Colin Firth has become one of my favorite actors. Manliness oozes out of him. In “The Railway Man,” he plays the part of Eric Lomax, a British army officer who survived his experience in a Japanese prison camp and lived to write about it in his autobiography of the same name.
Colon Firth - Wikimedia
The film goes back and forth from the year 1980 to the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942. We first meet Eric as an older, retired veteran of World War II as he rides a train, his favorite occupation. On this particular day, he shared a compartment with a charming young lady, Patti (Nicole Kidman), and proceeded to explain to her the attributes of each little town they passed. Eric collected railway memorabilia; it seemed that his whole life had consisted of trains. Patti mentioned that she was divorced; they were both middle-aged people with no future purpose in mind. They separated at the end of the journey, leaving Eric with the feeling that he had just fallen in love.
Eric and Patti are Married
This inclination compelled him to seek Patti out in the railroad station which was her destination. That was the beginning of their friendship which led to their marriage. Knowing little about Eric, Patti was devastated on their honeymoon when Eric had a horrible nightmare which left him silent for long after.
Flashbacks as a POW
The flashback takes us to the Japanese labor camp where a younger Eric (played by Jeremy Irvine), a British army officer, was part of a detail of fellow prisoners whose job it was to build a Burmese railway for the Japanese. Eric developed an idea of making a radio from stolen parts of the machinery and cars which were part of the complex in which they worked. He was able to confiscate a battery and a capacitor. His purpose was only to receive news of the war along with music, to boost the morale of his fellow prisoners. The radio did not have a transmitter for sending messages.
Japanese Soldier Wikimedia
Torture by the Japanese
When his captors discovered Eric’s invention, he and three of his compatriots were subjected to torture by the Japanese, the likes of which I have never seen before in a movie. It was difficult to look at. I learned what waterboarding was, along with watching the cruel beatings with sticks which the men suffered. Eric, in particular, was the victim of an especially cruel Japanese officer, Takashi Nagase, who claimed to be just a translator, but in reality was a member of the Kempeitai, the secret police of the Japanese army. He had taken a dislike to Erik, who was the leader of the band of rebels in the camp. Nagase believed that Erik was working as a spy, transmitting information about the Japanese over the radio to the allies. Erik tried to point out that the radio did not have a transmitter; Nagase would not listen.
Patti’s Plan to Help Eric
Fast-forward to the early 1980’s and Patti was able to speak to one of Erik’s colleagues, Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) who had been captured with him. She related to Finlay that Erik would not speak about his experiences in the POW camp, but kept everything bottled up. Finlay was able to shed some light on their experiences, but only to a point. It was Patti’s idea, since she had been a nurse, that she wanted Erik to face the facts of his tortured past, freeing him to lead a happier life with Patti at his side.
Nicole Kidman Wikimedia
Nagase is Alive
Finlay showed Patti a newspaper clipping of Nagase at work in Japan. He left it up to her to decide if Eric should see it. She asked Finlay to show it to Eric, who learned for the first time that Nagase was still alive after their time together over 40 years ago. The camp where Nagase had helped to torture the prisoners had been turned into a war museum. Nagase had taken 57 pilgrimages of tourists who were eager to visit the notorious camp where so many American and British soldiers were tortured. Eric knew that he had to return to the camp to rid himself of the demons which had followed him for all of those years. He had made himself a promise that when the war was over, he would bring Nagase to justice.
Initially, Eric said to Finlay that perhaps a year ago, he would have hunted Nagase down, but he had Patti now, and was reluctant to follow through on his promise. Finlay pleaded “Do this for me. You were the strongest. You were the best of us.” Finlay said he would send Nagase a message; something that he would not be able to ignore.
Eric Returns to the Camp
Eric went to Southeast Asia to visit the museum. When he arrived, Nagase told him it was late and he was just closing up. Eric said to him “I’m surprised you don’t recognize me.” Nagase looked at him for a minute and said “Mister Lomax.” He explained that he made the pilgrimages for his own reconciliation. He had found some peace in his life by doing it.
Eric told him “You are living off of this. This was a crime. You were an educated man and you did nothing.” Nagase said that the Japanese government had lied to them, saying that they would win, that they would have honor. He said that Eric was the only one who told him the truth when he told Nagase that the radio messages related that the British and Americans were winning the war.
Nagase said “Maybe that is why I am alive, for this day. I think we have both lived for this day.” Eric threw the knife away, walked away, and returned home.
Jeremy Irvine Wikimedia
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Eric received a letter from Nagase saying that he was sorry. They began to correspond. Eric asked Patti to make another trip to Japan with him. When they reached the camp, Nagase came up to Eric and bowed to him. He said “I am sorry. So sorry. I don’t want to live that day anymore.” Eric said “Neither do I” and handed him a letter. He said to Nagase “I assure you of my total forgiveness.” Both men had gone through a series of emotions: denial, defensiveness, fear, remorse, and at last were able to experience the joy of forgiveness.
The final credits revealed that Eric and Nagase remained great friends until Nagase died in 2011. Eric died in October 2012 with Patti at his side.
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