The book sold over 500,000 copies and is credited with inspiring many explorers.
Smith (Ed Harris), an American engineer; Khabarov (Mark Strong), an actor; Valka (Colin Farrell), a hardened Russian criminal; Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean), a Polish artist; Voss (Gustaf Skarsgård), a Latvian priest; Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky), a Pole suffering from night blindness; and Zoran (Dragoş Bucur), a Yugoslavian accountant.
Khabarov secretly tells Janusz that he is planning to escape south to Mongolia, passing Lake Baikal. Smith cautions Janusz that it is Khabarov's way to discuss escape plans with newcomers, to maintain his morale, but nothing will come of it.
The small-town Ireland which Eilis leaves behind and then begins to yearn for is grim. She had a badly paid, part-time job in a grocery store run by the shrewish Miss Kelly (Bríd Brennan), who overcharges for stale bread and relishes humiliating her staff and customers alike.
The modern world has barely reached this pinched community.
Saoirse Ronan, who must be among the front-runners for the Best Actress Oscar, gives a remarkable performance as Eilis Lacey, a young woman who moves from small-town Ireland to New York. The dour, plain-looking and fearful gamine of the early scenes soon blossoms into a confident, self-reliant and glamorous 1950s American.
She wears sunglasses, eats candy floss and looks good in a bathing suit on Coney Island.When the group reaches an unpatrolled border between the Soviet Union and Mongolia, Valka, who idolizes Stalin and does not know what he would do elsewhere, decides to stay.The rest continue to Ulan Bator, but soon they see images of Stalin and a red star. Smith is on the verge of death, but after being motivated by Janusz, Zoran, and Voss, he decides to rejoin the group, and the severely dehydrated four find a much-needed water source.It is the antithesis of all those movies in which the newcomers vie for dominance of the streets, bootlegging, forming gangs and mugging cops.At the same time that the film celebrates the brashness and optimism of American life as encountered by the immigrants, it is also alert to the homesickness they feel for the country they have left behind.Many of the events that happen in the gulag scenes come from Varlam Shalamov's The Kolyma Tales, such as the scene where the man is killed for his sweater.