The Way Back

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The Way Back
The Way Back Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Weir
Produced by Peter Weir
Joni Levin
Duncan Henderson
Nigel Sinclair
Scott Rudin
Screenplay by Peter Weir
Keith Clarke
Based on The Long Walk 
by Sławomir Rawicz
Starring Jim Sturgess
Ed Harris
Saoirse Ronan
Colin Farrell
Music by Burkhard Dallwitz
Cinematography Russell Boyd
Edited by Lee Smith
National Geographic Films
Spitfire Pictures
Imagenation Abu Dhabi
Film Fund Luxembourg
Distributed by Newmarket Films
Exclusive Film Distribution
Meteor Pictures
Release date(s)
  • September 3, 2010 (2010-09-03) (Telluride Film Festival)
  • December 29, 2010 (2010-12-29) (United States)
Running time 127 minutes
Language English
Budget $30 million[1]
Box office $20,348,249[1]

The Way Back is a 2010 epic drama film directed by Peter Weir, from a screenplay also by Weir and Keith Clarke. The film is inspired by The Long Walk (1955), a book by Sławomir Rawicz, a Polish POW in the Soviet Gulag. It stars Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and Saoirse Ronan, with Alexandru Potocean, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Gustaf Skarsgård, Dragoş Bucur and Mark Strong.

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


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

There Janusz meets those with whom an escape is made: 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 Yugoslavian accountant. Khabarov secretly tells Janusz that he is planning to escape south to Mongolia, passing Lake Baikal. Mr. Smith cautions Janusz that it is Khabarov's way to maintain his morale. At times Janusz seems to suffer from an hallucination of a country home front door beside it a ledge for plants, etc. with a rock for which he seems to attempt to reach out but in reality seems to represent some form of hindrance such as prison guard, etc. Janusz follows through with the escape with Mr. Smith, Valka, Voss, Tomasz, Zoran and Kazik during a severe snowstorm that covers their tracks.

Kazik freezes to death the second night of the trek losing his way back to the hide-away while looking for wood, and is buried by the group. After many days of travelling across the snows of Siberia, the group reach Lake Baikal. There they meet Irena (Saoirse Ronan), a young Polish girl, who tells them a story of her parents being murdered by Russian soldiers, and her escape from a collective farm near Warsaw. Mr. Smith realises the inaccuracies in her story as Warsaw is ruled by the Germans, nevertheless he agrees with the group to let her in. Mr. Smith eventually cautions her about the fib and that he will not tolerate any more to which she admits that her parents were communists but the communist rulers killed them anyway.

When the group reaches an unpatrolled border between the Soviet Union and Mongolia, Valka decides to stay, as he still sees Russia as his home, and Josef Stalin as a hero. 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 tells the group that India is the closest refuge for them. As they continue south across the Gobi Desert, lack of water, sandstorms, sunburn, blisters and sun-stroke weakens the group. Irena collapses several times and soon dies. A few days later, Tomasz collapses and dies. Mr. Smith is on the verge of death, but after being motivated by Janusz, Zoran and Voss, he decides to rejoin the group and the four find a stream of water and avoid dehydration.

As they reach the Himalayas, all on the verge of death, they are rescued by a Tibetan monk who takes them to a Buddhist monastery, where they regain their strength. Mr. 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.

At the end of the film, the final three say their goodbyes as Zoran and Voss stay in India and Janusz keeps walking around the world until 1989, when Poland ousts the communists. The final scene of the film shows Janusz, fifty years after being taken captive returning to his hallucination reaching for the rock and taking a hidden key to open the door and reconciling with his wife despite his experience.




The film is loosely based on The Long Walk, a book by Sławomir Rawicz, depicting his alleged escape from a Siberian gulag and subsequent 4,000-mile walk to freedom in India. The book was very popular – it 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.[2][3] 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.[4][5][6][7] In addition, in 1942, a group of Siberian Gulag escapees is said to have hiked into India.[2] However, this too is suspect.[4][8][9] 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".[2][10][11]

Regardless of whether this particular 'long walk' really took place, during World War II other Poles undertook difficult journeys attempting to leave the Soviet Union. Accounts of their escapes can be found in the archives of the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum in London, and in the Hoover Institute, Stanford University, in California.[12] Also, several relatively verifiable and believable escapee autobiographies have been published in English, e.g. Michael Krupa's Shallow Graves in Siberia.


Principal photography took place in Bulgaria, Morocco and India.


