The New Clarion

The New Clarion header image 2

The Way Back

January 22nd, 2011 by Myrhaf · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

I’ve been blogging a lot since I became unemployed. If you want to be a prolific blogger, remove all annoying distractions. First get rid of that nuisance people call a “job.”

Ah, the life of leisure! Why don’t I tell you about the movie I saw this afternoon? Warning: some spoilers, but it’s not like I’m revealing plot twists in a murder mystery.

Ever since I read The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz in the 1980’s I thought it would make a great movie. It’s the story of a Polish officer who is captured by the Russians in 1939. Stalin’s secret police imprison him in a ghastly cell for months, torture him and finally put him on a show trial. All of this is to get him to confess he is a spy so they can shoot him. The hero will not break; finally they send him to Siberia. He escapes with around seven other people and walks 4,000 miles across some of the most forbidding terrain on the planet: across Siberia, the Gobi Desert, Tibet, and finally the Himalayan Mountains into India. It’s a remarkable story of survival, and is supposedly true (more on that later).

As I recall, I even made some notes toward adapting the screenplay myself. I knew it would be made eventually. I didn’t know I’d have to wait 25 years for Peter Weir to do it with a different title, The Way Back.

The movie has not been advertised much. At the showing I saw there were three other people in the audience. It’s nice being in an empty theater — no idiots talking, no children running around.

Weir left out many of my favorite parts of the book, but you have to expect that in any movie dramatization. If leaving good parts out is the worst thing about the Atlas Shrugged movie, it will be a success.

To give an example of a good bit that didn’t make the film, the hero is tortured by a brute of a man before getting shipped to Siberia. The torturer just wants him to confess he’s a spy, but the hero won’t break. Finally, the torturer breaks and he cries as he begs the hero to confess. What a great bit! Didn’t make the film.

Overall, I would say Weir does a good job. The acting is excellent and the scenery is everything you could want it to be.

The only thing Weir totally botches is the crossing of the Himalayas. This is the climax of the story, such as it is, and the three remaining men must overcome serious obstacles. For one thing, they are at such high altitude that their nose bleeds. To survive a blizzard at night they must build an impromtu igloo in the snow. None of this is included in the movie. Instead, there are a few shots of the men walking along mountain ridges, then they’re in India.

I can’t blame Weir for leaving out one detail: in the book, as the men cross the Himalayas they see the Abominable Snowmen. This touch of silliness is the one false step that makes me suspect the story is the product of a novelist’s imagination, not a true story. A story like this loses a lot if it’s not true, because there’s not much of a plot. The fascination comes because people actually made this epic trek and survived.

In the book you understand that those who survive do so only because of the hero’s will. His love of freedom keeps him putting one foot in front of the other, and the rest follow his leadership. The film has this, but it’s not emphasized enough, and Weir changes the ending by making it not about a man’s struggle to be free, but his Odysseus-like quest to return to his wife. This makes the ending more sentimental. What can you say? Hollywood.

4 Comments so far ↓

  • Beth Haynes

    I am currently listening to the book Unbroken by Laura Hilldenbrand — which is a true story.
    Based on your post, I think you will like it.

  • Richard

    I read about the script for this movie a while ago on the blog ScriptShadow. He has a bit of a different conclusion, you might find it interesting though as a playwright.

    http://scriptshadow.blogspot.com/2010/11/way-back.html

  • Beth Haynes

    I am retracting my recommendation of Unbroken. I just finished the book—and although the first 2/3rds tells an amazing story of personal survival against horrible odds (initially on a raft in the Pacific Ocean and subsequently as a POW in Japan), the book’s conclusion elevates forgiveness “turning the other cheek” beyond what I find acceptable.

  • John Venlet

    I can’t blame Weir for leaving out one detail: in the book, as the men cross the Himalayas they see the Abominable Snowmen. This touch of silliness is the one false step that makes me suspect the story is the product of a novelist’s imagination, not a true story.

    When I read the book, a few years ago, I had the same impression regarding the story.

    Based on your review of the movie, I will give it a pass, and go back for a re-read instead.