The Way Back

Real Life Struggles

By Syeda Maham Rasheed | April 2020

‘The Way Back’ is a sports-drama that dwells on one’s struggles with addiction and the challenges that life throws at a person. The film entirely focuses on Jack Cunningham, played by Ben Affleck, who is an alcoholic and is coming out of a marriage. The woman who still cares for him but can’t bear to be with him anymore. The description does match the real life of Affleck for whom the film serves as a way to talk about his personal struggles publicly. The only difference is that Affleck is a public figure while Jack is not.

The film starts with Jack, a construction worker in the lower-middle-class L.A. community of San Pedro near the docks, who cannot move without alcohol. His addiction is visible in the way he longs for booze after his shifts at work and his ever-lasting beer can that sits on the shelf of his bathroom which he enjoys while showering. The desire feels more like self-destruction. Even at family gatherings, he is only concerned about alcohol that angers his sister Beth (Michaela Watkins) who invites him to a Thanksgiving dinner at her home. She presses him on how he has been living which flares up his temper with such violence that it even surprises him.

He spends his nights at a dive bar where he is a regular and his refrigerator is full of beer cans which he empties while he mumbles himself to sleep. In short, Jack is all about drinks, collapses and hangovers. Though his addiction seems to be somewhat obvious after his one and a half year split with his wife Angela (Janina Gavankar) which sends him spiralling, Jack’s story unspools gradually revealing that it’s rarely just one thing that drives a person to addiction. What the film manages to successfully convey is the sheer joylessness of drinking to excess for many addicts.

Jack was once a basketball player star in high school with a university scholarship. He was full of life and promises when suddenly something fell apart for him, for unknown reasons, and he left the game forfeiting his future. Now, when he is asked to coach the basketball team at his alma mater, his first instinct is to turn it down. The priest in charge of his former high school urges Jack to step in as the basketball coach for the flailing team after the previous coach’s health problems take him out of the job. Eventually, he accepts the offer and things start falling back in place.

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