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Old Film Lover

Bridge on the River Kwai -- Scene That Makes No Sense?

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Warning: SPOILERS!

I've recently watched Bridge on the River Kwai,  and very much enjoyed it.  However, there is one scene that does not seem to make sense, and I'm wondering if anyone has any ideas about it.  (Warning: SPOILERS for those who haven't yet seen the film.)

Near the end, Jack Hawkins and the female Asian bearers are looking at the scene of death below.  Hawkins turns to speak to the female bearers, some of whom were in love with men who were just killed.  They recoil from him, backing away as if they are afraid of him, or angry with him, or both.  He says to them, in a frantic, apologetic tone, "I had to do it.  They might have been captured alive!" or words to that effect.  It is as if the women hold him responsible for the death of the men they loved, and as if he is admitting responsibility.  But he isn't responsible.  The men killed were killed by Japanese fire, not his mortar fire; and in any case, he would have had no motive to kill them until after the detonation, since they were the only ones who could overpower Alec Guinness and get to the plunger to see that the detonation happened.  He wouldn't have killed any man vital to the mission of destroying the bridge.  The only man affected by his mortar fire was Alec Guinness, and the women weren't in love with Guinness and wouldn't have been upset by anything that happened to him.  So that line of dialogue, indeed, that whole scene, makes no sense.

My suspicion is that this scene reflects an earlier draft of the film in which Hawkins's character has to kill his friends, perhaps he because he doesn't want them to endure the torture of being prisoners.  But in the film as we have it, this grim decision wouldn't be necessary, because they die before they could be taken prisoner.  

None of the special features on the Blu-ray directly address this problem, though somewhere someone mentions an alternate ending (perhaps from the novel?) in which Hawkins's character does have to kill one or more of his squadron.  

Is this an example of bad film editing?  If so, it's surprising, given how much care Lean and Spiegel put into the film, and given that Lean was present for the editing.

Has anyone heard anything about this, or thought about it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This explanation might not be good enough for you but I think they recoil from the "war lover" that they have seen take aim at the men below.  He does kill an English prisoner of war after all.

In any event its source comes from Shears' earlier criticism of Warden and his mission drive even after he is wounded.  Shears thinks Warden is dead inside.  The girls represent life.

I have to admit, it doesn't fit like a glove but the symbolism is still strong.  

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Just now after rewatching the ending on YouTube and to remind me of the scene you have this question about OFL, the only possible explanation I have here is that when Hawkins says the "They might have been captured alive" line it was meant to convey the thought that if Holden and the other allied soldiers might have been captured alive before the bridge had been detonated and before he started mortaring his own men, their capture possibly facilitating a quicker discovery of the plot to blow up the bridge by the Japanese and enhancing their ability to stop it.

(...that's all I got for ya here)

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Ya know OFL, I was just thinkin' further here about this whole thing, and there MIGHT be another reason Hawkins mortared his own men and then said what he said...

(...he wanted all those women for himself)  ;)

LOL

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Here's a possible explanation for you. Hawkins fires one mortar shell which kills Guinness but also lands close to Holden's body. Is it possible that Hawkins got that look from the girls because, even though Holden is lying still in the water after being hit by Japanese gunfire, they think he might still be alive and it was the mortar fire by Hawkins that finished him off? Thus Hawkins said "I had to do it" because, while he was hoping to get the detonator with the mortar shell, the possibility that he also killed Holden (along with Guinness) could be a by product of that action.

Take another look at that scene. How do we know 100% that the Japanese gunfire killed Holden? Yes, he's still in the water but a man can be still and still be alive.

DAMN THAT JACK HAWKINS! I'D GIVE HIM A DIRTY LOOK TOO!

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1 hour ago, Dargo said:

Ya know OFL, I was just thinkin' further here about this whole thing, and there MIGHT be another reason Hawkins mortared his own men and then said what he said...

(...he wanted all those women for himself)  ;)

LOL

I doubt it. He's British.

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9 minutes ago, TomJH said:

I doubt it. He's British.

Yeah, good point.

