2010 – THE WAY


The movie THE WAY was one of the few really magnificent works of art done by a film director.  The direction has made this comparatively simple story of a Pilgrim with such artistic elegance it must be seen if you like movies. After a long years career Martin Sheen has evolved in to a fine actor in this movie.

REVIEW by Nancy Frey

The Way: A Love Letter to Spain and Galicia

When I heard that Emilio Estevez’s new film, The Way, set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain would be premiered in Santiago de Compostela on November 8th, I was eager to go. Starring his father Martin Sheen, Estevez wrote and directed the film as well as appears in it as Sheen’s on-screen son. I knew that in 2009 they had been filming along the route and I wondered what kind of Camino film two Hollywood notables would make. I invited my friend María Santos and off we went to the elegant 19th century Teatro Principal in Santiago´s historical quarter to find out. I have to admit it was quite a thrill to see Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez walk the mini-red carpet surrounded by a sea of umbrellas as the rain accompanied their entrance.


Estevez and Sheen’s angle was clear early on: It’s a movie of the heart from start to finish. 2010 has been my own personal year of the heart and so this tack resonated strongly with me. Countless times over the course of this year I’ve been reminded to listen to my heart: Let the heart be your compass.


In The Way Sheen plays Tom Avery an ophthalmologist from California who becomes an accidental pilgrim when he receives the tragic news of his son’s death on the Camino. Estevez and Sheen take us on a gripping, epic journey in equal parts hilarious, deep, heart-wrenching and moving as we share the struggle of a father gripped with confusion and remorse to understand the tragic loss of his only son Daniel, a person he realizes he never really understood. Tom suddenly finds himself in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a small village in southwest France where many pilgrims start the Camino today. Impulsively, he decides to take his son’s pack and ashes and walk the 800km across Spain making the journey that his son could not.


The opening scenes are very moving and set the stage for the profoundly human story of how we must each fumble along to find our own way. In the movie Tom says to Daniel before he heads to the Camino, ‘I live the life I chose. Why can’t you do the same?’ Daniel responds, ‘You don’t choose your life, Dad. You live it and that’s what I’m doing.’ The pilgrimage is a metaphor for life and the pilgrim the lost soul who finds his way back home by following his heart. Estevez (and Sheen through his inspired performance) makes you care about this lost soul and wonder how he will ever make it. Unlike other Catholic centers of worship where pilgrims often look for a cure of the body through faith, modern pilgrims to Santiago (most of whom would not define themselves as religiously motivated) frequently seek some kind of answer for life’s inner woes. The focus is on the power of the journey rather than simply reaching the destination. Many people find themselves doing the pilgrimage to Santiago and are not sure exactly why but somehow know that it is the right place to be. The contemporary pilgrimage to Santiago is very popular precisely because of its openness: there’s a place for everyone irrelevant of age, background, faith (or lack thereof) and motivation and it has a way of hitting each individual in just the right spot (even though what that spot might be can be quite a mystery).


One of the common sayings among pilgrims along the Camino is that ‘You can start alone but you never end alone.’ The power of community and friendship is a theme reinforced throughout the film. Tom starts very much alone but soon acquires three unlikely companions who share his journey.


As Estevez shared with me at the after-party, The Way is a modern-day Oz story as three flawed characters help Tom (Dorothy) find his way back home to his son, his heart and, ultimately, himself and his faith. The movie brings vividly to life the sights, sounds (both pleasant and annoying – in addition to a great soundtrack including Coldplay, Alannis Morrisette and James Taylor), color and feel of the Camino as we see the group of pilgrim friends share meals, sleep together in the pilgrims’ refuges, walk through the varied landscapes as well as have both good and bad encounters with locals and, importantly, with each other. Despite their conflicts, and also because of them, the pilgrims are able to have unexpected moments of liberation and insight. The Way gives us a picture of the Camino, warts and all, to show how pilgrimage is a process of trial and error, forgiveness and insight, sorrow and laughter and how pilgrims’ motivations are as varied as a rainbow from the deeply religious to personal angst to physical challenge to the apparently trivial. The characters are credible and you care what happens to them keeping you riveted until the end.


Estevez and Sheen want to show how the Camino’s magic helps to work change in pilgrims – when people leave behind their normal lives and go to the pilgrimage stripped of most of their possessions, normal stress and obligations, they connect more easily with the world (ie, self, nature, God, others, body, history, etc). Unhindered by the labels, status and titles they may have back home, when the day’s obligations are reduced to the basics (walking, eating, and finding a bed), suddenly life seems much easier. As pilgrims lighten their loads mentally, they often describe how their inner worlds also free up giving way to the possibility of greater insight and self-awareness. On the Camino people describe connecting more intensely to everything around them and inside of themselves. Making the pilgrimage to Compostela helps many people discover their own way on the Way – it can be a type of mobile therapy.


The moving story behind the story also involves the heart. When Emilio Estevez introduced the film to the audience he started with a quote: ‘It’s a pleasure to return from whence I came.’ He said, ‘It is the same for Martin and me. Our film is a love letter to Spain. It’s a love letter to Galicia.’ Before Martin Sheen took his stage name he was Ramón Estevez son of a Galician immigrant from Salceda near the coastal town of Pontevedra. Spain remained close to Sheen’s heart and he continued to return to his father’s native land. Seven years ago Sheen invited his family to tour Spain with him. They ended up doing their own road trip of the Camino as they crossed the north of Spain to Galicia. This journey and Sheen’s own faith eventually led them to make their own film about the pilgrimage way and transform it into a tribute to the land of their ancestors. The film is dedicated to Martin Sheen’s father.


Anyone who intimately knows the Camino will find a number of odd edits of landscapes. Emilio Estevez explaines after the premiere that his original movie was 3.5 hours long and he was required to do some creative editing. This is inconsequential to the overall feeling of the film as the scenes selected are visually rich and conjure the depth of beauty of Spain in its many facets (and at its best). They did skip the sections where pilgrims must walk along roadways or wait in lines at refuges but one would expect that type of poetic license. Also, the pilgrims themselves remain remarkably immaculate during much of their pilgrimage, they don’t seem to have any physical problems and Tom tends to charge through the whole Camino with great determination and vitality. I would have softened his pace as his character softens and evolves over the course of the journey. The development and transformation of Sheen’s character is particularly good. We see how the others are deeply touched by the Way but I did wonder how the experience would stay with them over time. Of course, this a major interest of my own (How does the journey impact people in the long-term, if at all?) as I explored in Pilgrim Stories. On and Off the Road to Santiago.

Nancy Frey

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