Real Talk Between Men

I watched The Railway Man (Jonathan Teplitzky, 2013) for the second time last night since I’d first got it on DVD.  The film is based on Eric Lomax’s book that recounts what he endured at the hands of the Japanese military while building a railway in Thailand during World War II.


So much visual media is centered on, narrated by, and prioritizes male opinions, intentions, desire, corruption, deviance, turmoil, and redemption.  Depending on the genre, it’s inherent and assumed.  Films that depict war and combat would be such an example.  But, how many of these narrative texts examine the way men talk to each other beyond solely exchanging information?  Buddy films, roadtrip films, sports films, and certain romantic dramas might explore the relationships between men, but that’s not quite the same as presenting or decoding the way they express difficult truths, gratitude, and pain.

I’d never wondered about it until this scene between Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) and Lomax (Colin Firth) in present day when Finlay tells Lomax he found the whereabouts of Nagase and criticizes him for the way he treats his wife.  It’s a short scene that happens nearly an hour into the film and features two amazing actors, each holding their own:

Finlay: It’s him, isn’t it?
Lomax: He’s alive?
Finlay: And he’s living off of it, showing the railway to tourists.  Bridge on the bloody River Kwai holidays. Nagase.  I’ve had it translated.  Look him up.  He won’t have a clue you’re coming. Element of surprise, Eric.  Always good.

Lomax: The years I’ve spent…imagining I’d find him.  Making him beg, making him scream.  Oh, I’ve nursed myself to sleep on those sounds.  We’re not soldiers anymore, Uncle.  We’re bank clerks, schoolteachers, engineers, retired persons.  If you’d come to me with this a year ago, I’d have hunted him down.  But now I’m a husband.  And she means everything to me.
Finlay: No husband would treat her the way you do.  You punish her.  You punish her! When we surrendered, the Japs said we weren’t men.  Real men would…would kill themselves, would die of shame, but we said no.  We’ll live for revenge.  But we didn’t, no.  We don’t live.  We’re miming in the choir.  We can’t love, we can’t sleep.  We’re an army of ghosts.  What happened in that room?  What did they do to you?
Lomax: I think you should go now.
Finlay: Don’t waste this.  At least one of us deserves some peace.  It’s too late for me and the other guys, but…you were the strongest.  You were the best of us.  You do this for me. Please.

The “him” mentioned is the Kempetai soldier who tortured Lomax in WW2.  The way Skarsgard stands back up after having leaned forward to get closer to where Firth is sitting at the precise moment when Firth says, “We’re not soldiers anymore. We’re bank clerks, schoolteachers,” is so powerful.  You know what he’s feeling/thinking just by his standing back up.  And then he leans forward again to ask, “What happened in that room? What did they do to you?” in an attempt to get some understanding. And then Firth walks out of the frame because he won’t hear any more of revenge.


Jaap Buitendijk – © 2014 – Lionsgate UK

Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) and One Night in Miami (Regina King, 2020) do it pretty well, but the latter is about real people with rich legacies, so the conversations reflect more than individual excitement and worry; they represent collective awe and anguish.

What about Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) or Hal Hartley‘s Simple Men (1992)?  Kathryn Bigelow‘s Point Break (1991)?  Swingers (Doug Liman, 1996)?

Read more about Eric Lomax here.

Pic creds: Amazon, IMDB

6 thoughts on “Real Talk Between Men

    1. sittingpugs Post author

      I have not seen this film. It stars such a young Matthew Goode! Wow. I just watched the trailer and it started out making me think, “Oh, okay…functional hedonist” and then it became, “Call of the void/wild/Imp of the perverse, hmm.” It’s just a few bucks to rent on Amazon Prime; I’ve added it to my watchlist.

      1. Eddie

        Hope you enjoy, it’s quite a confronting and unique film, easily one of my fav local films. Not for everyone but keen to hear what you think, I would go out on a limb and say its Goode’s best performance.

        1. sittingpugs Post author

          Ooo. I’m even more curious now. Curioser. More curious. Not worth googling. hahahha. My favorite Goode performance was in The Imitation Game or Stoker thus far.

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