The Railway Man (2013) Explanation

. Today will explain to you a drama, war film from 2013, titled The Railway Man.

Spoilers ahead! This article contains spoilers, Take Care!

In England in 1980, former British officer and railway aficionado Eric Lomax is spending the afternoon in the Veterans Club when his old friend Finlay teases him for looking at old railway timetables again. Eric takes the chance to confess he has a little problem and proceeds to share a story. Last Thursday, Eric took the train and ended up sitting with a beautiful woman called Patricia Wallace. The two of them hit it off quickly and chatted during the whole trip, so when Eric got off the train, he realized he was in love.
Back in the present, the members of the club wonder if Eric will do anything about it. Remembering Patricia had shared the places she’d be visiting during her journey, Eric decides to rush to the train station and welcome her back before inviting her to have dinner at his house. While getting the meal ready, Patricia kisses Eric, and says she’ll only do it again if he shaves his mustache, which he accepts. Eric and Patricia begin a relationship, and they’re so happy together that they eventually get married.
On the wedding night, while Patricia is in the bathroom, Japanese officer Takashi Nagase enters their room and kidnaps Eric to take him back to an old prisoner camp so he can be tormented for information.

However, this is a hallucination Eric is having because of the psychological trauma caused by his experience during the war. When Patricia comes out of the bathroom, she finds her husband having an anxiety attack on the floor, having flashbacks of what happened thirty years ago. Young Eric used to be a communication officer for the British Army. One day, the troops he was working with accepted to surrender, so Eric and his fellow communicators took as many useful radio pieces as they could and sneaked them in their clothes before they were captured.
With Nagase acting as an interpreter between prisoners and the Japanese army, the British soldiers were put on a train and sent away to a POW camp near the Malay Peninsula. Back to the present, now that they’re living together, Patricia begins to notice Eric’s odd behavior. Sometimes he will stare at the sea or the door for a long while, even getting up in the middle of the night to do so. He also takes down the decorations Patricia had put up in the seating room after he had said they were fine, now claiming he needs things to be the way they were.
Patricia wants to help him and be there for him, but he refuses to talk about whatever is that haunts him. She also discovers a book with horrific illustrations of what war crimes used to be like, Eric’s uniform in a wardrobe dedicated only to it, and a suitcase sitting on top of a bed in an empty bedroom. One afternoon, when the debt collectors come by their home, Eric hallucinates of Nagase again and tries to attack the men with a knife. He’s stopped just in time, but as he realizes what he’s done, Eric runs away from the house, still refusing to talk about it when his wife reminds him they can’t live like this.
Desperate to help, Patricia decides to follow him in the car, and that’s how she finds out about the Veterans Club. After the meeting is over, she asks Finlay for Eric’s story, explaining she used to be a nurse so she’s already seen lots of suffering. Finlay doesn’t think anyone can understand what they’ve gone through and refuses to share a story that isn’t his, but when Patricia points out that Eric isn’t coping and how badly he needs help to stop his suffering, Finlay gives in and accepts to tell her what happened to them after they were captured. The ride to the POW camp had been hell, and they weren’t even given water during the journey.
Once they arrived, they discovered a huge amount of prisoners being slaved into forced labor and beaten if they dared to disobey. Most of the new arrivals were also sent to dig, but Eric and his fellow communicators were called lucky for being engineers, so their job would be working on fixing equipment. Later that night, the group discussed the possibility of escaping, but they didn’t have any idea of where they even were and if they could survive in the wild. Fortunately, Eric did know: thanks to being a railway aficionado, he knew all the local train tracks pretty well, and he drew a map.
Since they were on that train for four days going North, it meant they’d gone from Singapore to Bangkok. But then they turned west, where there didn’t use to be a railway before the war. It seemed the Japanese were making them work on the Thai-Burma Railway, an idea the British had abandoned because building such a thing would require an entire army of slaves. The communications team agreed to start simple and build a radio.
While working under the Japanese, they would steal little pieces and sneak them out hiding them in their clothes. The final piece they needed was a capacitor, which had been grabbed at their old camp by a soldier that was now working up in the line. It was impossible to talk to him without the guards noticing, so while supposedly fixing one of the machines, the engineers actually made it worse in order to create some noise and smoke. With the guards distracted, Eric could approach their friend and get the final piece they needed.
By pretending to be interested in the local landscape, Eric also got to learn the name of the river, which he added to his map before hiding it in a pipe. The opportunity to build the radio came when the engineers got to work on a truck. By hiding in the trunk, they connected their makeshift radio to the vehicle’s battery and got it to function. Sadly it was only a receiver and they couldn’t make a call for help, but they did get to hear some good news: the Russians had retaken Stalingrad, the US Air Force had joined in, and Hitler was on the run.
Whispering in each other’s ears, they passed on the news around camp to keep up the hope of being rescued soon. One morning, Eric noticed the Japanese looking around and gathering workers, so he tried to retrieve his map and was found red-handed. The soldiers gathered the engineers and revealed they had found the radio, so they started to beat up one of Eric’s friends, intending to make him confess. That’s how Eric decided to do what Finlay calls the bravest thing he’s ever seen: surrendering himself and taking the blame for the whole team.
Eric received a beating as well, getting both his arms broken during the process, then got to stay with his friends while he recovered. After around a week, a member of the secret police together with Nagase acting as interpreter took Eric away, making him run behind them while they drove a bike. They didn’t see him again until two weeks later, when Eric was brought back in a dismal state, but he never shared with the others what had been done to him. Now that she knows the story, Patricia tries to be there for Eric and comfort him when he’s feeling down, but even turning on the radio to dance triggers him to get out of the house.
Later, she goes to Finlay to ask for his help, but he admits there’s nothing he can do more other than the meetings, which are already taking a toll on him anyway.

