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The Bridge on the River Kwai Review

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 11+

Epic of WWII honor and sacrifice gone haywire.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that students assigned to read the Pierre Boulle novel in school might try to watch this film instead. (Come on, it's a short book, no cheating!) That aside, there's ample wartime violence in this movie, with characters stabbed or shot to death, and the body count of the main characters is tragically high in the end. The now-taboo, once-common term "Japs" is used to refer to Japanese. Unrated on its original release, the restored version carries a PG.

  • Families can talk about the irony of the story, with upright military commanders working for the enemy to pull off a stupendous feat because of principles of "honor." What should have been done differently? Could it happen today? Which characters are the most (or least) admirable? Are there any real villains in the story? Would you say this is a pro-military movie or an anti-war one? Kids might want to research more historical facts, the real-life story of the Kwai bridge, and the Allied (and British) experience in the WWII jungles of the Far East.

The good stuff
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    Messages: There is nobility in most of the characters -- too much so, one can even argue, since it twists their loyalties and dedication, as Nicholson is so devoted to rigid ideals of military loyalty, discipline, and obedience he practically ends up working for his country's enemy. Another officer kills his own men rather than risk the likelihood of their being captured. The American soldier Shears, though a rogue and an impersonator, seems to be one protagonist who can see most clearly through the absurdity and the horror. It's mostly a male-oriented show, except for some Siamese girl freedom fighters on the margins. "Japs" is used to refer to Japanese, as it was in a derogatory way back then.

What to watch for
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    Violence: Soldiers are stabbed at close range (and shot to death, generally at long range), with explosions near the end and a high casualty list.

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    Sex: Some flirting with sarong-clad Siamese girls and western ladies in demure one-piece bathing suits. During a POW camp entertainment, men cross-dress as women (which was very routine in such circumstances).

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    Language: Not an issue

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    Consumerism: None, though there is a book tie-in.

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    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Social drinking, and soldierly smoking.