In the war movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), at the end Major Warden has a brief dialog with the women porters.

The women back away from him as he exclaims:

I had to do it. They might have been captured alive. It was the only thing to do!

I don't understand this part of the film. At least it did not appear that he was trying to fire the weapon at the commandos (Shears and Joyce). In fact the only time an explosion occurs near them is after they are dead and a explosion lands near Colonel Nicholson.

2 Answers 2


However, if you watch it again, he did not know they were dead. His dialog about them being captured alive was the give away.

The scenes where they were instructing the younger commando that he would need to be able to kill gives up a bit of this. He was able to kill Saito but not the Colonel. Each of the commandos needed to have the ability to kill in close quarters.

And killing the Colonel was required to save the mission.

He was apologizing to the two women who loved those men that died. He just wasn't aware when he fired they were already dead.

  • I get it now...so he was making sure that they WERE dead. Jan 29, 2013 at 16:16

About Warden’s line to the women porters, "I had to do it! They might have been taken alive!," which has caused a lot of confusion:

The line only makes sense if "they" refers to the other members of his commando team, Joyce and Shears. And it is plural, so it refers to both of them. It does not refer to Nicholson or anyone else.

For the statement to make sense, it is NOT necessary that Warden have actually killed Joyce and Shears with the mortar. We know that Joyce is dead and Shears is dying or dead, but at his distance Warden has no way of knowing if they are dead or alive, all he knows is that they have been shot down by the Japanese.

The statement only makes sense if Warden directed the mortar at Joyce and Shears. In fact, he does. This is subtle. The first mortar shot is directed toward the Japanese soldiers coming to reinforce Nicholson. But the second is directed further downstream, closer to where Joyce and Shears are lying. What the audience sees is that it knocks over Nicholson and another Japanese soldier. (The audience is watching Nicholson, wondering whether he will try to press the plunger himself, and whether he will make it.) What the women see is that Warden directs the shot at his two fallen comrades. Warden has entirely lost interest in the bomb, he just wants to make sure no member of the team is taken alive. "Madness" indeed. And the move was apparently effective. If you look carefully, you'll see that before the second mortar shot, Shears is still moving in the water. After the shot, he is still.

So the statement makes sense. But cinematographically it is subtle, too subtle. You have to fault to directors for leaving audiences confused. The second shot should have landed closer to Joyce and Shears and more visibly disturbed their bodies.

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