _largely without a fight_ to the Japanese.  The Imperial Japanese WHO NEVER HAD MUCH RESPECT FOR P.O.W.s considered the British troops so _unceremoniously_ handed-over to them by their generally gutless brandy drinking commanders as "men without honor."  The rest of the story unspooled from there...

Young Lomax along with the other members of his signals (radio) officers were transported from Singapore down to Malaysia and across to Thailand to help build the infamous Siam-Burma Railway about which the famous post-WW II film Bridge Over The River Kwai [1957] was made.  The British POWs were horribly mistreated.  Asked at one point why they were being so inhumanly treated, a Japanese guard tells them: "You are men without honor.  You (simply) surrendered."  To which Lomax and his compatriots respond, "WE didn't."  But they had, or at least were surrendered (by gutless commanders) and now were being worked to death under unbearable sweltering conditions by their Japanese captors who considered them unworthy of concern.

What to do?  Well these were former signals officers.  So with commandeered parts (and a couple of key vacuum tubes still secreted away with them from their radio sets back in Singapore -- and hidden from their Japanese captors) they build a radio set TO SIMPLY CATCH NEWS ABOUT THE WAR (Here the wartime BBC is shown serving its truly legendary inspiring role during the worst days of WW II).  Inevitably the radio war discovered.  Lomax in particular was tortured for having assembled it.  But at least they were resisting rather than simply following orders.

Eventually, of course, the Japanese lost the war and the British POWs in Thailand were freed.  What now?  How do these scarred, beaten men get fixed?

Well as in the U.S., these vets now back in Britain would meet, talk (and not talk...) about past events, but mainly just remain together as an understandably rather closed group, understanding that truthfully almost no one "outside" could possibly understand.

But life does go on ... and so in 1980 (!) Lomax (now played by Colin Firth) finds by chance on a train a woman named Patti (played by Nicole Kidman) who he soon falls in love with and they marry.  Yet, though finding himself in a position to (finally) be happy ... what's today called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sets in.  He starts having terrible nightmares recalling the worst moments of his captivity building the railroad in Thailand.  But Patti happens to be a former nurse and she both decides and proves to have the skills to help.  There's also a friend and fellow vet/POW Filnay (played when young during the War/Captivity by Sam Reid and later in 1980 by Stellan Skarsgård).  Finally, they all find (and are appalled) that apparently one of the former Japanese officers, named Takeshi Nagase (played when young by Tanroh Ishida and as an older man by Hiroyuki Sanada), who had served as an interpreter during their torture and interrogations during the War, had apparently opened "a Museum" (!) on the Siam-Burma line (to help explain how it was built).  This offers an opportunity for Lomax, Finley, et al, to finally confront their horrific past AND BE ABLE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

The rest of the story, which IMHO is truly remarkable, unspools from there ... and certainly offers much to reflect on and to talk about afterwards.

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