The Way Back (2010 film)

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

The Way Back is a 2010 American survival 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 (6,400 km) 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, Dragoș Bucur and Mark Strong.

The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Makeup.


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 admit that 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.

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 (Dragoș 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.

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.

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, Khorloogiin Choibalsan 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 by passing through the Great Wall.

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 Sikkim (India, previously Nepal) and get assistance from villagers. The Indian government helps them reach their home peacefully.

At the end of the film, Janusz keeps walking around the world until 1989, when the communist regime in Poland is ousted from power. 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 trying to escape from the Soviet Union, 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"
  • Dragoș 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 by Soviet authorities



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. 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.[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 Nepal.[2] However, this too is suspect.[4][8][9] Nevertheless, there is some circumstantial evidence that some sort of trek to freedom occurred, via the route outlined in the book and film. Captain Rupert Mayne, a British intelligence officer in Calcutta in 1942, interviewed three emaciated men, who claimed to have escaped from Siberia. Mayne always believed their story was the same as that of The Long Walk. So the possibility remains that someone – even if not Rawicz – achieved this extraordinary feat.[10] 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][11][12]

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.[13]

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


Principal photography took place in Bulgaria, Morocco and India.[14]


The Way Back received generally positive reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports a 74% approval rating based on 137 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The critics 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."[15] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 66 out of 100 based on 33 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[16] Empire awarded the film three out of five stars and wrote, "It's good, but from this director we have come to expect great."[17] The Guardian awarded it three out of five and wrote, "Weir has put together a good film – oddly, though, considering its scale, it feels like a rather small one."[18] The Telegraph called the film "A journey that feels awful and heroic and unfathomable – and one you’ll want to watch again."[19]


The soundtrack to The Way Back was released on January 18, 2010.[20]

1."Interrogation"Burkhard Dallwitz3:36
2."New Arrivals"Burkhard Dallwitz1:16
3."Plans for Escape"Burkhard Dallwitz1:58
4."A Brave Man"Burkhard Dallwitz1:00
5."Escape"Burkhard Dallwitz2:48
6."Lake Baikal"Burkhard Dallwitz3:35
7."Freedom?"Burkhard Dallwitz3:02
8."Mirages Don't Have Birds"Burkhard Dallwitz2:34
9."The Abandoned Temple"Burkhard Dallwitz1:17
10."Water!"Burkhard Dallwitz3:36
11."Tibet"Burkhard Dallwitz5:26
12."India"Burkhard Dallwitz1:58
13."Keep on Walking"Burkhard Dallwitz2:42
14."Closing Credits"Burkhard Dallwitz7:39
Total length:42:27

See also[edit]

  • As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me, 2001 film about a German World War II prisoner of war escaping from a Siberian Gulag to the Iranian border
  • Gulag, 1985 film depicting a gulag escape and arduous journey to freedom


  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". BBC. 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. ^ "Walking the talk?". 30 October 2006 – via
  11. ^ Peter Weir 16 February 2011 Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview, part 1 on YouTube Retrieved 2011-02-19.
  12. ^ Peter Weir February 16, 2011 Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview, part 2 on YouTube Retrieved 2011-02-19.
  13. ^ Harvey Will Produce 'Long Walk;' Hayden Top Star in 'Hard as Nails' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 15 July 1957: C9.
  14. ^ "The Way Back (2010): Filming & Production". IMDb.
  15. ^ "The Way Back (2011)". Fandango. Retrieved 2020-01-23.
  16. ^ "The Way Back Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2019-11-14.
  17. ^ "Empire's The Way Back Movie Review". Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  18. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (2010-12-24). "The Way Back – review". The Guardian. London.
  19. ^ Sandhu, Sukhdev (2010-12-23). "The Way Back, review". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  20. ^ "The Way Back Soundtrack". TheOST. 2010. Retrieved January 6, 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Willis, Linda (2010). Looking for Mr. Smith: The Quest for the Truth Behind The Long Walk, the Greatest Survival Story Ever Told. Skyhorse Publishing.
  • Strandberg, Mikael et al. "The Long Walk Articles".CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link) 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.
  • StRIX (Peter Fleming) (12 July 1956). "The Long Bow". The Spectator. p. 13. An interesting contemporary discussion of Rawicz's book by a noted explorer.
  • Shalamov, Varlam (1980). Kolyma Tales. Penguin Books.

External links[edit]