The Start of a New Journey
With the family heading off to Mexico the following day Vic Casella (Mike Connors) suggests his daughters Celia (Stephanie Zimbalist) and Amy (Katy Kurtzman) take the day off but they have plans at school so head off. But when the rickety school bus which Celia is on stalls over a train track a train ploughs into them killing many of the students. Celia survived but she has to have a leg amputated and was left in a coma due to severe head trauma which when she comes around it is discovered she has amnesia and aphasia. Whilst Celia struggles with the loss of her leg she doesn't give up and learns to talk and walk again. But the accident takes it out of everyone including Vic who feels helpless whilst his wife Laura (Cloris Leachman) does her best to keep Celia's spirits up whilst dealing with a distance which is forming between her and Vic as he keeps things to himself.
37 years, it has been 37 years since Stephanie Zimbalist starred in "Long Journey Back" a 70s made for TV movie which is based on a true story about a teenager involved in a life changing accident, an accident which affects the entire family. Now since "Long Journey Back" was made there have been other TV movies which cover similar stories, some of which are also based on true stories, but as such it has to be said watched now "Long Journey Back" not only is expectedly dated but has been surpassed by more recent movies which do a better job of covering the similar points that this tries to cover.
The points which "Long Journey Back" tries to cover is initially Celia's recovery as she goes from coma to being able to walk and talk again. Unfortunately it doesn't do a good job of establishing the duration of recovery and we jump from that initial realisation that Celia understands some things to being able to speak and walk. We also don't see if there are any obstacles to over come in order for Celia to return to school.
Now in fairness there is a reason for this as "Long Journey Back" is more about the people than the recovery and as such we get to see how Celia copes with her situation from refusing to accept she lost her leg, frustration over trying to talk and also a sense of embarrassment when it comes to a young man being interested in her. But we also see Vic's story as he feels helpless and guilty because he couldn't help his daughter and that sense of failing as a dad cause issues in his marriage to Laura. It covers the points but again seems unable to truly deliver the depth that these points deserve. Despite that the performances of Stephanie Zimbalist and Mike Connors are very good and less melodramatic than these roles would be in more recent TV movies.
What this all boils down to is that "Long Journey Back" is an interesting movie especially when you compare it to more recent similar movies. But whilst dated and understandably inferior than some modern movies it is worth watching purely for the climax which puts everything in to context.