Sunday, April 20, 2014

"The Railway Man": when does the individual inherit the moral compass of his country? When should he be forgiven?


The Railway Man”, by Jonathan Teplitzky, is about a couple of important themes:  one of them is personal forgiveness, and the other is, when does one have personal responsibility for crimes one is ordered to commit, or that fit into the culture of a war?  When does international or group politics map down to the morality of the individual?  Is this just about “sin” or is it about good and evil?

The situation seems almost obvious. And so does the reference to "war crimes", but this problem is more personal and subtle. 
   
Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) has survived an imprisonment by the Japs during WWII building a railroad in the jungle from Bangkok, where he was tortured (the younger self played by Jeremy Irvine), particularly by one specific officer Nagase (Tanroh Ishida) after getting caught making a radio to listen to Allied broadcasts of the progress of the war.  A couple decades later (it seems to be the 1970s) his wife Patti (Nicole Kidman) has encountered Nagase and persuades Eric to travel to Thailand to confront his former torturer (Hiroyuki Sanada).

The backstory scenes are brutal and difficult to watch.  The scenes of the crude railroad, for train lovers, are rather interesting. 

An interesting but disturbing aspect of the script was the younger Nagase character's insistence that it is essential to preserve one's honor by dying or giving up one's life rather than by being captured by an enemy. 
  
The film was produced by Scottish and Australian sources, and the backstory was shot in Queensland; the present day near Edinburgh.  Practically the whole kitchen sink of film companies are involved in this “independent” film:  The Weinstein Company, Lionsgate, and Village Roadshow Pictures, normally connected to Warner Brothers.

I saw this at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA late Easter Sunday afternoon.

  
The official site is here.
   
The film is based on the autobiographical memoir by Eric Lomax, who passed away in 2012.  
  
"The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957, David Lean, Columbia), a famous film with a somewhat similar concept, gets mentioned once.
 
Compare also to "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" (1983, Nagisa Oshmia) which I remember seeing at the Galleria in Dallas.  

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