• Daniel Rae

The Bridge on the River Kwai Review

"The Bridge on the River Kwai", Columbia Pictures, 1957

An almost contemplative war film that powerfully highlights the hypocrisies of heroism that defines the genre, despite losing track of its emotionally gritty 1st act that branches more into a romanticised adaption to the novel it's based on.

There is a lot of room for active spectatorship and further reading than I had anticipated considering its "epic adventure" roots, providing the room for audiences to explore through polysemic signifiers (such as the wide angles) the moral corruption that comes with systemic order/control that promises "civilisation". This overarching sense of masculinity and pride that is provided through characters effectively epitomise the various ideologies towards the conflict between the moral compass of vulnerability individuality and the bitter strength of collective identity (although perhaps without the nuances a topic of emotional weight deserves - Sheare's selfishly dog-eat-dog representation does occasionally take away from the depressingly human lens that the screenplay presents the story through). Guinness's tool as a narrative device that very slowly bleeds out the saddening irony of individual integrity is a poignant anchor that brilliantly echoes the piling emotional torment that comes with the intricate power dynamics of PoW life and his position as a Officer to uphold principles of British rule. The detail placed on the consistency of his steadfast delivery that gradually starts to represent the corruption of war is almost poetic. Reinforced by the often static placement of the camera, the menacing presence of Hayakawa feels deeply woven with the treatment focussing on the mutual respect between the allies and the Japanese.

However, as refreshing as this approach to the treatment and writing is that immediately positions audiences admits the open and emotionally vulnerable nature of the aesthetic, I can't help but feel the 1st, 2nd and 3rd acts feel like completely distinct entities that guide the story towards more familiar and predictable beats. Although this is in attempt of perhaps underlining the institutionalised nature of patriotism by highlighting the questionable motives of the allied forces, the comedic shift in tone this introduces feels very removed from the punishingly sluggish build-up of the first act. As well-intentioned as the writing aims to be by underlining the ambiguity that war brings towards national and individual identity, this is presented through a an almost melodramatic feeling that encompasses the film's climax.

Overall, I appreciate the effort that was put towards symbolic meaning through the carefully orchestrated shift of motivation that comes across equal parts sincere and devastating. I can also appreciate the usage of genre tropes that reinforce further the harrowing middle-ground of humanity that is often not explored in war films. However, this want for audiences to experience this alternative side of the genre does not fully translate.

3/5 Stars

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