The Way Back (2010)
Strangely enough, I don’t remember hearing about The Way Back when it first came out. It seems like it should have received a lot more recognition at the time, simply based on the facts: directed by Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show), The Way Back is a historical survival movie starring Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and recent Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan. The movie, which is set in Siberia, Mongolia and Tibet, was partially produced by National Geographic, so you can bet that the nature shots are absolute breathtaking.
Perhaps the reason The Way Back didn’t receive more attention was that it’s not as brutal and shocking as one might expect a movie about POWs in a Gulag camp and their subsequent march through the Siberian wilderness and Gobi Desert to be. The experience of the characters in The Way Back is certainly harrowing, but also unusual for the genre, in that the movie prefers to show human kindness over moral deprivation.
All too often, movies depicting the realities of war or the survival under harsh conditions aim to shock you with the most brutal, dehumanizing and graphic of scenarios, as if we didn’t know already that humanity can be evil. A great example of that is the recent The Revenant. The Way Back goes for a different story: Yes, we could all be animals when driven to extremes, but we are people, so we can also choose not to be. That is a beautiful sentiment that is often lacking in today’s film. I’m not talking about the naive conviction that goodness will prevail above all else, but simply that we have a choice, even in the most dire situations. Many reviews did not seem to pick up on that, which tells you something about how cynical we have become as viewers. I applaud Peter Weir for going against the grain.