Image provided by aparoo.com, trailer courtesy of youtube.com
The Way Back is based on the memoirs of Slavomir Rawicz, an escapee from a Siberian Gulag, and his 4,000 mile walk across Siberia, Mongolia and Tibet into India.
Apart from the accusations that the memoirs were fake, it sold over 500,000 copies and was incredibly popular. Unlike the memoirs, the movie received little attention; grossing only $1.2 million on the opening weekend.
This was most likely a shocker for the director, Peter Weir. Known for his success in “Master and Commander”, “The Truman Show” and “Dead Poets Society”, Weir has been nominated for 6 Oscars. He is also known for his unique film plots; always involving people who do not fit into their surroundings and having an award-winning cast. This film fits that profile, it stars Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Mark Strong and Colin Farrell.
Although this film is set during World War II, it does not share the same qualities as a war movie. It deals more with danger from the elements, rather than danger from bullets. Set in 1941, the film depicts an escape from a Siberian Gulag, only to land in the more dangerous natural prisons that are Siberia, the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas.
After being accused of espionage and sent to a Soviet POW camp, Janusz (Jim Sturgess), meets a fellow prisoner, Khabarov (Mark Strong), who has been planning an escape from the camp for months. Having seen that Janusz has courage and kindness, Khabarov decides to tell him about the plan. In the process of waiting for the appropriate snow storm, as a way to cover their tracks when they escape, several other prisoners hear about the escape.
Hardened Russian criminal, Valka (Collin Farrell), as well as American engineer, Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) also join the party. When the storm finally came Janusz, Khabarov, Valka and Mr. Smith and several other prisoners cut through the barbed wire and escape into the Siberian forest. The pack travels from Siberia to Mongolia, eating bugs and whatever they can find. After realizing that Mongolia is also a communist country, they set off for India, and eventually to China, hitting such roadblocks such as Himalayas in winter, and the Gobi Desert.
What was most interesting about this story was the juxtaposition between the Soviet prison and the 4,000 miles of natural prison they must endure to be free. In their journey, the characters develop relationships with each other, they talk about their lives; things that they would never do in the POW camp. And although they are free from the camp, they are still very much imprisoned in a natural fortress of hell.
Not only can the elements kill them, but they also have bounties on their heads. Unlike the Siberian winter, the prison camp was not designed to kill them, they were used as laborers. This shows the merciless side of Mother nature. And even though the characters were near death, dying a free man is still better than dying a falsely accused prisoner under the Stalin regime.
Overall the film could use better transitions between the scenes. Although you cannot show a 4,000 mile walk in a two-hour movie, I felt the journey was rushed. Much of the movie focuses on the -40 degree temperatures in Siberia and the 100 degree heat in the Gobi Desert, however the Himalayan Mountain range was almost completely cut out.
One would think that the birth place of the tallest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest, would be successful at showing how dangerous this trek really was. The hike through the Himalayas occurs in the later part of the journey, in which only 8 minutes of the movie are used to show it. This proves that the film was rushed and last parts of the journey were diluted.
Janusz (Sturgess) even states, at the end of the film, “Apart from a few mountains, we are there,” referring to the Himalayas. The end of the film was very unrealistic.Many people die crossing the Himalayas today, yet 4 malnourished men can do it – with no food, oxygen or even proper shoes.