I caught up with the film, The Way Back last night. Based on a supposedly true story published in 1956, it tells of how a group of escapees from a gulag in Siberia crossed the Gobi desert and the Himalayas to reach freedom in India in 1942. The film adds an American and a woman to the story, and a measure of sentimentality, but it’s a stirring tale with some fantastic scenery (the clip begins with a rather saucy advert):
I bookmarked it for a possible Lent film. The themes suit well:
(1) the prison (even if the escapees are for the most part ‘innocent’ political prisoners). At least one is there because of a heartrending betrayal.
(2) the testing: through a harsh landscape, and a desert and mountains. I was struck by the comparison with yesterday’s reading from Deuteronomy 8 – especially clothes wearing out and feet swelling (v. 4), both of which feature in the film, alongside food and water.
(3) the qualities of soul they develop – is ‘kindness’ a gift or a danger in extreme conditions? Does it help their survival? How do they accept death? How do they cope with a woman in the midst of a desperate group of men?
(4) the goals which drive them on through their torments. The most compelling is that of the Polish hero Janusz, who has to get back to forgive his wife.
And the very title is just right for Lent.