Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence


Score (for Bowie fans): 1.5 out of 5

Score (for Non-Bowies): 1 out of 5

Verdict: AWFUL ! Boring. Don't go near this thing!!

**Warning** - Do Not Purchase

Normally our Movie Review advises people to hop into some form of watercraft and get downriver to consider making a purchase. But we're not including a link on this one, for many reasons up to and including these:

1. Terrible Movie
This thing is excruciating. Truly, horrendously bad.

2. Not Much Bowie!?
WTF? He's on the cover, this is promoted as a Bowie picture, and many reviewers claim that it is despite the title's focus on "Mr. Lawrence," who is not Bowie's character. They're lying and this is totally a scam. Sadly, we fell for it. Bowie is a second fiddle here and gets almost no character development.

3. Fucking expensive !
They want you to pay for the Criterion Edition, which is an unfunny joke on many levels. Like, why was this crap selected for Criterion, who would ever think it's worth purchasing, and why doesn't it exist as a regular DVD release? Maybe because it's a financial scam as well as a Non-Bowie Scam.

The Plot

We don't know. There's a lot of guys imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp. All the Japanese characters are assholes and treat the prisoners badly. Mr. Lawrence is the main character, though you'd never know it except that he's on screen all the time. Cuz like everyone else, he gets almost no character development, and we don't even find out his first name until Act 3. (It's "John," by the way. And all the introspective wonder implied therein.) He's sort of in charge of the prisoners, but he's also a prisoner himself. He talks to the Japanese guys, who spend the movie whacking people with canes and commiting seppuku at every opportunity. This may actually be an instructional video for Seppuku. There are even multiple attempts at it that fail and then have to be corrected, so the film includes Troubleshooting Tips as well as general directions.

Nothing really happens with these prisoners that has bearing on the story. Someone tries to have sex with somebody and there's punishment for that (Caning, seppuku), someone smuggles in a radio and people get in trouble for that (Caning, seppuku), Bowie's character smuggles food in and there's trouble (same), and they try to escape and get caned again and put in solitary, but not before someone else gets to commit seppuku (voluntarily or not).

There is some kind of subplot here Re: Homosexuality. We couldn't figure this out, but it is mentioned a few times and tries to conclude something (?). Any message or purpose is totally buried in the actual movie, which is so damn long and cluttered with gratuitous celluloid. Every shot is 2-3 times as long as needs be (director loves wide shots, endless panning, crawling zooms, and even slower pullouts), and the dialog talks a lot but says very little. The runtime is about two hours but feels like nine.

Costarring: The FF Button

The unsung hero of this story is not Bowie or Mr. Lawrence, but the FF Button. We managed the first hour, but then the siren call of FF was too great. With no interesting characters, the lack of shot editing, and the actual story events being so repetitive, this movie drags like a turtle in an uphill marathon. You keep waiting to care about anything that happens, but it never comes. We try to be generous when it comes to reviews, but "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" borders on torture.

The Bowie?

This is a fine performance considering the material, but the movie is so bad and his character is so weird that it doesn't matter. Bowie is hardly even in the first hour, and then they act like his character is somehow very important, but he isn't. He hardly has any dialog, and his only character info comes from childhood flashbacks. These are disruptive to what little flow the film already has, and they're painfully long. You push the FF and don't miss anything. Actually sometimes you have to push it several times to get the scene to move.

At first they show his childhood and his little brother (Bowie isn't even in this part) and then they flash forward to him in college. Bowie plays himself here, but the previous older brother appears to be playing the younger brother from before (?) but is obviously too young to look like these brothers have the same age relationship. The little brother seems to have a hunchback, and he may be homosexual, but who the hell would ever know, because he's only like nine years old, but somehow has a brother in Bowie who is suddenly twenty years older. (?)

As for the actual Bowieness, he's adorable as always and does fine with the performance, but his character is disposable. He's some kind of rebel (rebel) in the POW camp, encouraging dissent and sort of being friends with Mr. Lawrence, but they rarely talk and his motivations are never explained. Or concluded. He stands up to one of the villains and ends up being punished, buried up to his neck in the sand. And that's it; they never follow up on him, even at the end when they FF to four years in the future. (Yes, they do FF. Eventually even the writers couldn't resist the FF.) Was this supposed to be a character arc or just some random stuff happening?

Stay Away

By all means, Caveat Emptor. High Voltage, Aim away from face, Objects in mirror are much smaller than they appear, No Vacancy, Employees must wash hands.

Don't spend money on this film. Borrow it for free (if possible) and see how far you can get without FF. We have no idea how imdb scores this a 7.1. Maybe we're not the target audience for bad War Movies, but this thing has serious problems and shouldn't be entertaining even to fans of the genre. The stinging price (Criterion demands $20) makes it all the worse and underlines our Non-Bowie rating of 1 out of 5. It only avoids a 0.5 or a Total Zero because it tackles dramatic subject matter, has good acting (with few exceptions), and has some good cinematography.

For Bowie at an outrageous price, there are better options like The Man Who Fell to Earth which, frankly, is an artistic nightmare but a masterpiece for its deliberate attempt at said, crazy artistry. "Mr. Lawrence" is an accidental nightmare that masquerades as a real movie and has no excuse for being so lame and boring. Fell to Earth is a wacky one, but at least it's not boring. And if you're not into movies for story and substance, it also offers plenty of naked Bowie and even Bowie Bits. Lawrence only has one High Note, when Bowie takes off his shirt. Which is exquisite, but this happens very early in Act 1, so it's mostly downhill after that.

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