What Is the Basic Plot of "The Bridge on the River Kwai"?


Quick Answer

The 1957 epic film "Bridge on the River Kwai," based on the 1952 novel, takes place during World War II and tells the story of British prisoners of war forced by the Imperial Japanese Army to construct a bridge over a Burmese river. It focuses on Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, who must manage his fellow prisoners during construction.

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Full Answer

Initially, the prisoners perform poor work on the bridge and repeatedly attempt to sabotage it, because once complete, it gives the Japanese more efficient access to Southeast Asia and aids substantially in their war effort against the Allied powers. The Japanese commandant of the POW camps, Colonel Saito, must complete the bridge under a deadline or commit ritual suicide as punishment for his failure, so he exploits Nicholson's misguided sense of duty to extract better work from the prisoners.

Nicholson, a perfectionist with a deep need to demonstrate the ingenuity of the British Army to the world, drives his fellow prisoners to complete the bridge. Meanwhile, outside the camp, British officers Major Warden and Commander Shears plan a mission to destroy the bridge. In secret, they parachute into Burma and plant explosives on the bridge, set to detonate when the first train crosses, but Nicholson notices the explosives and warns Saito. After a bloody hand-to-hand fight, the men destroy the bridge, but not before Nicholson realizes the error of his ways.

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