Yep, Hawkins always does kind'a fit the mold as bein' one of those Brits who lamented American troops being stationed in his country during the war, huh.

(...yep, can't ya just hear him sayin', "There's three things wrong with those Yanks...they're overpaid, oversexed and over here!" ?)

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1 minute ago, Dargo said:

Yeah, good point.

Yep, Hawkins always does kind'a fit the mold as bein' one of those Brits who lamented American troops being stationed in his country during the war, huh.

(...yep, can't ya just hear him sayin', "There's three things wrong with those Yanks...they're overpaid, oversexed and over here!" ?)

Yeh but what about my explanation for the look the girls gave Hawkins? Keep in mind they are a fair distance from where Holden fell so seeing if he's alive or not would be a challenge for them. You don't think they might think that the mortar shell might have done in a wounded man? Thus they give Hawkins looks of horror. He might also be thinking that he may have killed Holden, thus his "I had to do it."

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11 minutes ago, TomJH said:

Yeh but what about my explanation for the look the girls gave Hawkins? Keep in mind they are a fair distance from where Holden fell so seeing if he's alive or not would be a challenge for them. You don't think they might think that the mortar shell might have done in a wounded man? Thus they give Hawkins looks of horror. He might also be thinking that he may have killed Holden, thus his "I had to do it."

I dunno. I've always kind'a felt that in that final exchange of the singular word "You!" between Guinness and Holden, Holden dies before he can finish his thought.

(...ya see, I've always felt Holden really wanted to say "You...IDIOT!" before he expires)

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13 minutes ago, Dargo said:

I dunno. I've always kind'a felt that in that final exchange of the singular word "You!" between Guinness and Holden, Holden dies before he can finish his thought.

(...ya see, I've always felt Holden really wanted to say "You...IDIOT!" before he expires)

Yeh but the girls aren't hearing any words, are they? Their reaction doesn't make sense if they think Holden's dead. But if they think he might be alive it does make sense.

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Just now, TomJH said:

Yeh but the girls aren't hearing any words, are they? Their reaction doesn't make sense if they think Holden's dead. But if they think he might be alive it does make sense.

Aaah, now I get your point.

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5 minutes ago, Dargo said:

Aaah, now I get your point.

EUREKA!

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Just now, TomJH said:

EUREKA!

Yeah, I've been through there a few times.

It's right up there next to Arcata in Humboldt County, ya know.

(...and not too far from the Oregon border, in fact)

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OOOOH btw, and speakin' o' which here, Tom...

There happens to be a bridge over the Mad River just outside of Eureka. I kid you not, the river's name is really the "Mad River", and like I said there's a bridge over it TOO that's part of the scenic west coast 101 Highway. 

(...but I don't think British POWs built it...in fact, I'm pretty sure about this)

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He assumed that the bridge was not going to be blown so decided to make sure his two guys were killed, and by chance he also took out the dummy that lands on the plunger. They had to explain why that final round was fired so close to them.

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Maybe I'm dumb and this is too obviously the case for everyone else. When Hawkins fired that mortar shell and made with the "I had to do it" afterward it was deliberately done to kill Holden (and Geoffrey Horn) in case they were still alive (so  they wouldn't be taken prisoner and possibly tortured, I assume). That's why the girls looked at him the way they did and why he threw the mortar away in disgust afterward.

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2 hours ago, Dargo said:

It's right up there next to Arcata in Humboldt County, ya know.

 

2 hours ago, Dargo said:

There happens to be a bridge over the Mad River just outside of Eureka.

I have two songs in my iTunes collection, both from the late '60s, the origins of which I know little about. One is a nine-minute dark sketch comedy of relations between Europeans/Americans and Native Americans called "Temporarily Humboldt County" by the improv troupe Firesign Theatre. The other is a sort of proto-punk song by a band called Mad River. The name of the song is "Merciful Monks". Just noting I was surprised to see geographical references to both locations in one post. Dargo, if you (or anyone else) has any more info about which states these locales are in, please let me know.

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Humboldt County is on the California coast, north of San Francisco.  Known for redwoods and some of the best pot grown anywhere.

