The Bridge on the River Kwai
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Bridge on the River Kwai can be found here.

British soldiers in a WWII POW camp on the banks of the Kwai River are ordered by the camp commander, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) to construct a bridge across the river to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway, a vital link for the Japanese forces. After an initial standoff between Saito and Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), the senior British officer, Nicholson agrees to cooperate with the construction of a well-built bridge in order to both boost the morale of the POWs and to demonstrate the superiority of the British. Unknown to him, however, the Allies are sending a commando mission, led by British Special Forces Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) and American Navy Commander Shears (William Holden), the only POW to have escaped the camp, to blow up the bridge.

Yes, Le pont de la rivire Kwa (The Bridge over the River Kwai) is also a 1952 novel by French novelist Pierre Boulle. The novel was adapted for the movie by American screenwriters Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman.

No, the film is a work of fiction but borrows the 1942-43 construction of the Burma Railway across the Khwae Yai River in western Thailand (formerly Siam) for its historical setting. Differences between the movie and the real bridge-building story include: (1) The real prisoner concentration consisted of British, Australian, American, and Dutch prisoners of war, all of whom suffered terrible atrocities at the hands of their Japanese captors, (2) the real bridge was made of steel and iron, (3) the march and discipline had long gone due to low rations, diseases, and torture, (4) the Japanese did not need British engineers as they had plenty of their own, (5) the bridge was destroyed by bombers not by an SAS type of mission, (6) Chinese prisoners were kept separate from the rest and treated 100 times worse than the others, as the Japanese seemed to have a special hatred in their hearts for them, (7) the British Officer played by Sir Alec Guinness didn't care about the bridge being built properly for British prestige; he was just trying to keep the Japanese soldiers from torturing his men, and (8) there were Korean conscript soldiers who were fighting for the Japanese but were treated badly by them.

It's called the 'Colonel Bogey March'. During WWII British servicemen gave the tune lyrics which satirized the Nazi regime:

Hitler has only got one ball 
Goering has two, but very small 
Himmler has something sim'ler 
But poor old Goebbels has no balls at all.

No. Some viewers interpret the scene where, on the night that the bridge is completed and Saito takes out a knife while seated at his writing desk, as him writing a suicide note with the intent of committing seppuku, the Japanese ritual of suicide by disembowelment, possibly because of his shame that the British POWs did what he couldn't do. Others think that he might have been planning to murder Col. Nicholson now that the job was done. Follow the scene closely, and you will see him cut off a lock of his hair and roll it up in the note. While the POWs were celebrating the completion of the bridge, Saito was doing the same...writing a letter to announce the completion of the bridge and including a lock of his hair in the same way that one might use sealing wax and a personal stamp to signify that the letter came from him.

How does the movie end?

While the camp celebrates the completion of the bridge, Shears and Canadian Lieutenant Joyce (Geoffrey Horne) quietly set charges under it. The next morning, however, they awaken to find that the river has gone down, and the detonator wires are visible. As the whistle of the train signals its approach, Joyce must make the decision to either blow up the bridge before anyone notices the wires or wait until the train is passing over it as per orders. While walking across the bridge, admiring his work, Nicholson suddenly notices the wire. He and Saito follow the wire and realize that the bridge has been mined. Suddenly, Joyce jumps out from cover and stabs Saito. Calling for help from the Japanese, Nicholson leaps on Joyce. While Warden yells at Joyce to kill Nicholson, Joyce tries to explain that he's acting under orders from British command to blow up the bridge. Japanese guns begin firing, and Joyce is hit. Spears starts swimming across the river to set off the detonator, but he is hit several times by Japanese fire, finally collapsing at Nicholson's feet. Nicholson suddenly realizes the extent of the situation and asks himself 'What have I done?' just as Warden shoots off a mortar that explodes nearby, hitting him. Severely wounded, Nicholson staggers toward the detonator, falling on it just as the train begins to cross the bridge. The bridge explodes under the train, causing it to derail into the river. From his perch on the hill, British medical officer Major Clipton (James Donald) looks down and exclaims, 'Madness! Madness!' The camera then pans over the destruction.

Yes, it was a real bridge they built for the movie, and it was a real train that they blew up as well.They actually sent the train over TWICE. Five cameras were positioned to capture the explosion scene, but since nobody knew how far out the damage would extend, the cameramen were to setup their shots, signal that they were ready, and then abandon their cameras for safer ground. In the excitement of the moment, one cameraman forgot to give his signal. The train came across the bridge (it too had been manned by someone who jumped off before it reached the bridge) and the director didn't give the detonate signal because of the one cameraman. The train crashed, and the crew had to pull it back onto the tracks with the help of cranes and elephants, and they re-shot the scene. Natives collected the debris of the explosion both for practical purposes (building huts and such) and as souvenirs of the film.

It was considered to have trivialised and played for comic effect the terrible suffering of the real life prisoners taken by the Japanese during World War 2. A popular campaign was mounted by former-General Authur Percival which succeeded in forcing the filmakers into adding the caveat in the titles declaring it a fictional film. Percival himself in many ways resembled Alec Guiness' character having suffered the humiliating task of surrendering the British garrison at Singapore but redeeming himself by enduring three years of brutal captivity at the hands of the Japanese alongside his men.

Page last updated by bj_kuehl, 2 months ago
Top 5 Contributors: hb, bj_kuehl, Joxerlives, bile89, critic-2

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