ACADEMY AWARD WINNER: BEST PICTURE
The commander of a captured British World War II unit, ordered to build a bridge for the Imperial Japanese Army, turns the tables on his captors by going on strike. [ The Bridge on the River Kwai credits: Dir: David Lean/ Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins/ 166 min/ Action-Adventure/ Creator as Hero]
“An interesting story and it has at times a Randian flavor. Alec Guinness is brilliant as the British colonel who refuses to compromise his principles.”
In this story, captured British soldiers have been sent to a Japanese prisoner of war camp to work on a bridge. The Japanese commandant of the camp is under strict orders to complete the bridge by a certain date. Indeed, he’s in such a hurry to complete it that he decides to put POW officers to work, a deliberate violation of the Geneva Convention.
The lead colonel of the captured British soldiers, a stickler for the rules, responds by withdrawing his cooperation altogether. The Japanese commandant needs this colonel’s full cooperation and know-how to complete the bridge, and so makes every effort to break him, but to no avail.
In the end, the colonel’s determined independence enables him to negotiate the conditions under which his men will work, a negotiation that ironically gives him de facto control over the entire prison camp. Once in control, as a slap in the face to his captors, he insists on building the best bridge possible. He does so to show that he and his soldiers could do what the Japanese could not. There’s something of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged hero, John Galt, in this character.
Unfortunately, building a high-quality bridge for the Japanese Imperial Army is in conflict with Allied war aims — a fact he forgets until reminded by Allied guerillas.
This is certainly an interesting story and it has at times a Randian flavor. Alec Guinness is brilliant as the British colonel who refuses to compromise his principles. He gives his character an impressive nobility. Despite a somewhat depressing ending and a running time of over two-and-a-half hours, it’s also a solidly entertaining film, with a musical score you’ll be whistling for days afterward. The Bridge on the River Kwai won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.