Comparing The Book To The Film (The Railway Man)

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Having been to see The Railway Man with my parents, and knowing that my mother was about to start reading the book on which it is based – having got a free copy through a newspaper offer – I asked if she would be so kind as to write a comparison piece for this blog.

The question was simple: how does the book compare to the film and which did she prefer?

Here is her response…

The Railway Man (The Book Vs The Film)

The book obviously covers far more of Eric Lomax’s life than the film portrays starting from his early childhood and encompassing the years after he comes back from the war during which he also had more knocks to his already fragile psyche with the death of his son at an early age and a daughter in her forties.

While the film is very true to the book in some instances, his meeting Patti on the train, his nightmares and poetry recital about the clock, the beating, torture and interrogation he suffered after the radio had been found and him finally meeting up with the “Interpretor” (Takashi), the remainder of the film came very much under the heading “artistic licence”.

The film did not touch at all on his lengthy incarceration in Outram Road Gaol which is where the worst treatment was mooted out, not in torture per se but in the form of lack of food, not being able to talk, wash, exercise. The guards were faceless with no one dominant personality so he had no one person to focus on. While his dreams were all about his time in this prison his hatred was focussed on the one dominant person of his time in captivity – Takashi – whose voice he heard up to 18 hours a day. It wasn’t till he read Takashi’s book about his time in the war that he realised he had been waterboarded, he did not recall it ever happening.

Both he and Patti independently decided that, to save their marriage, they had to find out what had happened. Patti so she could help him through his nightmares, Eric to find out who had betrayed them about the radio. It turned out no one had, it was found in a routine search of the barracks. Eric, unbeknownst to himself, had been in contact with Takashi through a third party for a few years. When the third party died the link died with him and it wasn’t till later when he caught up with a fellow inmate of the gaol who had written a book praising Eric for getting him through the war that he was given the newspaper cutting.

Following a year of psychotherapy Eric decided to contact Takashi and meet with him, taking with him a film crew who would fund the cost of his trip, the subsequent film being used to publicise the Foundation which he had been visiting for post traumatic stress counselling. After nearly a year Eric found a different route for the funding but he had used the time to exchange letters with Takashi. They agreed to meet in the cafe at the Bridge over the River Kwai. Eric arrived first and was therefore able to observe Takashi walking up to the cafe without him seeing Eric first. He had already lost all his hatred of things Japanese and was well on the way to forgiving the Takashi so this final piece of perceived empowerment over Takashi was fairly pivotal in Eric finally losing his nightmares.

Obviously this would not have made such a dramatic meeting as the one in the film. In fact that the Kempeitai headquarters no longer exists and is actually a number of private dwellings and where the bamboo cages were is now someone’s living room!!

The importance of him handing Takashi the letter of forgiveness was perhaps a little lost for those who are not au fais with Buddhism where the need to make up for sins in this life is very important, simplistically, this is because if you don’t they will come back far worse in the next life. Takashi had spent his life making up for all that he had seen and done with the one regret that he would never be able to make up for what he had done to Eric as he believed him to be dead. To get that letter meant more than anything in the world to him.

I saw the film first and then read the book which I think is the right way round to do it. However, I would like to see the film again now just to see what other differences there are and to pick out things from the book that I did not realise were significant when I saw them in the film.

I recommend both the film and the book as neither spoils the enjoyment of the other.

Posted on by 5WC in Book, Opinion First Edition

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