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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Way Back

By
Kurt Jensen
Source: Catholic News Service

"The Way Back" (Newmarket), is an inspirational story with a nagging caveat—its stunning portrayal of a 4,000-mile trek from Siberia to India by escaped political prisoners may not be quite the truth.

The film, directed by Peter Weir, who co-wrote the script with Keith R. Clarke, is nonetheless superbly made, and with skilled actors displaying deeply felt emotions along with striking courage, many will find it a refreshing break from Hollywood's special-effects overload and increasingly vulgar story lines.

At 133 minutes, others may find it an overlong saga about a hike through rugged scenery without the essential plot tension of a pursuit.

Back to that accuracy issue: "The Long Walk"—the 1956 book on which Weir and Clarke's script is based—was ghostwritten by a British journalist for Slavomir Rawicz, a former Polish cavalry officer. Its tale of Rawicz's heroic 1940 escape from a gulag in the Soviet Union, through snowstorms, across the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas to political asylum on the Indian subcontinent made it a sensation during the height of the Cold War.

The details of the narrative have not held up to fact-checking, however, and there is some evidence—as reported by the BBC—that elements of others' escapes may have been woven into a single story, and that Rawicz himself may never, in fact, have fled.

All the same, this is a compelling drama. Its uplifting message about the need for extraordinary solidarity and Christian compassion in the face of every horror man and the wilderness can impose shows the power of a well-crafted epic.

Jim Sturgess leads the group as Janusz, a Polish prisoner jailed as a foreign spy. Others in the group include Ed Harris as an American known only as Mr. Smith, Colin Farrell as Valka, a Russian gangster, and Saiorse Ronan as Irena, a Soviet orphan.

Some of the escapees fall apart physically as they battle blizzards, heat, hallucinations from hunger, packs of wolves and their own turbulent feelings. The fact that their story may fall short of documentary truth doesn't make it any less gripping, while the positive underlying values probably make it acceptable for older teens.

The film contains fleeting rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Alphonsus Liguori: 
		<p>Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.</p>
		<p>In his day, Alphonsus fought for the liberation of moral theology from the rigidity of Jansenism. His moral theology, which went through 60 editions in the century following him, concentrated on the practical and concrete problems of pastors and confessors. If a certain legalism and minimalism crept into moral theology, it should not be attributed to this model of moderation and gentleness.</p>
		<p>At the University of Naples he received, at the age of 16, a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation, but he soon gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular (parish) missions, hearing confessions, forming Christian groups. </p>
		<p>He founded the Redemptorist congregation in 1732. It was an association of priests and brothers living a common life, dedicated to the imitation of Christ, and working mainly in popular missions for peasants in rural areas. Almost as an omen of what was to come later, he found himself deserted, after a while, by all his original companions except one lay brother. But the congregation managed to survive and was formally approved 17 years later, though its troubles were not over. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus’ great pastoral reforms were in the pulpit and confessional—replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness. His great fame as a writer has somewhat eclipsed the fact that for 26 years he traveled up and down the Kingdom of Naples, preaching popular missions. </p>
		<p>He was made bishop (after trying to reject the honor) at 66 and at once instituted a thorough reform of his diocese. </p>
		<p>His greatest sorrow came toward the end of his life. The Redemptorists, precariously continuing after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, had difficulty in getting their Rule approved by the Kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus acceded to the condition that they possess no property in common, but a royal official, with the connivance of a high Redemptorist official, changed the Rule substantially. Alphonsus, old, crippled and with very bad sight, signed the document, unaware that he had been betrayed. The Redemptorists in the Papal States then put themselves under the pope, who withdrew those in Naples from the jurisdiction of Alphonsus. It was only after his death that the branches were united. </p>
		<p>At 71 he was afflicted with rheumatic pains which left incurable bending of his neck; until it was straightened a little, the pressure of his chin caused a raw wound on his chest. He suffered a final 18 months of “dark night” scruples, fears, temptations against every article of faith and every virtue, interspersed with intervals of light and relief, when ecstasies were frequent. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus is best known for his moral theology, but he also wrote well in the field of spiritual and dogmatic theology. His <i>Glories of Mary</i> is one of the great works on that subject, and his book <i>Visits to the Blessed Sacrament</i> went through 40 editions in his lifetime, greatly influencing the practice of this devotion in the Church.</p> American Catholic Blog Those who want to participate more fully in salvation history are comforted by the fact that Jesus wants to walk with us in our suffering and wants to break bread to give us strength on our way.

 
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