In 1941, three men attempt to flee communist Russia, escaping a Siberian gulag. This movie tells their story and that of four others who escaped with them and a teenage girl, Irena Zielinska (Saoirse Ronan), who joins them in flight. The group's natural leader is Janusz Weiszczek (Jim Sturgess), a Pole condemned by accusations secured by torturing his wife, spent much of his youth outdoors, and knows how to live in the wild. They escape under cover of a snowstorm: cynical American Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), Russian thug Valka (Colin Farrell), comedic accountant Zoran (Dragos Bucur), pastry chef Tomasz Horodinsky (Alexandru Potocean), who draws, Priest Andrejs Voss (Gustav Skarsgård), and Polish Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky), who suffers from night blindness. They face freezing nights, lack of food and water, mosquitoes, an endless desert, the Himalayas, as well as many moral and ethical dilemmas throughout the journey towards freedom.