A Tale of War and Forgiveness
Director: JONATHAN TEPLITZKY/2014
The Railway Man is a small film being distributed by The Weinstein Company that is based on the autobiography of Eric Lomax, a British military man in World War II who finds himself in a Japanese-run prison camp in 1942. The Japanese are seeking to build the great railroad from Thailand to India on the backs of their prisoners to further build their empire.
Colin Firth plays Eric Lomax, who in 1980, is a man who still harbors great pain and stress from what he endured at the hands of his Japanese captors some 38 years prior. In good British fashion, he makes all the effort to maintain the appearance of a well-adjusted man in his early sixties. And though he still attends regular get-togethers with his old unit at a local pub, there has never really been any talk of what took place in 1942 at the camp.
As a railroad enthusiast, Eric Lomax likes to ride the rails around The United Kingdom, collecting memorabilia. One such ride brings him into the life of Patti (Nicole Kidman) who challenges him to open up to her and begin to deal with the hurt he is obviously suppressing.
The Railway Man is a slow and methodical look at the life of Eric Lomax that is played skillfully by Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. They are able to generate a subtle chemistry together that is believable despite having just a short time to showcase their budding romance. Stellan Skarsgard is also effective as Lomax’s longtime friend Finlay.
The film spends much of its time demonstrating the effects of the war on the characters in 1980 with many flashbacks of 1942. And though this is not a courtroom drama, per se, its structure hints that it is clearly building a case where the audience is the jury being asked to decide if Eric Lomax has the right to continue to carry his burden so long after the events of the war, and if he has the right to enact revenge for what was done to him.
I appreciated that while The Railway Man is dealing with issues of justice, hurt, and the effects it can have on so many lives after so much time is passed, it doesn’t seek to manipulate the audience one way or the other. That is not to say that there aren’t emotional moments or visceral reactions to what is happening on screen, but that it is simply presented as facts in the case, as it were. Some of the flashback scenes depicting the torture Eric Lomax experienced at the hands of his captors in the camp are brutal, but not manipulative or gratuitous as director Jonathan Teplitzky uses effective cut-aways. Allowing the camera to get reaction shots of the soldiers witnessing such abuse, Mr. Teplitzky is able to show that cumulative effect on all involved rather than just bathing the audience in the torture itself.
Ultimately, the film asks some very important questions that will force the jury, I mean audience, to decide if the punishment and sentence fit the crime. It asks if one who is so broken by an experience, such as war, is ever able to find healing? It looks at the burden so many carry when they refuse to open up about what truly haunts them the most in their life. It shows the effect of such a burden on the life of the one who carries it, as well as on those lives he/she is connected to. Finally, it demonstrates a path forward that will resonate with everyone, regardless of your experiences in life.
While this is a small film, and one that will not spur the usual anticipation that a mainstream film has before its opening weekend, The Railway Man is one that deserves to be seen. It reminds us that there are countless untold stories that exist of everyday people doing extraordinary things that serve as an encouragement to us all. And while studios will always be drawn to the big spectacle films, sequels, superheroes, etc., it is nice to see that films like this are being made. Now if they can only find an audience.