Motivation in The Bridge on the River Kwai

please analyze and expand on topic

In the movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai, we are going to discuss the motivations of each of the three main characters and if those motivation were either intrinsic, extrinsic, or both using specific examples from the movie. We will also discuss the overall effect on each individual and what their goals were during the movie.

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We will first start off with Colonel Saito, he commanded the Japanese POW camp 16 and was tasked to get a train bridge built over the river Kwai by a certain date. In Japanese culture back then, there was a common practice called Seppuku which is when one takes their own life to atone for failure in his duties (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020). Saito had intrinsic and extrinsic motives. Intrinsic motivation is when you engage in an activity solely because you enjoy it and get personal satisfaction from it. As opposed to extrinsic motivation when you do something in order to gain an external reward. This can mean getting something in return, such as money, or avoiding getting into trouble, such as losing your job (Santos-Longhurst, 2019). Saito didn’t want to fail his leader and took pride in his command and at the same time would have been defeated if he didn’t complete the project on time and as a result have to take his own life. Next, we have Lt. Colonel Nicholson, He was motivated by intrinsic motives, one example is at the end of the movie he didn’t want his own allies to blow up the bridge as he had so much pride in it. He could not bear see it destroyed, even if it meant he was helping the enemy. Finally, we have Shears, were he was motivated also by both intrinsically and extrinsically at different times throughout the movie. One instance of intrinsic motives was when at the end of the movie when he risked and sacrificed his life to help his fellow man blow up the bridge. During most of the film he showed extrinsic motives such when he gave one of the guards a lighter in order to gain favors for him to get put into sick bay.

All in all, the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai doe an excellent job of illustrating both intrinsic and extrinsic motives throughout the movie. Saito would have gotten to keep his life and command if he wasn’t killed. Nicholson got the bridge built in time and up to his British standards. Shears never did fully get out of the POW alive in the end since he voluntold his way back there while at the same time he did assumed his rank that he bestowed upon himself with honors at the end of his life.


Columbia Pictures presents a Sam Spiegel production ; screenplay by Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman ; produced by Sam Spiegel ; directed by David Lean. (2000). The bridge on the River Kwai. Culver City, Calif. :Columbia TriStar Home Video,

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (Ed.). (2020, January 03). Seppuku. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from

Santos-Longhurst, A. (2019, February 12). Intrinsic Motivation Theory: Overview, Factors, and Examples. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from

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