I watched Bridge on the River Kwai this evening, and it really struck me how, despite its reputation, World War II has a surprising number of works of art that portray the heroes in a cynical light. There’s Bridge, Catch-22, and at least one other example that I’m forgetting…At any rate, I think it’s interesting that Catch-22, for instance, isn’t really taught as an anti-war book, probably due to WWII’s rep as “the good war.” Meanwhile, something like All Quiet On The Western Front or Apocalypse Now is rightly seen as being of a piece of anti-war art, and used almost as much for historical as artistic purposes.
Bridge is in many ways an ambiguous movie: for one, the POWs in the camp that Alec Guinness’s character runs would in no way support him as strongly as they do…in fact, they’d probably hate his guts for making him work as hard as he does. For two, William Holden plays the cynic very well…but why the sudden conversion towards finishing the war? It’s the sort of thing that happens in movies and stories of this kind, but it feels almost artificial.
At any rate, his aggressiveness in opposing, if not the war, his personal participation in it, is something of a rebuke to those easy nostrums about the Greatest Generation.