Thursday, 14 April 2016


War is no game. War leaves a mark. Eric Lomax, like many other surviving soldiers,  lived haunted by his war memories all his life through, as if war never actually ended in his mind and his heart. The Railway Man, based on Lomax’s autobiography,  came out in September 2014  here in Italy as “Le due vie del destino”, but it had opened theatrically on New Year’s Day in the UK and, in the US,   in April 2014.
Eric Lomax (30 May 1919 - 8 October 2012) was one of thousands of Allied prisoners of war forced to work on the construction of the Thai/Burma railway during WW2. Fate wanted he, a train and railway enthusiast, to be part of the army of enslaved prisoners the Japanese employed for their ambitious plan. His experiences, after the secret radio he built to bring news and hope to his mates was discovered, the inhuman tortures he was subjected to,  and which left  him traumatised and shut off from the world, are the main interest of this movie. Water-boarding and savage beating didn’t make Lomax surrender or lose his will to live. Years later, with his life still affected by that huge amount of suffering and consequent hatred, he met Patti (Nicole Kidman), a beautiful woman, on a train and fell in love. Once they get married  and Patti becomes acquainted with Eric’s nightmares and terrifyingly weird moments, she  is determined to rid him of his demons.
One day they discover  that the young Japanese officer who tortured him is still alive and Eric decides that it is time to meet him again.

It is a powerful, gripping movie which moves fast between past and present with the clear intent to convey the idea that they are inseparable in the mind of the protagonist. Young Eric,  bravely facing the horrors of WWII,  is played by a touching Jeremy Irvine,  while  aging Eric,  still traumatised by what he survived,  is an impeccable Colin Firth. 
Firth  interpreted a similar role in the 80s, he was Tom Birkin,  a shell-shocked veteran from WWI in A Month in the Country. In a press conference for The Railway Man, he admitted that meeting Eric Lomax in real life and having him on set while shooting, gave to the fact  he was entrasted this role, a huge emotional charge which will resonate with him for a long time. Not an easy role - he added. Where can someone like me find all that pain and all that suffering inside himself? Impossible to relate to personal experience in this case. 

The book certainly gives a more detailed account of what really happened to Eric Lomax. But the movie too, with its limitations in time and space, gives away so much and so well. 
Eric Lomax’s story is not only the analysis of the effects of brutality and torture on the human mind, but his personal journey from hate to forgiveness,  which surprisingly brought him to meet again, and eventually to befriend,  his torturer. 

The scenes in which Eric comes face to face with Takashi Nagase, the man who tortured him during the war,  are so beautifully delivered by Colin Firth and  Hiroyuki Sanada , and they are so  intense and so incredibly emotional  that you can’t easily forget them. (you can see clips HERE and HERE)

Two are the treasurable lessons you will particularly remember from this movie:

1. "When we surrendered,  the Jap said we weren't men. 'real men would die of shame.'“ , Eric remembers.  But to him,  broken but never defeated,  life is always worth living as the supreme, inalienable value. Not in one moment he sees death as an escape. This is something his antagonist,  Nagase,  says he learnt from the young man he tortured.  

2.  Almost at the end of the movie, Eric says:  “Sometimes the hating has to stop and the     extraordinary lesson here is not just forgiveness,  but, unexpectedly,  even sympathy and friendship  addressed to a person once deeply hated. 

 Eric Lomax is not a fictional character. He was a real man. A man from which so many can learn so much. 

What did Eric Lomax suffer from? 
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that may occur after an individual has experienced a traumatic event. Symptoms include:

·        -  Nightmares
·      -    Reliving the experience
·        -  Hypervigilance
·         - Feeling distant from friends and family
     PTSD is one of the most frequent war related illnesses.

(This post includes parts of my review previously posted at FLY HIGH!)

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