The Railway Man ~ A Capsule Movie Review

The Railway Man

The Railway Man ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

In 1980 Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) is a pleasant-seeming, middle-aged man who meets a recently divorced woman named Patti (Nicole Kidman) while indulging in his passion for railways (“I’m a railway enthusiast,” he says.) After they are married, Patti discovers that Eric has deep psychological scars from his experiences in World War II. She wants to help him but doesn’t know how. She is afraid he will commit suicide, as did one of his friends who was with him during the war.

As a young British officer, Eric was held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. He and other captured Allied soldiers were forced to work for the Japanese to build a railway from Thailand to Burma, a job that was deemed almost impossible—and very cruel—because of the mountain and jungle terrain. It was a hellish life from which most of the men were expected to die.

By stealing different radio parts, Eric secretly builds a small radio receiver so he and his fellow captives can hear something of the outside world. They hear news from home, particularly how the war is going. (“We’ve got Hitler on the run!”) When the Japanese guards find the radio, Eric admits that he built it and that it was his idea, to spare his fellow officers from punishment. The Japanese believe the radio is a transmitter to send information about them to their enemies. Eric is beaten savagely and tortured. His body eventually heals but his mind never does.

Eric discovers, all those years later, that his principal Japanese tormentor and torturer in the prison camp, one Takeshi Nagase, is still alive. He operates the World War II prison camp where Eric was held as a sort of tourist attraction. In other words, he is profiting from his war crimes. Eric travels from England to confront him and to somehow exact revenge. He wants, above all, to let Nagase to know he also is still alive and how his treatment at the hands of the Japanese affected his life after the war.

The Railway Man is a true story, based on a book by the real-life Eric Lomax, who died in 2012. Those seeking light-hearted, escapist entertainment will not find it here. The scenes of torture are grim and graphic. It’s a story about the brutality of war, but, more than that, it’s about the scars that are left behind long after the war has ended. 

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

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