A few weeks ago, my husband and I pulled “The Way” from the redbox machine at our local grocery store. Just the cover art alone had intrigued me, and I was pleasantly surprised to read the description. Once dishes were put away and children were scrubbed and tucked into bed, we started the movie. Much to our dismay, the dvd skipped and froze all throughout. My husband, who often falls asleep during movies and even just when I talk to him sometimes, drifted off peacefully on the couch and so I finally called it quits on the dvd.
Thankfully, we were able to find “The Way” via a well-known movie rental company and watched it streaming online a few weeks later. Films about journeys are always my favorite type, and this one was no exception. This is a story about relationships, forgiveness, grief, hope and the search for life’s meaning.
The story begins with a grown son who has just left graduate school and is talking to his father, an opthamlogist, about going on a pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago through the Pyrenees mountains. His father is Tom, a lapsed Catholic, who is unsupportive of the idea and thinks his son should be doing more practical things with his life. Nonetheless, he drives his son, Daniel, to the airport and declines a final plea to accompany his son on the trip. The two are not portrayed to be especially close in their relationship. The father and son are played by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, who also directed the film.
Tom is contacted a few days after his son’s departure and told that Daniel was found dead in the mountains after a terrible storm. Tom immediately catches a flight to Spain to identify Daniel’s body and collect his belongings. In an impulsive moment, or perhaps divinely inspired, Tom decides upon cremation for his son in Spain instead of going back to the United States for a burial. He then decides to walk the pilgrimage himself, and finish Daniel’s journey for him.
He sets out to do this very matter-of-factly, almost as if he is running a race rather than taking a journey. Along the way he meets a few characters, who are each dealing with their own “vices” in life, similar to the pilgrims in “The Canterbury Tales.” Each have chosen to walk “the Way” for various reasons – none of which are specifically religious, but they are each seeking. Tom makes it abundantly clear that he prefers to be alone on his quest, but he eventually acquiesces to his persistent companions. Over time these companions become loyal friends to this stubborn, enigmatic man and they help him grieve his son and look at his life through new eyes.
This group of “peregrinos” (pilgrims) travel from town to town, encountering many new people. My favorite was a gypsy community which teaches them a lesson in forgiveness and honor. Throughout their travels, it is evident that the true joys of life are not material and can not be quantified, but only shared. As they reach the shrine near the northeast coast of Spain, they attend a beautiful Mass at the Cathedral of Santiago of Compostela for pilgrims who have finished their walk. They decide to join Tom on the last leg of his journey, as he walks to the sea to bring Daniel’s remains to the water.
While the film presented some very overtly Catholic themes, I found so many elements of this movie to have an appeal that could cast the net wide to reach an even bigger audience. In fact, I think that was what I loved most about it. The beauty of “The Way” was that all were welcome to make this pilgrimage to encounter our Lord, in beautiful churches and quiet moments as well as in friends and strangers alike. This film brings to light the human longing to seek something beyond what our material world can offer us, solidifying the suspicion that most things around us are mere distractions from our true destiny. How we try to see “The Way” in our daily lives is the challenge, I think. We are all pilgrims on a journey, and what matters most is to try our best to follow the Way, the Truth and the Life and lead fellow travelers to Him with love.
The cinematography of the vastness of the Basque region of Spain was captured so beautifully, and the soundtrack naturally flowed between meditative and upbeat. I just didn’t want this film to end, it left me satisfied and hungry all at the same time….which brings me to my next thought….I should probably mention that after seeing this film, you may find yourself wanting to book a flight to see what awaits you on your own pilgrimage. Or maybe you don’t need to go anywhere to see your path ahead of you. Either way, “Buen Camino” and “Vaya Con Dios” to all my fellow peregrinos.
Read all about the story behind “The Way.”
The film contains brief partial rear nudity, drug use, a couple of instances of profanity and of crass language as well as references to abortion and sexuality. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.