Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reconciliation: Film, The Railway Man

The Railway Man (2014), directed by Australian Jonathan Teplizky (Burning Man) and starring Colin Firth as the older, WWII veteran Eric Lomax— who quietly suffered decades with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), aggravated perhaps by the stiff upper lip, nobody talks about such things society — is based on Lomax’s 1995 memoir of his capture in Singapore in 1942, where he was forced to work on building the Thai-Burma railroad, his torture in a Japanese POW camp— younger Lomax portrayed by Jeremy Irvine (War Horse)— and the eventual, decades later, confronting of his torturer Takashi Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada— 47 Ronin, The Last Samurai); the Young Nagase (Tanroh Ishida). In this role, Firth is a changed man from his usual handsome and sometimes comedic presence. He has the haggard look of the perpetually haunted, the vacant look of the dissociated. Firth had met with Lomax before the latter’s death in 2012, and understood from him some of Lomax's utter exposure,  degradation and the vulnerability experienced at the hands of his torturer.

Like a therapy session where present and past alternate foreground and background, — and, inescapably with PTSD, where the past impinges on the present— Teplitzky’s film moves between the war years and the 1980s. Torture, the most horrendous of ruptures, is somehow miraculously repaired when Lomax, returning to Thailand with the intent to torture or kill his torturer, finds that Nagase is deeply remorseful and has spent his life dedicated to making sure no one forgets the atrocities committed by him and others. What has led Lomax, after decades of debilitating flashbacks and nightmares, to have the capacity to forgive Nagase? If he was aided by the relational home that Lomax’s second wife Patti (Nicole Kidman) provided for him, we see very little of her in this film.  If he was aided, too, by Helen Bamber, his therapist at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, we see none of her in the film. Perhaps the real life friendship that later developed between Lomax and Nagase was based on that Nagase might be the only person who could truly understand what had happened to Lomax in the horror of that wartime. Regardless, The Railway Man depicts the most tremendous of feats of humanity: to forgive the unforgivable.

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