Making the Grades
Winner of seven Oscars and numerous other awards, The Bridge on the River Kwai is based on the true story of the Thai/Burma "Death Railroad." During the Second World War, many Allied prisoners were forced by their Japanese captors to toil in the sweltering jungle constructing a 415-kilometer (260 mile) line of track between Bangkok and Rangoon. In order to complete the task, several bridges had to be built, including one spanning the River Kwai.
When a group of British soldiers are marched into a detention camp, they continue to loyally follow the strict military instructions of Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) --much to the chagrin of the enemy's leader Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). A dictator with no sympathy for the Geneva Convention's code of conduct, Saito's main objective is to have his charges meet the bridge erection deadline. But his hard-nose tactics are about to come face-to-face with Nicholson's stiff upper lip.
As the ensuing power struggle heats up, it appears that nothing can cool the stubborn commanders' tempers, until ironically, the bridge project itself begins to close the gap between them. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to either party, a group of tactical officers is being assembled with their own explosive plans for the structure's future.
Violence is inevitable in this genre, and this 1957 epic does contain depictions of death and injuries (with minimal gore), as well as gaunt bodies of underfeed and wounded labors. Inappropriate moral behavior that often accompanies stories of servicemen is limited to mild implications and some bare male chests and female shoulders. And although it doesn't rely on heavy action sequences, The Bridge On the River Kwai still manages to achieve considerable suspense. The real conflict here is caused by the individual motives and personal agendas of the various characters -- even though they are all enlisted in the same war.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Even though Colonel Nicholson and Colonel Saito are military leaders from opposing sides, what traits do they have in common? How do their characters illustrate the effectiveness of using force or persuasion?
Can you identify some of the personal agendas of the various characters? How did perusing those motivations prevent them from seeing the situation as a whole? What techniques did the moviemakers use that allowed you to feel sympathy sometimes, and abhorrence at other times, for each of their causes?
For more information about the POW’s, the railway, and the bridge, check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burma_Railway