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The Way Back

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Director  Peter Weir
Story by  Slavomir Rawicz
Language  English Russian
7.2/10 IMDb

Genre  Adventure, Drama, History
The Way Back movie poster

Release date  September 3, 2010 (2010-09-03) (Telluride Film Festival) December 29, 2010 (2010-12-29) (United States)
Based on  The Long Walk  by Slawomir Rawicz
Writer  Keith R. Clarke (screenplay), Slavomir Rawicz (novel), Peter Weir (screenplay)
Screenplay  Peter Weir, Keith R. Clarke
Cast  Colin Farrell (Valka), Dejan Angelov (Andrei), Drago? Bucur (Zoran), Ed Harris (Mr. Smith), Jim Sturgess (Janusz), Saoirse Ronan (Irena)
Similar movies  A Clockwork Orange, Salt, Sucker Punch, Faith Connections, A Smell of Honey, a Swallow of Brine, Five Loose Women
Tagline  Their escape was just the beginning

The Way Back is a 2010 American war film directed by Peter Weir, from a screenplay by Weir and Keith Clarke. The film is inspired by The Long Walk (1956), the memoir by former Polish prisoner of war Sławomir Rawicz, who claimed to have escaped from a Soviet Gulag and walked 4,000 miles to freedom in World War II. The film stars Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, and Saoirse Ronan, with Alexandru Potocean, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Gustaf Skarsgård, Dragoş Bucur and Mark Strong.


The Way Back movie scenes

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Makeup.

The Way Back movie scenes

Solomun the way back


The Way Back movie scenes

During World War II, after the Soviet invasion of Poland, young Polish army officer Janusz Wieszczek (Jim Sturgess) is held as a POW and interrogated by the NKVD. The Soviets, unable to get him to say he is a spy, take his wife into custody; from her they extort a statement condemning him. He is sentenced to 20 years in a Gulag labour camp deep in Siberia.

The Way Back movie scenes

There he meets those with whom he later plans an escape: Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), an American engineer; Khabarov (Mark Strong), an actor; Valka (Colin Farrell), a hardened Russian criminal; Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean), a Polish artist; Voss (Gustaf Skarsgård), a Latvian priest; Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky), a Pole suffering from night blindness; and Zoran (Dragoş Bucur), a Yugoslav accountant. Khabarov secretly tells Janusz that he is planning to escape south to Mongolia, passing Lake Baikal. Smith cautions Janusz that it is Khabarov's way to discuss escape plans with newcomers, to maintain his morale, but nothing will come of it. At times Janusz seems to hallucinate the front door of a country home and adjoining window ledge, which holds plants and a rock he attempts to reach for. Janusz follows through with the escape with Smith, Valka, Voss, Tomasz, Zoran and Kazik during a severe snowstorm that covers their tracks.

The Way Back movie scenes

Kazik freezes to death the second night of the trek, after losing his way back to the campsite while looking for wood, and the group buries him. After many days of travelling across the snows of Siberia, the group reaches Lake Baikal. There they meet Irena (Saoirse Ronan), a young Polish girl, who tells them that Russian soldiers murdered her parents and sent her to a collective farm near Warsaw, where they treated her cruelly, so she escaped. Smith realises the inaccuracies in her story, as Warsaw is occupied by the Germans; nevertheless, despite his misgivings that she'll slow them down and tax their meager food supply, he agrees with the group to let her in. Smith eventually cautions her about the lie and says he will not tolerate any more, in response to which she admits that her parents were communists but the communist rulers killed them anyway and sent her to an orphanage.

The Way Back movie scenes

When the group reaches an unpatrolled border between the Soviet Union and Mongolia, Valka, who idolizes Joseph Stalin and does not know what he would do elsewhere, decides to stay. The rest continue to Ulan Bator, but soon they see images of Stalin and a red star. Janusz realises that Mongolia is under communist control and since China is at war with Japan, tells the group they should take refuge in British India. As they continue south across the Gobi Desert, lack of water, sandstorms, sunburn, blisters and sunstroke weaken the group. Irena collapses several times and soon dies. A few days later Tomasz collapses and dies. Smith is on the verge of death, but after being motivated by Janusz, Zoran and Voss, decides to rejoin the group and the severely dehydrated four find a much-needed water source. Soon after they reach China passing through the Great Wall.

