Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Way Back, A Contention, Peter Weir, Historical (In)accuracy

First off, Jeff, thanks for your response. It was heartening and validating. I knew I wasn't crazy for thinking the way I did about the ending of Drive.

I've watched a bunch of other films that I want to write about before I forget, but feel daunted when I think of throwing them in a long post. So maybe I'll write about one at a time and it will be easier to nibble away at them--as well as more likely that I will actually write about them.

Which leads me to a side note about the manner in which John assesses yearly participation in film club. I take issue, friend, because my posts on the whole, while fewer and further between, tend to be longer. I know that even if I interjected a post here and there that was a link or a YouTube video or a one paragraph response to someone else's post I still wouldn't be able to keep up with the likes of Jeffrey, but it would make my presence more substantial at least. I consider that kind of posting to be on par with Facebook posts, of which I have plenty, and which your accounting this year didn't take into consideration. And where's your promised post where you write all the things that I've been yearning to hear? Are you just setting me up for disappointment again?

Here's a film that we should both agree on, John. I saw The Way Back with Amy a few nights ago and it blew me away. I didn't know much about the source material, which you spurred me on to read more about. Apparently this film is a fictionalization of an account of someone crossing into India from Siberia. That said, since it is a film about walking, there's not much you can do to stray from the reality of a walk like that for anyone. Weir meticulously researched the film, down to details about the gulag officers' uniforms. One would presume that the details about what would be involved in such a long walk would also have been cared for as well. I find that it doesn't matter to me whether or not the characters are real themselves, because the other elements of the film are true.

Saoirse (sur-shuh) Ronan was an interesting inclusion. Her presence did provide for me a clue that Weir tweaked the story (before I knew it was so). I was surprised that there were no sexual overtones in the relationships between her and the men. One could explain plausibly why this was the case, but that fact that it calls for an explanation brings attention to it in a way that takes you out of the film just a bit. The question does eventually succumb (as all questions must) to the relentless nature of wilderness. Perhaps the matter of survival in extreme circumstances overrides all secondary biological urges; that seems to be the most likely explanation of all. When you're considering eating your companions, sex probably is pretty low on your list of priorities. Her character was refreshing, though. And I thought the scene where she travels up and down the line, sharing with the men information about the others they hadn't bothered to find out themselves was not only a creative means of exposition, but also an interesting commentary on the differences in the way men and women relate to each other. I wondered how Weir was going to use the event later, so it was interesting to see how her investment in Mr. Smith's story (and that she related it to Janusz) ended up saving Smith's life. That scene was actually one of the weaker ones for me because it seemed a little contrived, but I appreciated Weir's effort and the principle that he perhaps was trying to present to the audience because of it.

Speaking of relentless, The Way Back is another great example of how setting can be a character in a film. The cinematography is striking, and I'm sorry I missed seeing it at The Little when it was screened there briefly. From bitter cold to extreme heat, our heroes walk on. The land motivates them and beguiles them, and for some, ends them.

The final few minutes were intriguing. I'm sure this is what you meant by "fever dream," John, though I saw it more as an attempt to provide--maybe?--a happy ending rather than a clue that undermines the truth of the entire film. I felt that their arrival in India provided sufficient closure for me. I wish Weir had ended it there. It seems highly unlikely that Janusz's wife would still be unmarried after all those years and living in the same house.  It really did seem tacked on and a bit artificial. Do you have any more thoughts on this, John?

I'd also (with John) call myself a fan of Weir's work, though I haven't seen everything he's done. His earlier stuff is absolutely fantastic, and Picnic at Hanging Rock is in my top ten list of all-time favorite films. It's weird and mind-bending. The Last Wave, The Cars That Eat People, and even The Plumber also have mystical/supernatural overtones.

I would have liked Gallipoli better had I not known how incredibly biased and historically inaccurate it was. It was certainly a moving film, but I really hate it when people mess with historical events in films. One of the worst offenders of that sort was Bobby (Estevez, 2006), but my rant about that is best left for another post. I find that I trust the writer/director too much when it comes to historical movies, and I've been disappointed far too many times. I'm almost obsessive now about checking the internet for the facts after I watch a historical film, so the wrong information doesn't get cemented in my brain. I did it with The Social Network, and you could probably gather from my haiku about it that its factual inaccuracy was a sticking point for me. In light of this, it's interesting that I loved The Way Back so much, even with the knowledge that it was mostly fictional. I'm repeating myself now, but there's very little anyone could do to diminish the impact of the fact of someone walking a few thousand miles to freedom. Not even an Irishman with a Russian accent and a few too many furtive glances.

Weir's post-Gallipoli work is of less interest to me, though it's not to say of no interest. I have not seen The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness (I know), Fearless, or Master and Commander. So I feel that I have less to say about him from then on. The Mosquito Coast was odd and compelling, Dead Poets Society was great but ultimately overrated. Green Card and The Truman Show both unique in their own ways, but Hollywood films for sure. The Way Back is not a Hollywood film (though there are fleeting glimpses of Hollywood here and there). It evokes his earlier, quieter films, but with less of the strangeness. I think the attempt is there (Janusz's reaching-for-the-rock hallucinations), but it's not as raw and unsettling as it used to be. Perhaps he's made Hollywood films for too long. I'd still rank it among my favorites in Weir's oeuvre, and one of the best of 2010.

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