The Bridge On The River Kwai
Dir: David Lean
Cast: Alec Guinness, Sesseu Hayakawa, William Holden
1957-masterpiece The Bridge On The River Kwai is a Second World War-epic where the war just serves as a colorful backdrop, rather than taking the centre-stage. Such was the cinematic impact of this film that it won seven Oscars the following year- including the awards for Best Film, Best Actor (Alec Guinness) and Best Director (David Lean).
The story begins in a POW (prisoners of war) camp surrounded by an almost impenetrable jungle in Burma. The Japanese commander Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) is ruling the camp with iron-hand-totally disregarding the formal norms of international war. He orders every war-prisoner in the camp to work on his pet project- constructing a railway-bridge on the river Kwai, which would be then used to transport Japanese army against the allied forces. British commanding officer Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness) pointblank refuses this order, citing Geneva Convention rules of war.
Saito has acquired his degree and tastes (Scotch and corned beef!) in pre-war London but now he finds himself hating the guts of this British officer, who would rather roast inside a cramped cage as a punishment, than compromise on principles. Somehow Saito manages to convince Nicholson to take up the bridge-work as a project that would keep the downcast British POWs occupied. Nicholson starts looking at this challenge as an opportunity to show the famous British grit and tenacity in adversity. Like a maniac, he now summons every ounce of his energy and effort to guide his subordinates into constructing the bridge- even forgetting its strategic military significance to the enemy. Unknown to him, the allied forces have sent a crack team to destroy the bridge. Will Saito and Nicholson- the two staunch adversaries-turned-unlikely allies be able to savour their greatest joint achievement- a bridge constructed out of blood, sweat and tears of thousands of POWs?
The film’s timeless appeal lies in the way it explores two adversary minds at war. On one hand, Saito and Nicholson are consumed by their prejudices and political differences and on the other hand, an unlikely lofty dream is bringing them together, to the extent of making them oblivious to the larger picture beyond them. It’s an interesting study of human mind. Rugged locales, spectacular cinematography, brilliant performances, superb direction and engrossing narrative make this film an all-time classic.