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10 hours ago, TomJH said:

I doubt it. He's British.

good one!

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WILLIAM HOLDEN (l9l8-8l) was R. OSBORNE'S movie idol, along w/KEVIN COSTNER, BILL MURRAY & EVEN A. BALDWIN

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Warning! SPOILERS!

Thanks to everyone for all these suggestions!  I'm grateful for the effort.  Each suggestion can explain part of what happens, but no suggestion accounts for all of it.

I've just looked at it again, to try to get every detail and nuance of what happened and what was said.  Here is what is now clear:

1.  At first I thought Holden might not have been hit by bullets, but was merely staggering in the mud and shallow water, maybe just twisted his ankle and couldn't get up, or the like.  But he is hit initially in the lower back, and bleeding.  That doesn't stop him; he keeps going and manages to toss one Japanese attacker in the water, and head for Guinness.  But then he recoils as if hit a second time.  We don't see any new blood or wound, but he goes down.  And he utters what, from a dramatic point of view, sounds very much like a dying man's single syllable before lapsing into unconsciousness.  So he's either dead, or Lean wants us think he's dead, all along intending for him to wake up momentarily and make one last heroic charge for the detonator.

2.  I thought the young guy with the knife was stone-dead from the shot, but he is shown breathing after Guinness gets up from wrestling with him.  But it's a labored breathing, and he has a big hole in his chest through the heart/lungs.  If he's alive, he's not long for this world.  He maybe could crawl to the detonator if Guinness weren't in the way, but with even the slightest opposition, he wouldn't have the power. 

3.  It would be obvious to the girls that both men were hit by Japanese fire long before the mortar was fired.  In fact, the one girl reacts emotionally when Holden is hit the first time.  They know that the two men are either dead or likely to die within hours or minutes from their wounds, if the Japanese don't kill them directly, which they probably will, since their commander has been murdered.

4.  The girls start to recoil a bit from Hawkins even before he speaks.  They seem to be frightened or repelled by his expression or his emotional state before even beginning to register his words.

5.  He says that he had to "do it," without saying what "it" is that he thinks he has done.  It's as if he is asking the girls to forgive him for killing the others, or at least for trying to kill them.

 6.  It's hard to tell from the enigmatic expression on the girls' faces whether they understand what he is saying, and if so, whether they had any thoughts of blaming him before he accused himself, and how they feel after hearing his statement of his motives.

Now here is my revised take on the scene:   The girls knew or very much suspected that their men were dead or sure to die from wounds, even before Hawkins fired the mortar.  They likely don't believe that Hawkins's mortar fire killed the men.  However, they might have believed that he was *trying* to kill the men, to prevent them from capture.  But even if they did believe that, since their men were as good as dead anyway, and capture would have meant worse, they probably could have accepted it.  What disturbed them, I think, was at first Hawkins's wild expression, and then Hawkins's attitude; he was more concerned to justify himself than to grieve over his friends and their lovers, which probably struck them as inhuman and lacking in compassion.  So I can make sense of that aspect of the scene.  It's the plot aspect that bothers me.  Hawkins's stated motive doesn't make sense.

Either Hawkins thinks the men are dead, or he thinks they are alive.  If he thinks they are dead, there is no point trying to kill them to save them from capture.  If he thinks that even one of them might be alive, and has even a 1% chance of rousing himself and crawling over to the detonator, the last thing on his mind should be trying to *kill* that man to save him from capture!  What should be on his mind is killing Guinness, who within about 30 seconds will have disabled the detonator.  If he can kill Guinness, and if either of the other two guys can rally with a supreme effort, and crawl painfully to the detonator,  the bridge and train can still be destroyed.  So he should be trying, as far as possible with a crude instrument like a mortar, to get a direct hit on Guinness that will leave one of the other two in the clear for a Hail Mary pass in the dying seconds of the last quarter.

