Saturday, April 7, 2012

From Siberia with Love

I recently watched the 2010 film The Way Back.  It invites the audience into the story of 8 men who escape a Siberian Gulag, a Russian prisoner work camp where Stalin sent perceived threats to his power.  The horrendous camp conditions along with the brutal Siberian winters resulted in a high prisoner mortality rate.  This group of eight decide to face the elements ill-equipped than to have the Gulag seal their mortal fate.  The story chronicles the group's 4000 mile trek through Siberia, an expansive desert and the Himalayas in order to find freedom in India.  Only three come out alive.

The film is set soon after the Russians invade Poland.  It opens with the Secret Police interrogating Janusz, the lead character, accusing him of espionage.  He denies it and so they bring in his wife.  Forced by agonizing torture (not depicted in the movie) she testifies through tears and shame that Janusz was in fact a spy.  And with her confession, the Russian authorities export Janusz to Siberia. His last encounter with his wife is one of betrayal, brokenness, hopelessness...

In a decisive moment on his journey to freedom Janusz explains why he cannot give up and die- why in spite of starvation, dehydration, infections, and deterioration he must make it.  These are his words:

"My wife is alive. She lived, or was.  At least that much I know. But she will never be able to forgive herself for what she has done. See...only I can do that. She will be torturing herself just like you.  So you see, I have to get back. I have to get back!"

And so as we relive on this Friday and Saturday Christ's death and burial I can almost hear him saying through his anguish in the garden, "They can't forgive themselves.  Only I can do that. I have to go...I have to go."

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