The Bridge on the River Kwai

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
The Bridge on the River Kwai Movie Poster Image
Epic of WWII honor and sacrifice gone haywire.
  • PG
  • 1957
  • 161 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 8 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive 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. 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.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters demonstrate courage and integrity. 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.

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.

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).

Language
Consumerism

None, though there is a book tie-in.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking, and soldierly smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that students assigned to read the Pierre Boulle novel in school might try to watch The Bridge on the River Kwai 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byFamilymovies1060 May 23, 2015

Kids liked it, skipped some parts

Parents should know that there are several scenes with sexual overtones. There's an old pin up calendar prominently featured in several scenes and several... Continue reading
Parent of a 17 year old Written byciarant February 18, 2015

Great story, cast and acting!

I think kids aged over the age of 9 should give this a watch as it is really interesting and entertaining. The violence has little to no blood and no graphic d... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bymongofa August 18, 2010

Teens will like it most

Alec Guinness and Bill Holden rock in this EPIC war drama. Score for David Lean! It is violent though, and there are scenes of torture, stabbings and shootings.... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bywho3697cares November 8, 2009
Even if it has a lot of trouble saying whatever message it has about honor and doing your duty, it's not boring for a second, it's well-acted, and bri... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI takes place in Japan-occupied Siam (later Thailand) in 1943, after the Imperial Japanese Empire has conquered vast territories of Asia. Over a muddy jungle river called Kwai, a Japanese colonel, Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), must complete a railroad bridge vital to Japan's war effort. Into Saito's prison camp come captured British troops and their stalwart leader, Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness). To Saito's confusion, Nicholson upholds British military traditions with his men, not at all taking defeat as a humiliation. Nicholson refuses to bow to Saito, and uses the bridge project to prove the superiority of the British and keep up the captives' morale. Meanwhile, escaped American soldier Shears (William Holden) is forced back to the Kwai compound to help advise a commando team assigned to destroy the bridge.

Is it any good?

Winner of seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, this might be one of the finest war films of all time. Though based on a real-life WWII incident, the devastating story is really about what constitutes military duty and "honor" -- and how they can be twisted into disloyalty and dastardly treachery. While not explicitly bloody, there's a downbeat ending and a final one-word line of dialogue that sums up the whole thing: "Madness!"

There is an abundance of excitement in The Bridge on the River Kwai (the last 20 minutes are excruciatingly tense), but well-acted minefields of issues and thoughtfulness are what make this a formidable arsenal. This is a war movie about ideas, not just blowing things up -- but in the end, both those attributes turn into the same thing, in an example of the usually noble concepts of battlefield chivalry and obedience taken to extremes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the irony of The Bridge on the River Kwai, 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.

  • Which characters in The Bridge on the River Kwai demonstrate courage and integrity? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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