The Indomitable Human Will

The Indomitable Human Will

Static Mass Rating: 3/5

Release date: December 26th 2010
Certificate (UK): 12A
Running time: 133 minutes

Director: Peter Weir

Cast: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong

Inspired by Slavomir Rawicz’s novel The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom and directed by six-time Academy Award® nominee Peter Weir The Way Back is an epic story of survival, solidarity and indomitable human will which may or may not be true.

The year is 1940 and a young officer in the Polish cavalry, Janusz (Jim Sturgess), gets caught up in Stalin’s Reign of Terror. Arrested as a spy for having come into contact with the Germans and for speaking English, Janusz is tortured, sentenced, and force-marched to Siberia. A signed statement from his wife, also extracted under torture, seals his fate and he is thrown into the gulag with freezing conditions, armed guards who will shoot to kill and criminals who gamble and take each other’s lives for food.

Desperate to escape and return home to his wife, Janusz teams up with a group of unlikely allies to break out, but with little food or equipment, and no certainty of their location or intended direction, their journey will last four seasons, 12 months and take them across some 10,000 kilometres before they are free men. They walk from the frozen forests of Siberia through to the vast plains of Mongolia to the scorching torment of the Gobi Desert.

Along the way they cross paths with Irena (Saoirse Ronan), a young girl who is also trying to escape the atrocities of the enclosing war. Although the men are reluctant at first to let her travel with them, Irena eventually joins them.

Saoirse says of her role:

“My character, Irena, initially tells them a lie in hopes that they will let her stay, but in truth she has just fled the orphanage where she was placed when her parents were taken away for being Communists. She has some trepidation about approaching these men, certainly. I mean, who knows what they might do to her? But she decides to take a chance because she is so hungry for human interaction and companionship, and knows if they accept her she’ll have a better chance of surviving.”

Shot in Bulgaria, Morocco and India, The Way Back makes our recent cold snap in Britain look like a walk in the park in early September. In order words, it really puts things into perspective and makes you realise that life is good if you have a roof over your head, food on your table and a bed to sleep in at night.

There’s been some controversy surrounding the authenticity Sławomir Rawicz’s memoirs. In 2006, the BBC reported that Rawicz had been released as part of the 1942 general amnesty of Poles in the USSR. Rawicz would have been transported across the Caspian Sea to a refugee camp in Iran so his epic story of an escape through the frozen Siberian forests to the burning Gobi Desert could not have occurred.

Junusz (Jim Sturgess), Mr Smith (Ed Harris) & Irena (Saoirse Ronan)

Witold Gliński, a Polish WWII veteran came forward in May 2009 to claim that Rawicz’s story was indeed true. Instead of it being an account of what happened to Rawicz, Gliński claim it was about what happened to him.

Whatever the truth might be, it doesn’t stop The Way Back from being an inspiring story of the will to survive, despite its heavy-handed approach and somewhat sloppy epilogue.

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