In 1941 in war time Europe, Janusz (played by Jim Sturgess) is an officer in the Polish cavalry who is falsely accused by the Russians of spying and treason. He is sent to a horrific Siberian labour camp (gulag), where the chances of his survival are low. On arrival, the camp commandant tells them that it’s not the barbed wire, guards and guns that are their captors – but it’s Siberia that really imprisons them – as five million square miles of inhospitable country surrounds them. Life in the gulag is unbearable and after a while Janusz, along with five other inmates including Mr. Smith (by Ed Harris) an American, Valka (by Colin Farrell) a tough streetwise Muscovite, an accountant, an artist chef, a night-blind youth and a priest – decide to escape. Their plan is to go due south …. through Siberia, across the border into Mongolia and freedom. They traverse the endless country on foot – it is a beautiful landscape but it’s harsh … they trudge through blizzards, blinding cold and unbearable desert heat. They are challenged by starvation, dehydration, misquitoes and the ever present threat that if someone sees them, they will be turned over to the Russians because there is a bounty on any escapee’s head. They travel with stealth, careful not to be seen, until a teenage girl, Irena (by Saoirse Ronan) meets them and gains their trust enough to travel with them. This is the story of their long and gruelling journey of 4,000 miles from Siberia to freedom in India. Eight brave and desperate men start out, but not all of them make it …..
This movie is very well made and the excellence of the cinematography means you become completely involved in the group’s experience and surroundings. The mastery of the work means the movie takes you with this group of determined men through the range of landscapes they encounter, the forces of nature they must grapple with, the impacts the journey has on their bodies and invites you to feel the utter strength and tenacity of the group to get to their final destination. The movie depicts the physical impact of the journey, but not the emotional trauma – the relationships between the men are strangely amicable throughout the movie, even those that are clearly not trusted are tolerated with little conflict – I found this a little bizarre, but not totally unrealistic as I guess when faced with the challenge of just staying alive, the irritations of others at close quarters would be insignificant.
In general it is a good movie – a bit of an epic, but great work by Peter Weir.
Made in 2010. Directed by Peter Weir.