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The Railway Man

The term PTSD didn’t exist for most of Eric Lomax’s life. It certainly wasn’t around when the young British officer spent several years of World War II in a Japanese labor camp in Thailand. Nor was it when he met his wife decades later, and she struggled to understand what happened to him that so debilitated him.

The Railway Man is the kind of film you would expect to see in theaters around Christmas time, offering an emotional historical tale and competing for placement on year-end “best of” lists as a first step in the nomination process. It stars Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman at the top of their respective forms (even if the later is short-shrifted by the films extensive use of flashbacks). But don’t make the wrong assumption because it’s being released during one of those periods when the studios dump the movies they have no faith in. It’s not without its flaws (at least some of them the fault of Harvey Weinstein’s infamous insistence on re-editing his acquisitions). But given that the Spider-Man sequel users in the summer season of superheroes and sci-fi bombast next week, it may be one of these last adult dramas you’ll find in theaters for awhile.

Lomax and his comrades had been put to work, essentially as slave labor, on the Burma Railway. The project was the basis for the classic The Bridge on the River Kwai, a film that doesn’t come close to showing how horrifying conditions for workers were. (It’s estimated that more than 100,000 people died working on it, Asian laborers and Allied POWs.) Lomax was tortured when he was found in possession of a radio.

The key to Lomax’s salvation comes when a friend and fellow prison camp survivor (played by the always welcome Stellan Skarsgård) gives him the news that the Japanese officer he blames for his treatment is alive and hosting tours of the camp where they were imprisoned.

Lomax’s story is familiar to many—it was the basis for a best-selling autobiography and a previous British film starring John Hurt. For the rest of you I will not give away what happens, other than to say that it involves the nature of survival in the most fundamental sense.

The Railway Man engenders a bit of confusion for the historically minded, to whom I would advise that you ignore all dates and attempts to calculate the ages of characters at various points of the movie. Nor does it help that, while whittling it down from the original release version, the Weinstein Company also apparently added footage that had (wisely) been deleted. There are scenes of torture that will make some uncomfortable, though nothing as bad as what was on display in 12 Years a Slave.

Watch the trailer for The Railway Man

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