Oscar Review: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Next on my list of Best Picture winners is a classic of American cinema – despite the fact that it’s about a bunch of Brits. The Bridge on the River Kwai, winner of 7 out of 8 of its Oscar nods and occupying the #13 spot with AFI, is a wonderfully made film about a British battalion in WWII that was ordered to surrender and is sent to a POW camp in order to build a bridge in the intense Southeast Asian heat.
Upon arrival at the camp, the Japanese colonel is bent on breaking the Geneva Conventions and forcing the captive officers to perform manual labor alongside the enlisted men. Colonel Nicholson – played by Alec Guinness in the role that won him an Oscar – is intent on retaining control over his own men even in such a dire state. Commander Shears (William Holden), an American, makes a daring escape attempt that will lead him right back into the jungle from which he tried so hard to save himself.
In an attempt to make the most of their situation and to show that the spirit of the men cannot be defeated, rather it continues to thrive, Col. Nicholson takes over supervision of the construction in order to build a bridge they can all be proud of and that will continue to stand for years to come as a testament to British ingenuity and commitment. However, Shears and his fellows have other plans.
The Bridge on the River Kwai has always been one of my personal favorites, perhaps for it’s location, perhaps for the story, perhaps because it’s the only other movie I’ve seen with the real Obi-Wan Kenobi. Whatever the reason, this film has continually been one of those films that I could watch over and over again that never gets old.
It is a film about finding a sense of purpose and freedom no matter what your situation. Col. Nicholson sums it up perfectly upon the completion of the bridge when he says: “…there are times when suddenly you realize you’re nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being there at any time made to anything.” Life takes you on many a winding path through many types of terrain and it is up to us to make it meaningful, to make the high points worth the struggle of the lows.
Ranked among my favorite classic WWII movies – along with The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, and Midway – The Bridge on the River Kwai is an excellent example of the kind of storytelling that made the cinema great. If you’ve never seen it, do. And if you have, watch it again and see how this group of soldiers, out in the wilderness, triumphed over adversity and turned defeat into victory.