However, he does reveal he has found a very dangerous thing that he’s hesitant to share: it’s a newspaper clip that talks about Nagase’s current job as a tourist guide in the very camp they were prisoners at, which has been transformed into a museum. As he also takes out a knife, Finlay confesses he isn’t sure if they should show it to Eric, but Patricia swears that whatever Eric decides to do she’ll be there to support him. Finlay takes the newspaper clip to Eric and incentives him to seek Nagase out, but after so many years of dreaming about revenge, Eric wants to move on. He isn’t a soldier anymore, he wants to be a husband, but Finlay doesn’t think he is being a good husband to Patricia by not working on his issues.
At least one person in their group should find peace and not live in shame, so Finlay wants Eric to do this for him.

However, he goes too far by asking Eric what happened to him those two weeks that he was away, so Eric decides it’s time for Finlay to leave. The couple takes Finlay to the station, and before boarding, he promises Patricia he’ll send a message Eric can’t ignore. Once he makes it to a part of the railroad that works as a bridge, Finlay uses some rope to end things at last, not wanting to live with his trauma any longer. Patricia receives the news through a phone call, and Eric can guess what happened as soon as she says Finlay’s name.
He asks her if she’s happy, thinking this happened because she started to interfere. Patricia and the rest of the veterans club go to the funeral, but not Eric, who decides to travel to Thailand and do what Finlay asked him to. He finds an older Nagase working as a guide in the very same place where Eric was kept as a slave, so he waits outside until the visitors are gone before sneaking inside and confronting his old enemy. Nagase doesn’t recognize him at first, but he quickly catches on and sits down to be interrogated by Eric the same way Eric had been interrogated back then.
When Eric was taken away for those two weeks, Nagase explained that his friends confessed they built the radio together, but Eric had been the ringleader and also drawn a map of the railway. They wanted to know who Eric had been passing the information to, so Eric tried to tell them he only drew the map because he liked trains and the radio was only a receiver that had no way to transmit messages, but they didn’t believe him, so he was kept in a small cage outside with other prisoners. Every now and then, they would take him to interrogate him, but since he wouldn’t change his answers, they began using harder methods to get him to confess, like extreme beatings and starvation. Back in the present, Eric is trying to get Nagase to admit he’d been part of the perpetrators instead of saying he had only been an interpreter.
This is what kept him alive when the British army finally arrived to rescue its men: Nagase told them he had only worked as a translator, didn’t take part in the beatings, and wasn’t part of the secret police; so he was spared from justice.

Afterward, he worked for the War Graves Commission and traveled the railways as an interpreter, where he saw thousands of bodies and finally realized what his country had done. That’s why Nagase works in the museum now: he guides pilgrimages and believes in speaking up about the horrors of the past in order to reach reconciliation. This job has helped Nagase reach some peace in his life and he wants to help Eric as well, but Eric is angry that Nagase keeps calling the prison camp a tragedy instead of a crime, so he grabs a piece of wood planning to break Nagase’s arms. Filled with guilt, Nagase presents his arm without protest, but Eric can’t bring himself to do it and hits the table instead.
Then he threatens Nagase with his knife before taking him outside and locking him up in one of the cages. Eric begins preparing water and a hose, but as his own memories begin haunting him again, he drops the things and enters a room at the back of the building. This is the place where Eric had been taken after the beatings and starvation failed to work. He was put through waterboarding multiple times until he finally couldn’t take it anymore and confessed what he heard on the radio: Japan is losing the war.
After he described what American troops were doing to their people, Nagase got angry and called him a liar with no honor. Unlike him, if Nagase were captured, he would end things before being used as a slave. Reacting like that to a prisoner when he was only supposed to be an interpreter earned Nagase a slap from his superior. After revisiting the memory, Eric goes back to Nagase and confesses his mother had already been dead before it all began, so throughout the war he wrote letters to a dead woman.
He wants to know what Nagase tells people about what they did to their prisoners, but Nagase admits they don’t talk about it. When Eric points out Nagase didn’t die rather than live without honor as he promised, Nagase explains back then he had believed all the lies his government had fed them: there wasn’t any honor in what they were doing. Eric had told him the truth and held on, showing Nagase that nothing is worth more than this life. Eric brings up Finlay and what he wanted him to do, so Nagase comes to the conclusion that he’s still alive so they could meet today and Eric could bring a proper end to their story.
Crying, Eric admits he’s still at war with himself, so he grabs the knife and ends up deciding to free Nagase before going to the railway bridge and throwing the knife in a nearby river. Once he returns to Britain, Eric allows Patricia to comfort him. She has been scared that he would end up like Finlay, but Eric explains it was different for him because Finlay didn’t have someone like her. Weeks later, they receive a heartfelt letter from Nagase, where he admits what he and his countrymen had done to Eric and his friends and expresses the guilt that has been haunting him since then.
This time, when Eric returns to Thailand, Patricia goes with him. He brings Nagase a letter that makes him cry, because now both men had reached a mutual agreement of forgiveness. After Nagase apologizes, they embrace. The real Eric Lomax and Takashi Nagase became close friends and remained so until Nagase’s death in 2011.
Eric died at the age of ninety-three in 2012 with Patricia by his side.

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