West End Movie Group

Stories of our Lives

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To End All Wars


”At what price mercy?”
A true story about four Allied POW's who endure harsh treatment from their Japanese captors during World War II while being forced to build a railroad through the Burmese jungle. Ultimately they find true freedom by forgiving their enemies. Based on the true story of Ernest Gordon. Life is brutally harsh in the Japanese camps, as in one in Burma where POW's, mainly from a Scottish regiment, must build part of the enemy's supply railroad trough the ever-inhospitable jungle, and not just in terms of poor conditions, but also brutal discipline under a bushido logic which assumes Westerners to be an inferior race, in need of doggish discipline, while even for Japanese troops and Korean auxiliaries severe corporal punishment always looms. The POWs realize respect is the key, and earn some from the camp staff by taking efficient charge of the engineering challenge, and self-respect furthermore by mounting a Shakespeare play and a 'jungle university'. Still a violent escape attempt is made, not without punishment and gruesome twist, and again as the fortune of war turns the tables (from imdb plot summary)


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Questions For Discussion

  1. Tom Reardon (Kiefer Sutherland), Ian Campbell (Robert Carlyle) and Dusty Miller (Mark Strong) have differing responses to their horrific situation. What do these responses say about survival? Which response makes the most sense to you and why?

  2. How does knowing that this story is based in history affect how you experienced the film?

  3. Captain Ernest Gordon and Imperial Translator Takashi Nagase amazingly had a history together after the war. They both met at the Death Railway Cemetery in Thailand 55 years after being on opposite sides in the POW camp. How can we account for this?

  4. Dr. Coates said that escape from the camp was impossible. He meant a literal escape, but how and why did some of the prisoners 'escape' through education?

  5. Major Ian Campbell's life was spared, yet he couldn't seem to fully appreciate this act of compassion. Why?

  6. Dusty Miller's character becomes a Christ figure in the movie. What were the essential factors that led to his self-sacrifice? How did his death affect others?

  7. Is it easier or harder to forgive your enemies in a WWII POW camp or in today's world?

  8. What Biblical stories were you reminded of while watching 'To End All Wars'?

  9. How did the values of the Scottish military regiment help the soldiers survive the brutal hardship of the camp? How did it hinder their well-being?

  10. Compare the bushido discipline of the Japanese to the Allied point of view. How were they similar? How were they different?

  11. What made the 'jungle university' different than how we normally experience university today?

  12. Ernest recounts at the end: "When you see yourself in the eyes of the enemy, at what price mercy? Who is my neighbour? What does it mean to love one's enemies? How often do I forgive? These are the questions I faced in prison camp. The answers I found changed my life." Are these our questions too?

  13. What did it mean that a 'single life weights less than a feather'. What were the consequences of this belief?

  14. Philosophy and religious reflection were crucial for the survival of these men. Do you think this is true today? Why or why not?

  15. "You know, a man can experience an incredible amount of pain and suffering if he has hope. When he loses his hope, that's when he dies."—Dusty   Discuss.
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