THE WAY BACK: Peter Weir's Long Walk from Siberia to Persia during WW2


THE WAY BACK: Peter Weir's Long Walk from Siberia to Persia during WW2
by Darius Kadivar
Peter Weir's film based on a disputed 1956 "memoir" called The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by a Polish man Slavomir Rawicz, who initially claimed to have walked from Siberia to Persia but who in the book, for sensational purposes, relocated his ultimate destination to a much further location: British Occupied India.    
Official Trailer of The Way Back (2011):
Directed by Peter Weir, Starring Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong, Dragos Bucur, Gustaf Skarsgard


"Poles Flee To Persia" When Iran changes side from Axis to Ally:
Wojtek: The Iranian Bear mascot of Polish Army (Also See BBC Persian Report Here

): Wojtek the soldier bear, an Iranian brown bear who became a soldier in the Polish 2nd Army Corps and hero of Monte Casino

Enduring Controversy ( See BBC Article Here)

In 1956, a Polish man living in the English midlands published an extraordinary book that became one of the classic tales of escape and endurance.

In The Long Walk, Slavomir Rawicz described how, during the Second World War, he and a group of prisoners broke out of a gulag in the Soviet Union in 1941. They walked thousands of miles south from Siberia, through Mongolia, Tibet, across the Himalayas, to the safety of British India.


The only question is: is it true? From the start, a ferocious controversy has raged about whether anyone really could achieve this superhuman feat. Critics particularly questioned one chapter in the book where the walkers apparently see a pair of yetis.

But The Long Walk was a sensation. It has sold over half a million copies and has been translated into 25 languages and is still in print.

About the Film and Cast:

Excerpt of a Review in Time Magazine:

Peter Weir's The Way Back, a Good Walk Almost Spoiled by Mary Pols 


The Way Back is itself an old fashioned venture, about a rag tag group of valiant, determinedprisoners during World War II who make an almost superhuman effort to escapeSiberia on foot  — across Mongolia, through the Gobi Desert into China andonward into British-controlled India (you can never put too many miles betweenyou and an angry Stalin). The tale is not, strictly speaking, a true one: it isbased on a disputed 1956 "memoir" called The Long Walk: The TrueStory of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz, who claimed to have walkedfrom Siberia to Persia. Screenwriter Keith Clarke, in researching the script,became convinced Rawicz based the book on other, true journeys, but did notmake the trek himself. (Clarke found evidence of four Poles who did go all theway to India.)

Themovie stars Jim Sturgess, the actor best known for playing Jude in Across the Universe. Here he does a fine job as the sturdy Janusz, a Polish man accused of spying on the occupying Soviets. He escapes from the Gulag and because of his outdoors man skills, becomes the de facto leader of his fellow escapees  —  a motley crew including one genuine and dangerouscriminal, Valka (Colin Farrell), a Russian who possesses a handy knife and isthus worth putting up with. There is also Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), an unfriendly American engineer who came to Russia to work on the Moscow metro and was tossedinto the Gulag during the purges. An artist named Tamasz (Alexandru Potocean),an innocent named Kasik (Sebastian Urzendowsky), a Latvian priest Voss (Gustaf Skarsgard) and a funny Yugoslav named Zoran (Dragos Bucur) round out the gang.

People are lost along the way  —  Siberia tends to take a toll—  but near the shores of the vast Lake Baikal they pick up anothercompanion, a young Polish teenager named Irena (Atonement's Saoirse Ronan). Her femininity loosens them all up a bit, a predictable narrative turnnearly obscured by Ronan's believable performance. With her sharp, somehowperiod-appropriate features and convincing accent, she fits right in,especially in her scenes with Harris. He could probably do a part like this  —stoic, smart, reserved  —  in his sleep, but no one shoulddiscount his expertise simply because he makes it look so easy. As for Farrell,if you have to slog a few thousand miles on foot, having a companion asinteresting as his Valka is essential. It is overwhelmingly satisfying to see Farrell continue the career rebound that began with In Bruges. A challenging, off-beat choice like this is worth a dozen Miami Vices. (Read More Here )

Recommended Watching:

BBC Persian's Excellent Report on the Persian Bear Wojtek (Click Here)

Recommended Readings:

Walking the talk? An epic story of human endurance is being challenged. Did wartime prisoners really walk from Siberiato India? By Hugh Levinson 30th Oct2006 (bbc)

Time Review : Peter Weir's The Way Back, a Good Walk Almost Spoiled by Mary Pols

Interview:Anne Applebaum Discusses Peter Weir's New Gulag Film, 'The Way Back RFE/RL

Related Blog:

AN AXIS OF LOVE: A Persian Tribute to Poland's Dignified Grief by DK


more from Darius Kadivar
Ryszard Antolak

Weir and Sinai

by Ryszard Antolak on

I still have an old, well-worn hardback volume of Rawicz's book "The Long Walk" which I bought several decades ago. Even back then we all regarded it as a fantasy, probably put together from snippets of information the author had heard from his fellow Polish exiles (and some from his own experiences). But the episodes crossing the Gobi desert were very exciting and still remain vividly in my memory. He's a good story-teller.

I think you're right, Darius, that the real destination of the escapees in the film should be Iran, and not India. But the British (and others for whom the book was written) would not have easily understood Iran as a destination for "Freedom" (even less so today). And the author probably changed it to British Colonial India for that reason. To sell copies. What an irony.

It will be interesting to compare "The Way Back" with Khosrow Sinai's new film (Malgorzata) on the same theme (the Polish wartime exodus from Siberia to Iran) when it eventually appears on our screens. By all accounts, Sinai's film is rumoured to be much more accurate.

I think I'll postpone going to see "The Way Back" until I can watch both films together.