The Railway ManMonday, October 06, 2014
The Railway Man
Directed by: Jonathan Teplitzky
Screenplay by: Frank Cottreel Boyce, Andy Paterson
Edited by: Martin Connor
Based on the life and book of: Eric Lomax
*This post contains spoilers to both the book and the movie.*
Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) and Patti (Nicole Kidman) meet on a train. Eric is a little awkward, kind of nerdy, and a self-described train enthusiast. Patti is flirty and funny. They hit it off instantly and soon the two of them are married. When Patti discovers that Eric is suffering from PTSD, she tries to get him to talk about his experiences in WWII. Still traumatized, Eric is unable to talk about his past. Patti seeks the help of Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård), Eric's friend and comrade to learn what went on. Through him, she learns a bit more about the imprisonment and torture that Eric endured. When Eric finds out that his torturer, Nagase, is alive and well in Singapore, he travels to confront and question him.
This movie really resonated with me. The strength and endurance of the human condition, to live and survive, is something immensely powerful and beautiful. And yet, that isn't what this movie is about. It's not so much about Eric trying to survive the war, but about him coming to terms with his torturer years later.
When we went to San Diego this summer, we visited the Torture Museum. We all had a gruesome interest about the grisly instruments inside. The museum wasn't very large. It was a single room with plaques and some glass cases holding the instruments. You went at your own pace, reading the name of the instrument, what time period it was used, whom it was commonly used on, and what it did.
They had a lot of the original machinery. They had a rack, and a guillotine, devices that ripped out tongues or breasts, stakes that were punctured through the body, missing vital organs on purpose, for optimal discomfort and a slow death. What was before just a macabre curiosity soon became all too real. I started getting sick to my stomach and couldn't even finish reading everything.
What hit me wasn't the fact that people were mean. I've known my entire life that there are mean people. It was how mean people could be. How uncaring. How they could completely ignore another human being's suffering and then add to it. They watched person after person suffer in cruel and unusual ways and they continued to do it.
At the entrance and exit of the museum were plaques that talked about the need for a Torture Museum. To remember what had been done. But also, and most importantly, to learn from the situations in which torture appeared to be a necessity. The people who used the devices weren't meant to be judged in this gallery. Torture, in all its forms, comes from a desperation. An event of fear, or distrust, or urgency. It explained that in frightening or confusing circumstances those of us who think we could never commit such an atrocity can in fact do so for self preservation. So even though I was disgusted by what I was looking at, I understood that I could never truly understand the situations these people where put in.
Which was what I thought of when Eric confronts Nagase. It's so easy to hate Nagase; to think him horrible and a monster. But all I could think of was the fact that he was thrown into a war, with words like patriotism and heroism and death thrown about. He was lied to about what he was doing. He was trying to do what was right for his country.
It takes such courage to do, or not do, the things that everyone else is doing. In that sense, Eric Lomax is one of the bravest people in any movie or in any life.
To react with rage and anger and hatred when seeing Nagase would have been completely expected and justified.
But to forgive him, to become friends with him, is something that few people would have been able to do. It's this virtue that makes Eric a wonderful and amazing human being and makes this movie a truly incredible story that will inspire you.
I give it 5 out of 5 popcorn.