I’m probably not an audience for this type of movies. I never could understand the need to show (or better yet – exploit) human endurance, feats of great courage and/or strength just for the purposes of entertainment. It doesn’t matter if you call this ‘entertainment’ an Art. It’s basically the same principle. I guess that’s the reason why I could never watch torture-porn movies. It’s not the appalling images that bother me. It’s the utter uselessness of an entire endeavor that usually puts me off. The Way Back is torture-porn, whatever else you might think of it, just like the 127 Hours was. Sure, it’s almost a PG version, but underlying principle of cheesy horror movies and humans-surviving-against-the-all-odds is identical. True enough, visualization of the Siberian trek 4000 miles long puts things into perspective (you can rarely feel the vastness of frozen wasteland from the book), though soon enough you’ll be bombarded with human drama moments that were shown, and used, so many times it became tedious to watch them. The fact that Peter Weir draws inspiration from actual events doesn’t really help. Life doesn’t magically legitimize lousy script or mediocre filmmaking.
What interests me though isn’t the how-did-they-manage part of the movie. What interests me is an answer to the – why do we still make WWII movies? Bashing Stalin-type communism in 2010.? After every sane person out there that is older than 10 knows everything they need to know about the topic. Especially in the US. Or the Europe for that matter, large part of which has intimate knowledge of the joys of Russian Communism. That type of thing was popular enough in the ‘50s so I guess it was just a matter of time before the recycling old ideas movement that has been present in every available Hollywood-genre for the last couple of years kicked in. Have to admit one thing, though. McCarthy’s Era movies never would have bothered with characters like Collin Farrell’s Valka. That one is too lifelike, too down to earth and too fucked up (both morally and ideologically) to have appeared in simple parables about free world vs. The Iron Curtain stories. Still, one can’t but wonder about the Communism is Evil discourse which seeps from every line, and every frame of Weir’s movie. It almost reads as a preemptive witch hunt along the lines of – kids, beware of the entrapments of the New Left – remember the past – remember the Gulag – be vigilant paradigm.
What we have is more than two hours of running around forests, deserts and whatnots accompanied by now popular when-in-survival-mode-shed-all-that-is-human attitude (which can be observed in vastly popular AMC’s The Walking Dead) and an off joke/political comment about the inherent evil of prison camps and party leaders. Booo-ooo-riiing. Not boring in a “it’s unimportant “sort of way. It’s boring in a “we’ve seen it, we’ve read about it, we’ve felt it, some of us have family members that endured it” sort of way. The Way Back doesn’t add up. It doesn’t contribute to the vast library of similar texts (both visual and traditional) and one, even slightly familiar with the theme, can’t but notice that. In a way the title is fitting. Though completely wrong. The Step Back would have been better by far.
Directed by: Peter Weir
Produced by: Peter Weir, Joni Levin, Duncan Henderson, Nigel Sinclair, Scott Rudin
Screenplay by: Peter Weir, Keith Clarke
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell
Music by: Burkhard Dallwitz
Cinematography: Russell Boyd
Editing by: Lee Smith
Studio: National Geographic Films, Spitfire Pictures, Imagenation Abu Dhabi, Film Fund Luxembourg