The Way Back (I) (2010)
In 1941, three men attempt to flee communist Russia, escaping a Siberian gulag. The film tells their story and that of four others who escaped with them and a teenage girl who joins them in flight. The group's natural leader is Janusz, a Pole condemned by accusations secured by torturing his wife, spent much of his youth outdoors, and knows how to live in the wild. They escape under cover of a snowstorm: a cynical American, a Russian thug, a comedic accountant, a pastry chef who draws, a priest, and a Pole with night blindness. They face freezing nights, lack of food and water, mosquitoes, an endless desert, the Himalayas, as well as many moral and ethical dilemmas throughout the journey towards freedom.
In 1939, the Polish military Janusz is accused of espionage by the Soviet Union. His wife is tortured and Janusz is sentenced to spend twenty years imprisoned in a Siberian gulag. When Janusz is assigned to work in the mines, he feels that the only chance to survive is escaping from the camp. He plots to break out with the bitter American Mr. Smith; the funny Yugoslavian accountant Zoran; the Polish chef and aspirant artist Tomasz Horodynsky; the Polish Kazik that has night blindness; and the Latvian priest Voss and is forced to admit the Russian criminal Valka in the group of escapees. Along their journey, they face snow storm, mosquitoes, hunger, the desert, sand storm, thirsty and they meet the fugitive teenager Irena that joins the group.
Siberian gulag escapees travel 4,000 miles by foot to freedom in India.
- During WWII Janusz (Jim Sturgess), a young Polish officer held by Soviets as POW, is interrogated by NKVD (Stalinist secret security police). When the Russians cannot force him to admit he is a spy, they bring his wife in and coerce statements from her condemning Janusz. He is sentenced to 20 years in one a Gulag forced labour camp in remote Siberia.
At the camp, Janusz meets an American Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), an actor Khabarov (Mark Strong), a hardened Russian criminal Valka(Colin Farrell), Polish artist Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean), a Latvian priest Voss (Gustaf Skarsgård), a Pole suffering from night blindness Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky), and an accountant from Yugoslavia Zoran (Dragos Bucur). Khabarov secretly tells Janusz that he is planing to escape south to Mongolia, passing Lake Baikal. It turns out that it's just Khabarov's fantasy to keep his own morale high, but Janusz decides to implement the plan. He escapes with Mr. Smith, Valka, Voss, Tomasz, Zoran, and Kazik during a severe snowstorm that they rely on to cover their tracks.
During the second night of their escape Kazik loses his way back to the group and fire while looking for wood and dies. He's buried that morning by the group. After many days of travel across the snows of Siberia they reach Lake Baikal. There they meet a Polish girl named Irena (Saoirse Ronan), who tells them that her parents were murdered by Russian soldiers and about her escape from a collective farm near Warsaw. Not all the details of her story how she ended up so far away from Europe check out (e.g. Warsaw is still under German occupation), but it turns out that she tried to conceal a more tragic experience. The group let's her join them.
When they reach an unpatrolled border between Russia and Mongolia Valka decides to stay, as he still sees Russia as his home country, and Josef Stalin as a hero. The rest continue to Ulaanbaatar, but soon they see images of Stalin and a red star. They realize Mongolia is now a Communist state and they are safe. They decide that they must continue to India. As they continue south, they cross the vast Gobi desert, and face a severe lack of water, sandstorms, skin burned to red-flesh, blisters, and sun strokes. Irena collapses several times and dies, soon followed by Tomasz. Smith seems near death too, but motivated by Janusz rejoins him, Zoran, and Voss. All four find a puddle of muddy water and avoid death.
When they get close to the Himalayas, they are guided to a Buddhist monastery, where they are fed and sheltered, regaining their strength. They are advised to wait three months, until spring, to finish the trip to Lhasa, But Smith. the American, decides to go to Lhasa immediately to join American military mission fighting next to Chinese against Japan. The other three continue towards the Himalayas and they soon reach India.
At the end of the film, 45 years later and after the fall of communism in Poland, Janusz returns home to reunite with his wife. For all those years he wanted to see his wife again so he could forgive her and she could forgive herself.