The Way Back

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Way Back Movie Poster Image
Rousing but intense war/wilderness survival adventure.
  • PG-13
  • 2011
  • 133 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The characters may be prisoners (and some of them do seem violent and dangerous), but they quickly learn to work together, help each other, and trust each other to overcome their nearly impossible challenges. There are plenty of examples of teamwork and empathy here.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Main character Janusz is the strongest role model. At one point, another character warns that "kindness can kill him," but Janusz proves that he can hang onto his humanity and his kindness in the most trying of circumstances. He'll risk his own safety to help others, and his example inspires the others. Plenty of sharing and working together to overcome the odds.


Disturbing imagery relating to both prison and wilderness survival. Characters are starving and thirsty, exhausted and dirty. Teeth fall out, feet are bleeding and/or swollen, and characters get sunstroke. Other brief violence involves a stabbing with a knife and some blood. A character freezes to death. There's a spoken story about a main character strangling a boy.


Very brief but strong sexual imagery. One of the prisoners makes drawings of naked women in various poses and trades them for supplies.


Language is infrequent but includes more than one use of "f--k," plus sparing use of "s--t," "damn," and "ass."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters trade cigarettes in prison, but there's little actual smoking. In one scene, characters share a bottle of vodka around a campfire.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that because this rousing, World War II-era adventure film focuses on prison and wilderness survival, there's plenty of intense, disturbing imagery -- such as blood, sickness, starvation, and death. But at the same time, the movie has strong, inspiring messages related to teamwork, kindness, and overcoming challenges. Expect a bit of violence and infrequent but strong swearing (including "f--k"), as well as images of naked women in the form of drawings used as prison currency. Characters also trade cigarettes while they're imprisoned and, in one scene, share a bottle of vodka.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byLeitan P. March 4, 2020


I love this movie, it was very touching
Adult Written bykhan2705 February 13, 2011

not that much emotionally involving but very epic like slow paced movie.

Directed by six-time Academy Award (R) nominee Peter Weir, THE WAY BACK is an epic story of survival, solidarity and indomitable human will. Shot in Bulgaria, M... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byloveJesus May 12, 2019

emotional and moving

great movie, can't stop watching!
Teen, 13 years old Written bykillbutt_steel July 16, 2018

What's the story?

During World War II, Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is arrested and thrown into a Siberian gulag. With the help of more experienced inmates like Valka (Colin Farrell) and "Mr. Smith" (Ed Harris), seven prisoners manage a successful escape into the woods. Along the way, they pick up a runaway girl, Irena (Saoirse Ronan), despite worries that she'll slow them down. Against all odds, they survive the harsh, freezing elements and complete the long trek south to the Mongolian border. But circumstances are against them, and they discover that they must keep walking, through Mongolia and Tibet and into India, across the dry, brutal flatlands. How long can this ragtag band stay alive?

Is it any good?

As he did in the excellent Master and Commander, Australian director Peter Weir makes this wartime tale a sleek, rousing, old-fashioned adventure instead of a somber, self-important epic slog. He accomplishes that by focusing on the relationships between the men and taking a cue from old-time studio filmmakers like Howard Hawks.

THE WAY BACK is arguably less fun than Master and Commander, mainly because of the disturbing imagery (i.e. starvation, sickness, death, etc.) that inherently goes with prison movies and wilderness survival movies. But Weir makes it all bearable with his general swiftness and tone. The actors follow suit with warm performances from everyone involved, especially Farrell as a dangerous but boisterous misfit. In the end, teamwork, sharing, and kindness win out over violence and cruelty.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's violence and disturbing imagery. Was it necessary to the plot? Was it thrilling or upsetting? How did the movie achieve that reaction?

  • How do the characters change over the course of the movie? What do they learn?

  • Some of the male characters think that bringing a girl (Irena) along will slow them down. Is this a stereotype? Does Irena prove them wrong, or not? What do they learn from her?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love adventure

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate