Things to Know About Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth's "The Railway Man"

Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company
January 23rd, 2014

"The Railway Man" stars Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth and tells the tale of a British officer, Eric Lomax, who is captured by the Japanese during World War II. The story is based on the book by the same title written by Lomax years later after he escaped a prisoner of war camp and returned to the United States. The book was an autobiographical hit, sparking Andy Paterson to help draft a screenplay and direct a motion picture version of the tale. Its strong patriotic themes and attention to historical detail make it an instant classic.

"The Railway Man" focuses on the life of Eric Lomax and not just his time trapped at the hands of the Japanese in Singapore. This gives his character much more dimension and shows the complexity and harshness of the decisions he makes while confined.

The film takes place in two distinct time settings, showing how trapped Lomax has become. Played by Colin Firth, Lomax tries to recount his wartime horrors with the help of his wife, Patti, portrayed by Nicole Kidman. The duality of the movie shows the present and the past in two different cinematic lights to show how removed they are from each other. It also helps depict the way Eric continues to view his capture and torture, as well as the way Patti allows him to deal with his demons.

During his imprisonment, Eric is forced to work on the Thai-Burmese railroad in the harsh Singapore jungles, overcoming fatigue, personal torment and physical torture at the hands of his captors. The story gives these parts of the picture a surreal, canned appearance resembling a television news reel. His separation between the past and present and how troubled he is by these reminiscences is remarkable thanks to the broad skew in how he reflects on things.

At the same time, his present recounting with his wife shows a very somber and uniform palette. Much of the world around Eric is washed out and bland, a depiction of how removed and sad he has become. Due to his inability to connect with his wife and neighbors, Eric is constantly feeling lonely and aloof despite his wife's best efforts.

In flashbacks, the young Eric Lomax is played by Jeremy Irvine. His narration and dialog delivery serve to show how ravaged the young soldier becomes, struggling to overcome harsh handling at the hands of his captors and fighting to stay alive throughout long torture sessions. His performance is one of the best in the film, depicting a resilient soldier dedicated to his country and unwilling to give up.

One of the other main characters in the film is also expertly portrayed. Takashi Nagase is a Japanese Imperial Army officer who serves as Lomax's interpreter and a key support through his survival. Played in youth by Tanroh Ishida and appearing in Lomax's elder years as Hiroyuki Sanada, Nagase's role in the film is that of a morale booster and an ongoing ally despite cultural differences. Nagase also plays a critical part in helping Lomax overcome his demons and bring the truth of the Thai-Burmese railroad into the public eye.

A central theme of the film is the ongoing quest for personal peace. In a time of war, Lomax is constantly looking for serenity and divine strength. Despite being surrounded by the dregs of battle and suffering, Eric is instead overwhelmed with the idea of living. In later years, this changes to an inability to escape the nightmares of death, showing the parallel between struggle and strength with peace and purgatory.

In the end, it comes down to a battle of inner strength and power of the mind over the nightmares of the past. Lomax must find a way to break through his PTSD and accept what has happened or else wither away in his increasing husk of anxiety and depression. At the same time, Nagase comes to him with the same affliction to make amends. This breaking of borders and traditions in order to understand each other and find peace is one of the strongest themes in the film and results in several tear-jerking moments.

The combination of Lomax's mental trauma, the support of his wife and reuniting with Nagase sets Eric on a course for complete recovery or total destruction. The film examines how the mind responds to post traumatic stress disorder, the horrors of war, and the healing process that takes years or never comes to fruition at all. "The Railway Man" is a riveting and emotional rollercoaster that takes viewers back in time to understand the heartache of two men, their families and their nations struggling to make amends for terrible wrongs and finding the strength to forgive themselves and each other.