When I first watched the scene, that's what I assumed he was trying to do -- kill Guinness.  If Guinness lives, the mission is thwarted, with 100% certainty.  But it wouldn't have been 100% certain to him that Holden was dead (he couldn't hear Holden's dramatic single syllable to Guinness, or see his dying expression); there was a chance, however small, that Holden might have just swooned from blood loss, and might wake up and come through, if Guinness could be eliminated.  And besides, Hawkins was already personally angry at Guinness for essentially treasonous behavior, and it seemed to me he would have relished blowing Guinness sky-high even if he couldn't complete the mission, as a fitting punishment for a traitor to the British Crown.  It never even entered my head that he might be aiming at the other men, and I never would have even thought of that as a motive if he hadn't blurted out the words that he did.  His announced motive thus came across as contrived, and "out of the blue."

Further, even if compassion for the men *had been* his motive, he could have eaten his cake and had it, too.  He tries to kill Guinness; let's say he fails, and Guinness disables the detonator.  Or let's say he succeeds in killing Guinness, but both his pals, though they try, are too weak to get up and complete the mission.  In either case, he fires a few more mortar shots to finish off his pals.  It would only take him another minute.  Then he could pack up and go.  His prioritizing of killing his friends, lest they be captured, is irrational.

I conclude that either we have an editing error (i.e., Hawkins's dialogue was meant to go with a slightly different finale of the film) or a fuzzy bit of screenwriting.  The latter is possible.  We know from the Blu-ray commentary that Lean and Guinness were still arguing about Guinness's motive right up to the final take: did Guinness repent and try to make amends by falling on the detonator, or did he fall on it by accident?  If they weren't clear on that until the very end, maybe they were a bit fuzzy in their mind about Hawkins's motives, too.

It's too bad, because, except for that one scene, the movie is very nearly perfect.  It's still a great movie, of course.  Photography, screenplay (except for that one bit), sets, music, acting -- all top-notch.    

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Could be his reason for fearing "they might have been captured alive" (or however) was that the torture that would have been given them by the Japanese was believed to have been so heinous as to make death more preferable.  And movie audiences at the time( Just barely a dozen short years removed from the actual war)  probably would have thought and believed that easily. Some people(many I'd say, like a lot of my buddies' Dads)  held deep resentment of the Japanese WAY past the war's end, and for YEARS past this movie's release.

Sepiatone

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Here's another question about this film...well sort'a anyway:

Was the Colonel Bogey's March the inspiration for Elmer Bernstein's The Great Escape score?

(...I say yes, but I can't seem to find anything or anyone on the internet stating such a thing)

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Btw Sepia...

11 hours ago, Sepiatone said:

Could be his reason for fearing "they might have been captured alive" (or however) was that the torture that would have been given them by the Japanese was believed to have been so heinous as to make death more preferable.  And movie audiences at the time( Just barely a dozen short years removed from the actual war)  probably would have thought and believed that easily. Some people(many I'd say, like a lot of my buddies' Dads)  held deep resentment of the Japanese WAY past the war's end, and for YEARS past this movie's release.

Sepiatone

...I think this is a very good point, too.

Nope, the Bataan Death March was never considered a crowning achievement in good public relations as far as I know! ;)

(...and yes, anti-Japanese sentiment would become quite pervasive for years following this conflict, and especially among the former G.I.s of that generation)

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And further regarding this postwar Anti-Japanese sentiment, the Boomer Generation also had many an adherent in its rank for years. I've experienced it myself in the world of motorcycling.

Can't begin to tell you about all the times I've run into some guy who when I'd express my respect for the engineering and  build-quality of Japanese-made motorcycles, they'd begin to deride the thought and use that tired old phrase "J-a-p Crap" to express their disgust with the idea.

Pressed further, more than a few of these guys would then tell of some older male relative who had lost his life at Pearl Harbor or at some other location within the Pacific theater of war, and which would justify in their minds their continual distain in anything Japanese related.

(...and Sepia, I remember seeing news from your neck of the woods there in Michigan during the time the Japanese car industry was making tremendous inroads into car market which would facilitate layoffs for the workforce of GM, Ford and Chrysler, and particularly an incident where UAW members were shown taking a sledgehammer to Japanese made cars...I'm sure you remember that too, don't ya)

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