Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Railway Man

I went to see the film The Railway Man with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. It is based on a true story, the autobiography of Eric Lomax.

It was not quite what I was expecting after seeing the trailers, but it was still worth it for me.

My father survived the Burma railway. This film is about another man who also survived. And how he survived later.

We all know war is terrible. But living with the memories is also terrible. In Australia the method after World War II was to never mention anything that had happened. The soldiers who came back from overseas later did not receive their medals or awards. They were simply told to get on with life and try to forget what had happened. So they lived with horrific nightmares, day and night, not just after returning but for the rest of their lives.

There is no real solution of course. Policies have changed a little over time. Today when soldiers come back from duty they speak out more. There is medical support, retraining, and housing loans to ease the difficulties. I hope that support is always there. Dad needed it quite a lot as he got much older. I suppose that was when he no longer had the courage to defeat his own mind.

In this film Eric Lomax deals unsuccessfully with the memories of the torture and the deaths he saw and experienced. Lots of this is glossed over quickly. A drawing pad is used to show some. My father mentioned only a couple of times to me some of what he had witnessed. Mum said a little about how he had been tortured. In the film we see Lomax subjected to waterboarding, a torture used even today by the US.

How does it end? Actually it ends in much the same way it did for Dad and for my family. Lomax makes peace with one of his torturers, a man who battles his own demons.

This is a poor photo of Dad.
Courage does not show.
My father was religious in a very private way. He never spoke to us of hatred or revenge or ethnic vilification. Never, never a bad word about anyone at all. At home he never swore, or threw down a tool, or did anything to show anger. Of course I do not know how it was between Dad and Mum and how they dealt with his life experiences. Dad did not object when I travelled to Japan on my first overseas trip. He lived in south east Asia for many years as part of his job. He simply made peace with himself and worked out a solution in his mind. When he grew very old, that's when it came a little undone.

When my children were teenagers we hosted some Japanese exchange students on a school sponsored trip. Two boys stayed with us. Lovely boys. I mentioned that my children's grandfather had worked on the Burma railway. One boy told us his grandfather had also been there, as a Japanese soldier. Nothing changed at all. After all, every soldier does what his country asks. The boy was not anybody's enemy. His grandfather was an old man who faced his own demons. Just as Eric Lomax and Takashi Nagase did.

The Railway Man is difficult to watch at times. It is about real love, not running away. Colin Firth gets it right. He does the same breathing thing my Dad did. How would anybody know about that? Nicole Kidman is good as the loyal and stoic wife, just like my mother was. Courage is in everyday life.

Would I read the book written by the real Eric Lomax? Yes, but I'm not ready for that yet.

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