Bridge On The River Kwai: Theme Of Madness Essay, Research Paper
The Theme of Madness in ?The Bridge On The River Kwai?
The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957) was the most successful war film of the 1950’s. The film focuses on several battles, both an internal and external. It examines the question of where does duty and courage end and madness begin? The character of the British Colonel Nicholson, played by Alec Guiness, is, from the very start of the movie, in a battle of ethics with Colonel Saito, played by Sessue Hayakawa, the commandant of the Japanese prison camp where Nicholson and his men are being held prisoners. Colonel Satio has to choose between his own death and his honour. The battle Shears, played by William Holden, faces is an internal one. He questions his beliefs and morals, an in the end makes an important choice as to his worth and duty.
The work that is to be done is to build a bridge across the Kwai River for the railroad connecting Bangkok to Rangoon. The Japanese government had ordered Saito to build this bridge using the prisoners in his camp. When construction becomes less and less productive, Nicholson asks permission to take over supervision of the bridge, to make it a tribute to British resourcefulness and efficiency. With an ensuing deadline, Saito gives in and even allows Nicholson to have Japanese military men work on the bridge. Nicholson becomes so obsessed with building the bridge and the establishment of order and military command that he fails to realize that by making such a good bridge and by working his men as hard as he does that he is collaborating with the enemy.
?The fact is, what we’re doing could be construed as, forgive me sir, collaboration with the enemy. Perhaps even as treasonable activity…Must we work so well. Must we build them a better bridge than they could have built for themselves??
Nicholson, on the other hand, “knew” that it was his duty to keep his men as a unit and not let them become separate individuals. He made them build the very best bridge they could, keeping them British soldiers and not Japanese prisoners. However, He had ulterior motives.
?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.?
?One day the war will be over. And I hope that the people that use this bridge in years to come will remember how it was built and who built it. Not a gang of slaves, but soldiers, British soldiers, Clipton, even in captivity.?
His single-minded devotion to duty drove him mad. The bridge was Nicholson’s trophy, not a tool to keep the army together. His adherence to his perceived duty was his downfall. Had he not been so intent on building a good bridge, he would not have reacted the way he did when the discovery of the explosive changes was made. It is only at the end, when he sees the plunger detonator, that he realizes his mistake, and even though shot, he falls on the plunger, blowing up the bridge
Another battle is that within Colonel Saito. His orders strictly say that he is to build the bridge by a specific date. He knows that if it is not completed, serious consequences will result.
Saito: Do you know what will happen to me if the bridge is not built on time?
Nicholson: I haven’t the foggiest.
Saito: I’ll have to kill myself. What would you do if you were me?
In order for the bridge to be finished, Saito realizes that he must give control of it’s construction to Colonel Nicholson because the British will not listen to him. Finally, when the bridge is built, disgraced by the fact that it is not his doing, Saito prepares to kill himself, but is not given the chance because of the commando attack. He sacrificed his honour for his life, and later realised that his life was not worth living without honour.
Another battle takes place within the mind of Shears. At the start of the movie, he introduces himself as a Captain in the United States Army. When he escapes and after a tortured journey through the jungle, the British Army finds him. Shears is asked to lead a mission back into the jungle to destroy the bridge, which Nicholson’s men had constructed. Upon hearing this and desperate not to return anywhere near the camp, Shears admits that he lied about being a Captain and that he was just a private. Rather than face a court martial from the US Army and a long prison term for impersonating an officer, he reluctantly joins the British Army commando team on the mission to the Kwai River.
?In one sense, you’re a blasted hero for making an escape through the jungle. But at the same time, they can’t very well bring you home and give you the Navy Cross for impersonating an officer, can they? I suppose that’s why they were so happy to hand you over to us. You see??
Though he does not want to go, he follows his duty and proceeds to the river. When the British officer leading the mission, Major Warden, played by Jack Hawkins, is shot, rather than give up, Shears literally carries him the rest of the way to complete their objective.
?And with you, it’s just one thing or the other: ‘Destroy a bridge or destroy yourself.’ This is just a game, this war. You and that Colonel Nicholson, you’re two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? How to die like a gentleman. How to die by the rules when the only important thing is how to live like a human being. I’m not going to leave you here to die, Warden, because I don’t care about your bridge and I don’t care about your rules. If we go on, we go on together.?
In the climax scene, when Shears has the opportunity to turn away from the mission, he stays to finish it. Instead of hiding, the safe plan, he runs out, in full view of the enemy, and is shot in an attempt to detonate the bombs under the bridge. He followed his duty to his bitter end.
This movie did not have a character that could really be considered the good guy or the bad guy. One could argue that Colonel Saito was the bad guy, but was he? He was following his orders. Was Shears the hero? He lied, he ran away, and he tried to get out of his work. There is no good guy or bad guy, just like in real life. It’s all in the perspective of the viewer. Madness, as Clipton, played by James Donald says in the end is exactly what it comes down to. With every character being to raped up in there orders, duty and chaos of it all, they loss sight of what is really important, and matters to them. The ?right thing? or the noble, sane thing to do, is clouded by the characters emotions, wants, and orders. This is utter madness, and this is what I feel Clipton meant by this statement. That the characters let it all go to the point of no return.