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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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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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