The Way Back received generally positive reviews. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 75% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 93 reviews, with an average score of 6.8/10. 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."[13] Empire awarded the film three out of five stars and said "It's good, but from this director we have come to expect great."[14] 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."[15] The Telegraph called the film "A journey that feels awful and heroic and unfathomable – and one you’ll want to watch again."[16]


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

No. Title Artist Length
1. "Interrogation"   Burkhard Dallwitz 3:36
2. "New Arrivals"   Burkhard Dallwitz 1:16
3. "Plans for Escape"   Burkhard Dallwitz 1:58
4. "A Brave Man"   Burkhard Dallwitz 1:00
5. "Escape"   Burkhard Dallwitz 2:48
6. "Lake Baikal"   Burkhard Dallwitz 3:35
7. "Freedom?"   Burkhard Dallwitz 3:02
8. "Mirages Don't Have Birds"   Burkhard Dallwitz 2:34
9. "The Abandoned Temple"   Burkhard Dallwitz 1:17
10. "Water!"   Burkhard Dallwitz 3:36
11. "Tibet"   Burkhard Dallwitz 5:26
12. "India"   Burkhard Dallwitz 1:58
13. "Keep on Walking"   Burkhard Dallwitz 2:42
14. "Closing Credits"   Burkhard Dallwitz 7:39
Total length:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Way Back (2011)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-02-27. 
  2. ^ a b c How The Long Walk became The Way Back. Retrieved 2010-12-05.
  3. ^ Levinson, Hugh (2006-10-30). "Walking the Talk?". BBC. Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Strandberg et al, "The Long Walk To Freedom" Retrieved 2010-12-31.
  5. ^ Leszek Gliniecki, “I have proof Glinski didn’t do The Long Walk” Retrieved 2011-01-04. Gliniecki claims that he and Glinski were fellow students in Russia in 1940 and 1941. His article offers testimony, contemporary documents, and an analysis of the Glinski story as reported by John Dyson in the May 2009 Reader's Digest, and Linda Willis in her November 2010 book Looking For Mr. Smith.
  6. ^ John Dyson, "Regarding Gliniecki´s solid evidence" Retrieved 2011-01-21. In addition to John Dyson's response to Gliniecki, this webpage also has two posts from CuChullaine O'Reilly and Leszek Gliniecki replying to Dyson, as well as a post from Linda Willis in which she acknowledges knowing nothing about Gliniecki.
  7. ^ Leszek Gliniecki, "Thank you for allowing me to comment on Zbigniew L. Stanczyk’s submission". Retrieved 2011-02-05. Gliniecki offers further details rebutting Glinski's story.
  8. ^ Zbigniew Stanczyk, "Mysterious group of Polish escapees in India". Retrieved 2011-02-05. On 4 February 2011, Zbigniew Stanczyk described newly discovered evidence which may confirm the presence of Polish Gulag escapees in western India in March 1942.
  9. ^ Att fly från Gulag – eller fängslas av kalla krigets myter?.
  10. ^ Peter Weir 16 February 2011 Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview, part 1 on YouTube Retrieved 2011-02-19.
  11. ^ Peter Weir February 16, 2011 Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview, part 2 on YouTube Retrieved 2011-02-19.
  12. ^ Zbigniew Stanczyk, "Mysterious group of Polish escapees in India". Retrieved 2011-02-05. Specific references or citations are needed to support this assertion.
  13. ^ "The Way Back Movie Reviews, Pictures". Flixster. Retrieved 2011-01-05. 
  14. ^ "Empire's The Way Back Movie Review". Retrieved 2012-02-27. 
  15. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (2010-12-24). "The Way Back – review". The Guardian (London). 
  16. ^ Sandhu, Sukhdev (2010-12-23). "The Way Back, review". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  17. ^ The Way Back Soundtrack TheOST. Retrieved January 6, 2014

Further reading[edit]

  • Linda Willis, 2010. Looking for Mr. Smith: The Quest for the Truth Behind The Long Walk, the Greatest Survival Story Ever Told. Skyhorse Publishing.
  • The Long Walk Articles Strandberg, Mikael et al. This is an excellent collection of articles relating to the movie 'The Way Back,' the book upon which it was based The Long Walk, Linda Willis' Looking For Mr. Smith, and related materials.
  • "The Long Bow" by StRIX [Peter Fleming], The Spectator (12 July 1956), page 13. An interesting contemporary discussion of Rawicz's book by a noted explorer.

External links[edit]