Bridge on the River Kwai is another one of those classic movies that is classic for inexplicable reasons. Watching it, I honestly could not figure out why people like it. Was it the languid pace and lack of urgency? Was it the battle of superior White morality over that of the evil Japanese? Was it Obi Wan Kenobi as the main character? It’s hard to say. Perhaps it’s the combination of all three.
Kwai is sort of like the ultimate movie for spoiled assholes. The movie begins with a group of freshly captured British soldiers being hauled into a Japanese POW camp. The new inmates are told they are going to be put to work building a bridge. The bridge is extremely important to the war effort and must be built on time.
Obi Wan tells Saito (the head of the Japanese camp) that officers are not required to do manual labor because of the Geneva Convention. Saito says he doesn’t care, and everyone is has to work. Obi Wan remains defiant. He and his officers refuse to work. They put up with starvation, beatings, and being locked in an iron box. Eventually, Saito gives in and tells the officers they don’t have to work. The officers get to chill while their grunts go build the bridge.
Excuse me, but what the fuck? How am I supposed to cheer for those self-centered assholes? Obi Wan wasn’t advocating for his men. He wasn’t trying to save them from work or torture or poor treatment. From the very first moment, he announces that he doesn’t have to work because he’s an officer. He does not give one single fuck about his enlisted men. He is the ultimate personification of elitism.
With the current problems our world is facing with elitism, wage gaps, and the ever growing margin between rich and poor, it’s hard to give a fuck about those officers. They don’t identify with their men. They think they’re better than them. They don’t have to work because it’s beneath them. They think their grunts are shit, and they can go work, because fuck them.
Eventually, Obi Wan and his officers help Saito with the bridge. They help with the planning and the direction of the men who are doing the hard labor. They use this as a ruse in order to delay the building of the bridge. Here, I thought, the movie was going to become interesting. There would be some tension, some kind of heist-level shit, with the British constantly undermining construction and deftly getting away with it. That doesn’t happen. The movie just shows them getting away with it. Any chance to develop tension is skipped over.
Later, Obi Wan gets completely sucked in, and starts to side with Saito. He wants the bridge built perfectly to specifications. He forgets about undermining the Japanese, and wants everything done correctly. He obsesses over it, and completely forgets who his enemies are. He already forgot who his friends were the moment he entered the camp.
The thing that rings especially hollow is how the enlisted men keep morale high and love their officers. Their officers threw them under the bus. If anything, they should hate their officers, and there should have been dissent. The movie is too stupid to realize this, and skips over another potentially great idea.
The rest of the movie deals with an American soldier who escaped from the camp, and forms a squad to go blow up the bridge. The movie screeches to a halt. From this point on, the pacing is dreadfully slow. Every minute feels like twelve. I thought I was high on pot brownies from the time dilation I was experiencing. But, no, I was all too sober, unfortunately.
At the end of the film, Obi Wan tries to stop the bridge from blowing up. But then he realizes he went crazy, and agrees with blowing it up. All of the people sent to rescue the prisoners get killed. It’s a pointless and stupid ending, and doesn’t do much to wrap up any themes or motifs the movie had been trying to convey.
The only theme I took away from this was that Obi Wan’s White privelege was more important than the Japanese and more important than any sense of decency he might have had for his fellow man.
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