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A 2011 film by Peter Weir. Seven escapees from a Soviet gulag try to make their way to freedom in Mongolia. Along the way they pick up an orphan runaway, but as soon as they reach Mongolia they realize that it, too, is Communist: they’re no safer there than in Russia, and they have to keep going.

They do, and lose half the cast crossing the Gobi desert. In the end only four make it safely to India, all of them sick, malnourished, and exhausted, but alive.

Tropes used in The Way Back include:


  • Based on a True Story - So they thought, anyway. Once the film was finished it was discovered that the story itself was fraudulent -- it did happen, but not to the man who first told the world about it.
  • Bittersweet Ending - Several of them make it to India and Janusz is eventually reunited with his wife, but by the time the movie’s over half the cast has died pretty horribly.
  • Cool, Clear Water - They drink unpurified water from streams whenever they find them, with no ill effects. Justified, at least partially, by the fact that most of the time they’re in the wilderness and well away from human-made pollution, and because they were all used to drinking unfiltered water. Gulags weren’t famous for sanitation; the stream water was probably a lot cleaner than what they were used to.
  • Crossing the Desert - The Gobi. It doesn’t end well.
  • Dark and Troubled Past - All of them. They all wound up in a gulag, after all.
  • Determinator - Again, all of them.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • The Gulag - Where the story starts out.
  • Heartwarming Orphan - Played with but eventually brutally subverted. The gang accept and come to have affection for Irena, but she definitely doesn’t get a happy ending.
  • Heroic BSOD - Smith has this after Tomasz dies.
  • Idiot Ball - Why would you send a guy with night blindness to collect firewood at dusk? No wonder Kazik freezes to death.
  • Infant Immortality - Nope. Granted, Irena is a young teenager rather than a small child, but she’s definitely the baby of the group, and she dies of dehydration in the Gobi desert.
  • Kick the Dog - Half the movie is one long case of Kick The Dog, but right off there’s poor Kazik. Their first night of freedom and he gets lost looking for wood and freezes to death. The real kicker is that he saw the fire vaguely and thought he’d come close enough. He hadn’t.
  • Last-Name Basis - Mister Smith, obviously. Some of the group with a shakier grasp of English think his first name actually is Mister.
  • Lzherusskie
  • Ms. Exposition - Irena…literally. The men won’t talk to one another about their former lives, but they will tell her, and she’s the one who fills each of them and the audience in on each character’s past. She asks why they didn’t talk to one another, and is told that in the gulag, the less said, the better.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party - At one point Valka asks Janusz who they should eat first, assuming that the reason Janusz brought so many extra people was so there would be something to eat. Janusz is horrified.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping - A milder case than a lot of movies set in Russia, but it’s still there.
  • Parental Substitute - Smith becomes this for Irena. She latches onto him in particular because he used to be a father, which is somewhat ironic since he initially didn’t want the group to let her stay.
  • Papa Wolf - All of them for Irena, but especially Mister Smith, whose teenage son was shot in the head before he himself was sent to the gulag.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits - And how. A priest, an accountant, an actor, a criminal, an amateur artist, a baker, an engineer, and a young girl.
  • Spoiler Opening: The opening credits say that only four men made it to India, meaning we know from the first most of the characters are going to die, or at least not make it.
  • Tattooed Crook - Valka, very heavily.
  • Thirsty Desert
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