Thursday, January 27, 2011

Escape from the Gulag

Sally and I drove down to Salisbury MA yesterday, to the nearest 'plex that is screening The Way Back. This is a must-see film, especially for the increasing number of Americans who feel apologetic about our role in the Cold War. It's a long movie, and most of it, as Anthony Lane complains in this week's The New Yorker magazine, is a picaresque yarn of five men and a girl trekking across Siberia and Mongolia in their quest to escape the Soviet Union. Like all picaresque yarns, it's largely one damned thing after another, though some of it (especially the girl, who is supposed to be thirteen, and who is played by the wonderfully named Saoirse Ronan) is quite affecting.

But what must be seen, and soaked into memory, is the movie's first half hour, in which our hero, a Polish officer named Januscz (Colin Farrell) is battered by the NKVD, betrayed by his tortured wife, and dispatched to a slave labor camp in northern Siberia, where he first hews out logs from the forest, then hews out ore from a mine. (Sally kept her face covered through most of this.)

What's necessary to bear in mind is that this is all true. This happened to millions of men and women--Poles, Russians, Americans, anyone who fell afoul of that foul despotism in Moscow--and millions of them died in Stalin's Gulag. This may be difficult for a Good Person like Anthony Lane to accept, but it is true, and a virtual tip of the hat to Peter Weir for making a film of it. (The Way Back DVD will be released in April. If you prefer to wait, you can watch Katyn meanwhile.) Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

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At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a book called The Long Walk where several prisoner and a girl escaped from Siberia to India during WW2.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Dan Ford said...

Yes, that's the book on which it is (vaguely) based, first published in 1957 and now I'm happy to see available again as a movie tie-in: The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom. It has received great reviews over the years, including by Stephen King and Stephen Ambrose, but (as the critics say) "its veracity has been challenged." Blue skies! -- Dan Ford


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