“War leaves a mark.”
Upon returning many soldiers are never able to wipe that mark away.
This is particularly certain for British soldier Eric Lomax who was taken to a Japanese labor camp after the Fall of Singapore. While imprisoned, he and his fellow engineers were caught after they built a makeshift radio. Lomax steps forward as the leader…and for that he suffers greatly.
Thirty-five years later, Lomax spends much of his time with the thing that he loves: trains. But saying he is a train lover is somehow degrading. He is a railroad aficionado. For trains, there is a time table. A schedule. Something you can measure your life by. The train follows a predictable path, and when a train is late, there is always a solution of another path. Lomax turns to these to allow him to cope with his past.
When he meets and falls in love with Patti, the solitary solace of the trains can no longer help him. The unpredictable nature of love derails his coping mechanism and he begins to spiral. Patti doesn’t know how to help him. But when his friend and fellow prisoner, Finlay, brings him news that the Japanese torturer is still alive, Lomax must face his past in order to leave it behind.
Director Jonathan Teplitzky manages to handle this very serious and troubling subject with a deft hand, managing to jump back and forth in time without jarring or losing the audience. He also treads an incredibly fine line. There is no doubt that Japanese did horrible, horrible things during WWII. Frankly, there wasn’t an army in that war that didn’t walk away with the spots of Lady MacBeth. Teplitsky doesn’t protect the audience as a young Lomax is tortured into submission. The scenes are brutal enough that during the screening a member of the audience had to excuse herself for the remainder of the film. One cannot help but build contempt for the Japanese soldiers. But in the same way, savvy screeners won’t be able to separate the Japanese torture techniques we find so abhorrent from the modern day torture “civilized” countries impliment. Compounding this with the fact that Lomax was in fact giving them all the information he knew, but continued to be tortured because is wasn’t the information they wanted, puts a spotlight on the fallacy of gaining information through torture. Sixty years and we seem to have learned nothing.
We have seen what young Lomax has gone through, and what further suffering he faces, and how it affects his wife. We have seen the brutality of the Japanese officers. When we learn that his primary torturer, the interpreter Takeshi Nagase, is still alive, a seed of revenge has been planted in us, and in a dark way, we encourage Lomax to get his revenge.
Teplitsky ultimately makes us feel ashamed for having such thoughts.
And what makes the story more poignant is that it is based on the true life experience of Eric Lomax. A man, who like a modern day Braveheart, suffers yet does not surrender.
The film looks fantastic despite frequently being crowded into closed and claustrophobic spaces, opening up only to witness Lomax on an English beach, seen by wife Patti at a distance. A lonely and lost figure seeming to count time by the waves. Colin Firth is at his reserved best, rarely raising his voice, frequently saying more with his silence than words could convey. Nicole Kidman remains charming in her black hair, easily conveying the love Patti has for her troubled husband. Jeremy Irvine (War Horse) is equally strong, effectively mirroring his strong but broken older self. But my favorite is Hiroyuki Sanada (The Twilight Samurai, The Last Samurai, The Wolverine), as the older Takeshi Nagase, whose performance is powerful enough to bring you back from the edge of blind anger.
This is an emotional ride with many important messages: honor and brotherhood, horrors and impotency of torture, the power of love…but most of all…redemption through forgiveness. This is wrapped up in the final words of the film: “Sometimes the hating has to stop”