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Bridge on the River Kwai - plot hole in the ending


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After watching it again on TCM last night, I want to ask about something that has puzzled me for years: After the bridge is blown, Warden (Jack Hawkins) says to the women, "I had to do it. I had to do it. They might have been captured alive. It was the only thing to do." I've seen references that indicate he shot Joyce and Shears, but that makes no sense.

 

First, both characters were close to the detonator when they were shot, why wouldn't Warden wait until they'd blown the bridge before shooting them (if he had to)? By shooting them first, he jeopardized the mission, which we all know from his character (and Nicholson's) was paramount. Second, why be concerned at all, that they could be captured alive - was he worried that they'd talk? What would they say - admit that the British ordered the destruction? Who else would the Japanese suspect had blown the bridge, since they were at war anyway? Being commandos, being captured would be one of their risks. And what would he have done about Joyce and Shears if Joyce had blown the bridge early, when they discovered the river had gone down? Third, Warden is seen firing the mortar, not a rifle, and he's really too far away to have gotten a decent shot at both Joyce and Shears while they were running. To quote Clipton at the end, the ending is "madness" to me, it makes no sense. Anyone want to help me out here?

 

Thanks,

Andy

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I've thought about this many times before, and remember reading a good explanation somewhere that had to do with the book ending or something like that.

 

My only guess is that when he fired the mortars, they landed close enough to the two men, that they would have done serious damage. Only problem with that explanation, is that both men were likely dead by then anyway, thus it wouldn't matter if the shrapnel got to them.

 

Him shooting them with the rifle doesn't make sense either. Both men were still alive when he would have shot them. Besides, I don't remember him having a rifle at all.

 

So yes, it is a line that makes no sense.

 

Edited by: JefCostello on May 29, 2010 11:59 AM

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I always though the reason he stated that was because of the motor fire. He was firing at the Japanese soldiers running toward the men and how was he to know they were all dead from his position on the opposite shore. He was saying to the girls or reasoning with himself "I had to do it" in order to give them time to push the plunger, He had to keep the enemy off their backs long enough for that and if the motor fire did kill them he still had to do it.. Any how that was what I though when I first saw the film when it premiered and still do......

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Perhaps goes with one of the general themes that war is madness, played out more definitively in Apocalypse Now, which I think borrows from Bridge Over River Kwai. In the end much of what people did in the film did not make sense in their attempt to fight the war.

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Why would the girls care if he was shooting Japanese soldiers?

 

From what I remember, those villagers didn't like the Japanese, which is why they were helping the Allies in the first place.

 

I haven't heard a theory so far, including my own, that fully clears that line up for me.

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*I've read that the real bridge was NOT blown up, and was only replaced a few years ago.* - VX

 

Never trust Hollywood for historical accuracy. There were two parallel bridges, and we bombed them...a lot. The wooden bridge was rebuilt each time, but both were still down at the end of the war. What happened after the war, I don't know.

 

Edited by: patful on May 29, 2010 11:16 PM

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Okay, I looked it up. Actually, two bridges were built by the prisoners, one of wood, and one of steel. The account in the film is mostly fictional, as both bridges were used for more than two years after they were built. Then they were bombed, in late 1945. The steel bridge was repaired, and is still in use today.

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No,No,No, I didn't say the girls cared he was shooting at the japanese, he was sorry he was firing in the direction of his own men because the japanese were running toward them. The girls hated the japanese, but because they were trying to get to the British or American and stop them from blowing the bridge he had to fire in their direction....

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I also was a bit disappointed in the ending because I felt it could be a little more concrete, no pun intended. :)

 

Holden's and Hawkins' characters were well developed, but I felt that the ending didn't live up to the characters' missions.

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> {quote:title=patful wrote:}{quote} Never trust Hollywood for historical accuracy.

 

I know what you're saying, but Hollywood is of the hook on this one as it was a British film.

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It is a masterpiece of film making.I remember reading years ago that Pierre Boulle was going to write a sequel where it turned out Shears {William Holden} character wasn't killed but only wounded and the sequel was about getting back.As far as I know he never did. The original novel had Shears as a British commando not an American seaman and SPOILER ALERT,,,,,Nicholson {Guinness character} doesn't fall on the plunger...

Just watched "King Rat", and always though that was a under rated POW film with excellent performance by Segal and the others especially Tom Courtney. While watching it, it seemed James Donald must have liked being a POW. He co-starred in "Kwai" and "King Rat" and "The Great Escape", guess he had trouble staying out of POW camps but turned very good performances.....

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I agree its genuinely fine film with outstanding performances, but the thing that has always bothered me not that Nicholson is unable to understand that his plan to complete the bridge is an act of collaboration, but that his officers who do see it are wholly incapable of stopping him?? They do attempt to point this out to the Colonel, but he is of course obsessed with maintaining discipline of the other ranks and of humbling the Japanese colonel are these mildly chastising efforts of the Brit officers to return Nicholson to sanity sufficient? I personally don't think so and while men will do whats required of them to survive I question they would so eagerly and efficiently cooperate on a project designed to hasten the defeat of their forces in the war. Small point of critism of film I have always enjoyed.

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> {quote:title=fredbaetz wrote:}{quote}. The original novel had Shears as a British commando not an American seaman...

 

No doubt it was changed to work an American star into the cast to boost box office potential in the United States. Considering the film was a big hit here, it worked.

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It worked very well. It seemed Lean and some of the British actors butted heads quite often on the characters they were portraying , some felt the British were coming off as snobs and Guinness and James Donald felt the book was anti British and Guinness especially was fighting with Lean. Story goes finally Learn yelled after finishing with Guinness " Now all you English actors can f*** off and go home. Thank God tomorrow I start working with the American actor {William Holden}..

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Interesting. I hadn't heard that story before, but I can see it happening. I know I have a copy of the book someplace in my attic. I think I'll dig it out and reread it and see if I find it anti-British.

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> {quote:title=apmarina wrote:}{quote}

> After watching it again on TCM last night, I want to ask about something that has puzzled me for years: After the bridge is blown, Warden (Jack Hawkins) says to the women, "I had to do it. I had to do it. They might have been captured alive. It was the only thing to do." I've seen references that indicate he shot Joyce and Shears, but that makes no sense.

 

I believe the answer is twofold.

 

He had to shoot at Japanese even though he might hit his own men. He could not risk the Japanese reaching the plunger and removing it.

 

He also could not allow those men to be taken alive. The fear was not they would talk. It was widely believed a saboteur or spy not protected by Geneva Convention would be slowly tortured to death. Suicide or being shot by friends was thought better than weeks of pliers, blowtorchs and skinning knives.

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