Tuesday, May 4, 2010

To End All Wars – Book and Movie, Part I

A couple of weeks ago my friend David invited me to watch the movie, To End All Wars, based on a book by the same title. When the book was first published in the US in 1963 the title was, Through the Valley of the River Kwai; and in 1965 it’s UK release was, Miracle on the River Kwai. The first two titles speak to the historical setting of the book, the building of the “Railroad of Death” by Allied Prisoners of war and enslaved civilians in Indo-China in WWII.

The book is by Ernest Gordon and is an autobiographical account of his experience as a prisoner of war. The movie, released in 2001, closely follows the book in terms of content and message. I’m not going to write about the cast of the movie or other movie “facts”, those are accessible online. What I do want to do is share some thoughts about the interplay of the book and movie and the message from both.

Unlike the fictional Bridge Over The River Kwai and the book upon which it was based, the book To End All Wars is true and the movie is based on the truth of the book. There is what I suppose is termed artistic license in the movie and because of this I think it is vital that if you see the movie that you also read the book. Because I love history I’m pretty critical when I see historical inaccuracies in a movie, but in this instance I’m not troubled by the movie.

For one thing, the historical milieu is accurate – if anything the cruelty to which Allied prisoners of war were subjected is downplayed, but neither is it ignored for it is vital to the story, a story not just about Ernest Gordon, but a story about the mercy and grace of God in the lives of men who had not only lost hope, they had lost their humanity.

One Christian movie reviewer thought the movie’s Christian message over-the-top for non-Christians. There are two reasons I disagree with the reviewer. The first is that the sacrificial love portrayed in the movie is so unlike anything we are accustomed to, whether we are Christians or not, that it challenge’s all of us. There is nothing sugary sweet about the portrayal of this love and it is not a love that is without tension. The production values, unlike most films with an overt Christian message, are high – supporting the script by Brian Godawa rather than detracting from it.

The second reason I disagree with the reviewer is that most of the events in the movie have a factual basis in the book, therefore “it is what it is.” That is, the content of most of the events actually happened – deal with it. This is one reason why I say, “If you see the movie make sure you read the book.” What Christ did in the lives of these men is something that stretches the imagination. If the movie were fictional I might agree with the reviewer; but it isn’t – the story is remarkable.

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