Thursday, December 11, 2014

"The Way Back": prisoners escape from one of Stalin's gulags and hike 4000 miles to freedom

The Way Back” (2010) is an expansive film from Peter Weir.  It is not as daring, for my taste, as some of his earlier work, like “The Last Wave” (1977, reviewed on my “cf” blog Oct. 25, 2011). But Weir has a conviction that the gulags operated by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union during WWII were as ghastly as the Nazi concentration camps. The film tells the story of the escape of some prisoners, and their trek across Siberia, through Mongolia, China, and across the Himalaya to India. The movie is based on the book "The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom" by Slavomir Rawicsz
This independent him has an all star cast, including Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Mark Strong, Jim Sturgess, and Alexandra Potocean.
The DVD has a 30-minute short “The Journey of the Journey”, that explains the film; Weir says that the settings are like characters.  He could not go into Siberia, so he built the concentration camp in Bulgaria, and notes that in the gulags, the prisoners built everything.  Mongolia had no infrastructure for film, so that portion was shot in Morocco.  Several of the characters are heavily tattooed, and one (Farrell) says that the story of his life is told by the body art.
The film has no relation for “The Way Way Back” reviewed here July 6. 2013. 
Sturgess has an atypical role (far from the math whiz of Sony’s “21”), as the natural leader Janusz, from Poland, imprisoned when his wife was tortured into confessing his “political” crimes.
The film gives quite a lot of summary history, starting with how Hitler and Stalin divided up Poland in 1939.  Near the end of the 133-minute film, the narrative summarizes the entire Cold War, mentioning especially Soviet intrusions into its eastern bloc countries in 1956 and 1968, as well as the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961.  It considers 1989 as marking the end of communism.  You can certainly call this a “conservative film.”
The website for the site (given on imdb) based on the movie name has been replaced by a site of an unrelated Chinese cosmetic company.  National Geographic has a site here

Wikipedia attribution link for map of area covered by film, here.  

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