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January 26, 2011

Hollywood Finally Makes A Movie About the Soviet Gulag

Two apologies: 1, I knocked The King's Speech as some sort of trivial royal afterschool special, based on my general dislike of this kind of movie.

Not so, everyone who's seen it has told me. In fact, they say it's pretty great (and sort of conservative in theme).

2, I snarked that "The Way Back" would win some other award (best make-up) just because it has a good title. I shouldn't have been so snarky -- it's a pretty important movie, and an example of real balls and truth-telling about truths people don't want to hear.

I haven't found any reviews, so far, that hail this as Hollywood's first Gulag movie, perhaps because hardly anyone noticed that there weren't any before. Weir told me that many in Hollywood were surprised by the story: They'd never heard of Soviet concentration camps, only German ones. "If you need to explain what a film is about," the film is in trouble - and this one almost was. Weir had difficulties getting it distributed and some problems explaining the final scene to his financial backers.

Yet that final scene is exactly what makes this movie "real": Instead of returning home at the end of his harrowing journey, the hero is shown "walking" across time - across the Soviet occupation of Central Europe, across the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Prague Spring of 1968 - finally returning home to Poland only after communism collapses. The absence of an instant happy ending also bothered some of the film's reviewers, even though, in "real life," there were no happy endings for anyone who lived in the eastern half of Europe after the end of the Second World War. People who escaped from the Gulag, survived the war or evaded the Holocaust didn't necessarily live happily ever after. Perhaps that's a truth too difficult to learn from a movie.

They don't know what they don't know, as they are fond of saying of others.

Incidentally, the escape route is depicted as it actually happened (except, I think, the author of the books claims he escaped this way, but really it was three other people who told him about it), and makes for a hell of a movie, I think: They escaped Siberia by trekking south through the Himalayas into British controlled India.

That movie's out in theaters now, by the way. Directed by heavy-hitter Peter Weir and with some A-list actors (Colin Ferrel, Ed Harris), it sounds like it's good.

Awwww, Nuts: A review of the movie, stating its gripping and horrifying with no "triumph-of-the-human-spirit comfort." That is, just a long, hard slog.

But the "aww" gets at what I was picking up in Anne Applebaum's defense of the movie: Apparently much of it is untrue. Not the Gulag stuff, but the escape stuff. The original account (published in 1956) includes what seems to be an encounter in the Himalayas with... yeti, for example. (That is not in the movie.)

That's a shame. Because mixing fiction with fact will just give leftists reason to do what they were probably going to do anyway, ignore the fact.

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posted by Ace at 11:44 AM

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