It is impossible not to think of war these days. Press and TV news keep our minds and hearts in constant worry. Though I usually avoid writing or discussing breaking news or politics here on my blog , today I’m going to tell you about  this beautiful movie I have just seen, with all my heart to the news coming from the several open fighting fronts.

War is no game. War leaves a mark. Eric Lomax , like many other surviving soldiers,  lived haunted by his war memories all his life through, as if war never actually ended in his mind and his heart. The Railway Man, based on Lomax’s autobiography,  will come out in September 2014  here in Italy as “Le due vie del destino”, but it opened theatrically on New Year’s Day in the UK and , in the US,   in April 2014.  It is already available on DVD at amazon.co.uk and,  from August 12,   it will be at amazon.com too.


Eric Lomax (30 May 1919 - 8 October 2012) was one of thousands of Allied prisoners of war forced to work on the construction of the Thai/Burma railway during WW2. Fate wanted he, a train and railway enthusiast, to be part of the army of enslaved prisoners the Japanese employed for their ambitious plan.  His experiences, after the secret radio he built to bring news and hope to his mates was discovered, the inhuman tortures he was subjected to,  and which left  him traumatised and shut off from the world, are the main interests of this movie. Water-boarding and savage beating didn’t make Lomax surrender or lose his will to live.

Years later, with his life still affected by that huge amount of suffering and consequent hatred, he met Patti (Nicole Kidman), a beautiful woman, on a train and fell in love. Once they get married  and Patti becomes acquainted with Eric’s nightmares and terrifyingly weird moments, she  is determined to rid him of his demons.
One day they discover  that the young Japanese officer who tortured him is still alive and Eric decide that it is time to meet him again.

My musings

It is a powerful, gripping movie which moves fast between past and present with the clear intent to convey the idea that they are inseparable in the mind of the protagonist. Young Eric,  bravely facing the horrors of WWII,  is played by a touching Jeremy Irvine,  while  aging Eric,  still traumatised by what he survived,  is an impeccable Colin Firth. 
Firth  interpreted a similar role in the 80s, he was Tom Birkin,  a shell-shocked veteran from WWI in A Month in the Country. In a press conference for The Railway Man, he admitted that meeting Eric Lomax in real life and having him on set while shooting, gave to the fact  he was entrasted this role, a huge emotional charge which will resonate with him for a long time. Not an easy role - he added. Where can someone like me find all that pain and all that suffering inside himself? Impossible to relate to personal experience in this case. 

The book certainly gives a more detailed account of what really happened to Eric Lomax. But the movie too, with its limitations in time and space, gives away so much and so well. 
What I love in Eric Lomax’s story is not only the analysis of the effects of brutality and torture on the human mind, but his personal journey from hate to forgiveness,  which surprisingly brought him to meet again, and eventually to befriend,  his torturer. 

The scenes in which Eric comes face to face with Takashi Nagase, the man who tortured him during the war,  are so beautifully delivered by Colin Firth and  Hiroyuki Sanada , and they are so  intense and so incredibly emotional  that you can’t easily forget them. (you can see clips HERE and HERE)

Two are the treasurable lessons I will particularly remember from this movie:

1. "When we surrendered,  the Jap said we weren't men. 'real men would die of shame.'“ , Eric remembers.  But to him,  broken but never defeated,  life is always worth living as the supreme, inalienable value. Not in one moment he sees death as an escape. This is something his antagonist,  Nagase,  says he learnt from the young man he tortured.  

2.  Almost at the end of the movie, Eric says:  “Sometimes the hating has to stop and the     extraordinary lesson here is not just forgiveness,  but, unexpectedly,  even sympathy and friendship  addressed to a person once deeply hated. 

 Eric Lomax is not a fictional character. He was a real man. A man from which so many can learn so much. 

The Railway Man - Paperback at Amazon.co.Uk and amazon.com


Anonymous said...

Great review, MG, I saw the film at the cinema and I cried and cried and cried, although I knew the story and had already seen the documentary with the real Lomax. Heartbreaking! Ciao Antonella

JaneGS said...

I've been meaning to watch this movie but haven't had the time and right frame of mind come together yet. It does sound powerful and a story worth telling.

I liked the quotes from the movie and from Firth about the responsibility he felt in acting the role.

Sounds like the book is good as well.

Eric Lomax was born two years before my dad and died two years after him. The survivors of WWII carried so much on their shoulders. My dad had orders to go to Burma when the war ended.

Maria Grazia said...

Dear Antonella,
I didn't cry but was rather emotional and thrilled all through the movie. I didn't know much of the story, I had deliberately avoided reading reviews or comments before watching.Actually, I had to stop watching it when I tried the first time. It was late at night and it was too ... haunting. But then I started again and I was glued and couldn't stop until the beautiful, moving finale. Thanks for your comment:-)
Hello Jane,
I'm sure you'll love this movie, as I did, since we share much. As I have written more than once, WWII means my grandparents' war tales, full of pain, sorrow, fear, poverty, hunger, bravery and great adventurous anecdotes.
Thanks for your visit and for reading my review. Looking forward to your own post about The Railway Man, then!