On the 15th of February, 1942, British forces defending Singapore surrendered to invading Imperial Japanese troops. 80,000 Allied soldiers became prisoners of war. Among them was a young radio operator named Eric Lomax (Jeremy Irvine and Colin Firth). He and many others were used as slave labor to help build the Thailand-Burma Railway between Bangkok and Rangoon. Thirty-five years later, now retired Eric lives in Scotland, where he meets his future wife Patti (Nicole Kidman). She is able to see the pain that he carries with him, and sets off on a quest to find out what happened to Eric on the railway in order to help heal the scars he carries through life.
But this is Eric’s story. Colin Firth fantastically shows a man who, while seemingly happy and healthy on the outside, is really a man struggling to deal with his memories of abuse and horror. It is only with the help of Patti that he is finally able to open up and begin to confront the burden that he carries. But, in 1980, Eric discovers that the Japanese soldier who tortured him, Takashi Nagase (Tanroh Ishida and Hiroyuki Sanada) is still alive, running a museum about the railway. Eric goes to Thailand to confront him. There, he must make a choice between vengeance and forgiveness.
This is a story that needs to be told. I hope that people go see this film just to learn about a part of the War which always seems to be forgotten. But this is a not an action or a war movie. This is a very human story. A story of the despicable horror that humans are capable of committing; the fantastic willpower that lets a human survive through that horror; the anger and bitterness that humans carry after it; and, sometimes, the forgiveness that can overcome all of that. The Railway Man is a story of the human spirit personified in the forms of Eric Lomax and Takashi Nagase (who were real people, by the way), both the terrible and the great things humans are capable of doing. Through these men, we learn something about humanity, and consequently ourselves. And really, that is all I can ask of a story.