Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
- John 15:13
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
- John 13:34-35
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Matthew 5:43-48
My wife and I must have missed something. When the movie, To End All Wars came out in 2001, we cannot remember seeing a trailer on television. In those days, if there was a superhero movie or a war movie on the big screen, we watched it.
It seems odd to recommend seeing a movie that is over 20 years old. It also seems odd to recommend a movie that is rated “R” due to violence and bad language. But I doubt if the movie could be made today.
The movie shows the unmitigated cruelty of the Japanese during World War II. Like in the book and movie, The Bridge Over the River Kwai (the movie using the preposition “On”), this movie (based in part on Ernest Gordon’s autobiography) focuses on building the Burma Railway. The Japanese forced the POWs, against the Geneva Convention and other conventions, to work as slaves. Their idea was that the Japanese would use the railroad to resupply their troops when they made an all-out attack on India.
I mention based in part. SPOILER ALERT: According to reviews of the book, originally published as Through the Valley of the Kwai, there were two people who nursed the main character back to health at one point. One of the two is completely written out of the movie. Maybe with the name of “Dinty” Moore, the name might detract. In the real story, Dinty is among those who are separated and sent to another camp after the railway is finished (part of the movie), but the other camp was in Japan. The boat carrying this half of the camp and others from other camps, was sunk by American submariners since the boat did not have Red Cross markings, another violation of the Geneva Conventions (not in the movie since “Dinty” was written out). Again another spoiler is the death of Ernie’s other savior. In real life, Ernie did not discover what happened until after the war, but in the movie, he watched.
But the movie drove the point home on numerous occasions that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And the other lesson was to love one’s enemies, not seeking revenge for the atrocities. These points are lived out rather than preached. The Scripture is read at one point and repeated, but the entire movie focuses on these two principles of the Christian faith.
And it is very odd, but predictable of the movie industry, that the movie makes these two points and the story ends with the hero, the survivor, having cemented in his mind what his course in life would be after the war. There is tribute to the main character, after showing a clip of his reunion with one of the Japanese, the translator, many years later, that says that the main character eventually became dean of the chapel at Princeton, but not what he did until then.
The movie said he wanted to be a teacher. He creates a “jungle university” at one point which causes the men to feel better about themselves and work harder. The working harder was pivotal as one of the prisoners told the camp commander that the prisoners had books and the books were taken away – then returned, along with their precious Bible, when the connection was made between them learning and working harder.
When I first started watching the movie, with the senior officer among the prisoners being tortured, brutally, the memory of a training exercise came back for me. The late Senator John McCain had created a replica POW camp and as one of the senior officers, then naval officer McCain orchestrated my torture, including one torture that reminds me of crucifixion, just with no stigmata afterwards. I always thought his course was one of the best I ever endured. I learned what he was teaching, but I learned a lot about myself. But I had one night of torture. These men endured three and a half years of it.
And on a lighter note, Robert Carlyle plays the role of Major Ian Campbell, quickly becoming the senior officer. I know … more spoiler alerts. I knew I had seen him in something else, and it came to me, hours after seeing the movie. I never saw The Full Monty, but I loved the BBC television show, Hamish MacBeth, based on the novels of M. C. Beaton. He was Hamish.
Yes, I would recommend this movie, but with the warning that the violence is graphic and was disturbing even when you knew what was coming. But the lessons lived out in the movie easily show that the main character dedicates his life to Jesus (not clearly stated in the movie) and becomes a Presbyterian minister (not in the movie).
Yes, the movie could not be made today. It teaches a Christian message of loving one another, laying down one’s life sacrificially for your friends, and loving one’s enemies, not seeking revenge. The points were made with only one person clearly identified as a Christian, but that much would not be allowed today. Just to set the record straight, the movie should be seen – now available on some streaming platforms.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.