By Mitesh Shah(24 Feb 2011)
The Way Back is a war drama film about a group of prisoners who escape from a Siberian Gulag camp during World War II.
The film begins with Janusz, a Polish POW, being interrogated by a Soviet officer. Janusz refuses to admit his guilt. His wife is brought in to the room and forced to make a statement condemning Janusz. Janusz is sentenced to 20 years in the gulag.
At the camp in Siberia, Janusz meets Mr Smith, an American; an actor named Khabarov; Valka, a hardened Russian criminal; Tomasz, who makes a living by sketching erotic drawings in exchange for food and clothes; Kazik, a Pole who suffers from night blindness; Voss, a Latvian priest; and Zoran, a Yugoslav accountant. Khabarov confides to Janusz that he has a plan for escaping. Khabarov's proposed route is south to Mongolia, passing Lake Baikal. Mr Smith tells Janusz that Khabarov is fantasising about his desire to escape in order to improve his own morale, and that, in his opinion, escape is impossible. Janusz maintains his resolve.
During a severe snowstorm, Janusz decides to implement the escape plan. Mr Smith, Valka, Zoran, Voss, Tomasz and Kazik escape with him. On the first night while looking for firewood, Kazik becomes lost and freezes to death. He is buried but the group celebrate the fact that he died a free man.
With Janusz leading the way, and navigating, the party successfully negotiate the first part of their journey across the snows of Siberia.
When they reach Lake Baikal they come across a girl, Irena, who tells them she escaped from a collective farm outside Warsaw after her parents were murdered by Russian soldiers. Smith finds out that this cannot be true, since the Russians had not yet reached Warsaw by that time and the city was in fact under German control, but he understands that the girl was trying to make up a story in order to conceal a more tragic experience and forgives her.
Eventually the party reach the Russian/Mongolian border but Valka decides to stay in Russia, because, despite his imprisonment, he still sees Russia as his homeland, and Stalin as a hero.
The group carry on to Ulaanbaatar but as Irena sees images of Josef Stalin and a red star, implying that Mongolia is now a Communist state, and they will not be safe there, they decide that the closest safe place is India and so continue south, across the Gobi desert.
As they cross the desert, the party become increasingly dehydrated, but soon discover a well. They stock up with as much water as they can carry and continue on, but a sandstorm strikes and they lose some of the water. As they cross the desert the water runs out and the group begin to grow weak with blisters and sunstroke. Irena repeatedly collapses and eventually dies.
The remaining five continue walking until Tomasz dies and Smith loses the will to live. That evening, while Zoran and Voss continue, Janusz stays behind with the apparently dying Smith. Smith tells Janusz that he cannot overcome the guilt of taking his son to Russia. Janusz explains that he is motivated by the desire to see his wife again so he can forgive her and she can thereby forgive herself, implying Smith should forgive himself too. Smith rejoins the group and the next day they find a small stream of water to save them from dehydration.
By now they are in sight of the Himalayas and whilst resting on a rock are found by a Sherpa who guides them to a Buddhist monastery. They regain their strength but are told by the monks that India cannot safely be reached until spring. Smith decides to continue to Lhasa where there is an American military mission that will enable him to return to the United States, telling the others "they've made it."
Despite the warning of unpredictable snow making the journey difficult, they continue over the Himalayas until they reach the Indian border, where they are given a warm welcome by the locals.
The film ends with Janusz reminiscing about returning home to his wife in 1939. This is followed by a montage of the Communist rule in Poland and its eventual overthrow. The final scene shows Janusz and his wife reunited.