The Way Back movie scenes

As they reach the Himalayas, all of them on the verge of death, they are rescued by a Tibetan monk who takes them to a Buddhist monastery where they regain their strength. Smith decides to go to Lhasa with the help of one of the monk's contacts, who will smuggle him out through China. Once there, he anticipates he will be able to connect with the US military, his return to America ensured. The remaining three continue to trek through the Himalayas and soon reach India.

The Way Back movie scenes

At the end of the film, Janusz keeps walking around the world until 1989, when Poland ousts the communists. The final scene of the film shows Janusz, 50 years after being taken captive, again envisioning the door and reaching for the rock; this time he takes a key hidden beneath the rock to open the door and reconcile with his wife.


  • Jim Sturgess as Janusz Wieszczek, a young Polish inmate made a Prisoner of War during the Soviet invasion of Poland
  • Ed Harris as Mr. Smith, an American inmate and former engineer
  • Saoirse Ronan as Irena Zielińska, an orphaned teenage Polish girl on the run from Soviet Russia, who meets up with the fugitives near Lake Baikal
  • Colin Farrell as Valka, a tough Russian inmate and gambler whose most prized possession is a knife he calls "Wolf"
  • Dragoş Bucur as Zoran, a Yugoslavian inmate who used to be an accountant and is considered a funny man
  • Alexandru Potocean as Tomasz Horodinsky, a Polish inmate and former pastry chef who dreams of becoming an artist
  • Gustaf Skarsgård as Andrejs Voss, a Latvian inmate and former priest
  • Sebastian Urzendowsky as Kazik, a young Polish inmate suffering from night blindness
  • Mark Strong as Andrei Timofeyevich Khabarov, a Russian inmate and actor who was imprisoned when the play he was in was deemed subversive
  • Background

    The film is loosely based on The Long Walk (1956), Sławomir Rawicz's memoir depicting his alleged escape from a Siberian Gulag and subsequent 4,000-mile walk to freedom in Nepal (but called India in the movie). The book sold over 500,000 copies and is credited with inspiring many explorers. In 2006 the BBC unearthed records (including some written by Rawicz himself) which showed that, rather than having escaped from the gulag, he had in fact been released by the USSR in 1942. In May 2009 Witold Gliński, a Polish World War II veteran living in the United Kingdom, came forward to claim that the basis of Rawicz's story was true, but it was actually an account of what had happened to him, not Rawicz. Glinski's claims have also been seriously questioned. In addition, in 1942, a group of Siberian Gulag escapees is said to have hiked into Nepal. However, this too is suspect. Though the director Peter Weir continues to claim that the so-called long walk happened, he himself now describes The Way Back as "essentially a fictional film".

    Many of the events that happen in the gulag scenes come from Varlam Shalamov's The Kolyma Tales, such as the scene where the man is killed for his sweater.

    Laurence Harvey and Herbert Wilcox announced plans to make a film from The Long Walk in 1957.

    The actor Jeremy Child had the rights to the book for many years. He is thanked by the producers in the films credits.


    Principal photography took place in India.


    The Way Back received generally positive reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 74% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 129 reviews, with an average score of 6.8 out of 10. The critical consensus is: "It isn't as emotionally involving as it should be, but this Peter Weir epic offers sweeping ambition and strong performances to go with its grand visual spectacle." Empire awarded the film three out of five stars and said, "It's good, but from this director we have come to expect great." The Guardian awarded it three out of five and said, "Weir has put together a good film – oddly, though, considering its scale, it feels like a rather small one." The Telegraph called the film "A journey that feels awful and heroic and unfathomable – and one you’ll want to watch again."


    The soundtrack to The Way Back was released on January 18, 2010.


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