Directed by Peter Weir, The Way Back (2010) shows a desperate band of Gulag prisoners escape their Siberian captivity and head towards freedom. However, as the Soviet communist rule spreads, the group soon discover that the frozen barren woodlands were only the beginning and now must endeavour into more hardship. Based on a book by The Long Walk (1955) written by Sławomir Rawicz, a Polish POW in the Soviet Gulag. Starring Jim Sturgess as Janusz, Colin Farrell as Valka, Ed Harris as Mr. Smith, the Siberian gulag escapees walk 4000 miles overland to freedom. Peter Weir’s captivating tale of endurance takes us on journey of survival against the odds and the individuals who venture towards freedom.
The core theme is about a group of people and their human endurance against a dehumanizing landscape. As the group become prisoners of a Siberian Gulag camp during World War II, they soon discover that the bars and barbwire are not the only things that imprison them. It is the vast landscape of the brutally cold winter and the barren land of snow, blizzards and woodlands. In the midst of beautiful cinematography we find our group lost in the snowy wastes of Siberia, dehydrating in the Gobi desert and at the very end at the verge of death caused by the unforgiving land. The Way Back itself is an old fashioned linear structured film about how far would some go for freedom. These valiant prisoners escape the Gulag but they soon are prisoners of the landscape. On foot they cross through the Desert into China and onward into British controlled India.
The individuals who embark on this daring voyage give us a perceptive view on the brutal justice system in the Stalin communist era. Janusz is a Polish soldier who was accused of being a spy and his wife was forced to confess to this false accusation. Mr. Smith is an American engineer who came to Russia to work on the Moscow metro system however is tossed into the Gulag during The Great Purge. Under the communist rule, the ideology had no place for religion and priest and worshipers were sent to prison. The Latvian priest Voss (Gustaf Skarsgard) became victim to this ideology. The censorship in the Soviet Union repressed writers, painters and musicians. The artist of the group Tamasz (Alexandru Potocean) was sent to the Gulag for his paintings.
Through the magnificent visuals of the landscape, Peter Weir’s The Way Back shows a group of men and their gruelling odyssey across unspeakable hardship. While we are stunned by vistas of the Siberian woods and mountains, the group have to endure hypothermia or frostbite. Mongolian landscape of the Gobi Desert brings not only a vast wasteland of sand but also exposed bare rock. The lack of water, sandstorms, sunburn, blisters and sun-stroke weakens the group. Yet despite the hardship these men endure, The Way Back unfolds into an emotional tale of courage and survival.