|Yorick van Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt and Martin Sheen in The Way.|
According to The New York Times:
Mr. Estevez is both writer and director of this film, and also turns up in a small role, but he gives the spotlight to his father, who makes quite a lot out of a low-key story that could easily have degenerated into mush. Mr. Sheen plays an ophthalmologist named Tom, whose only son, Daniel (Mr. Estevez), dies in severe weather in the Pyrenees while trying to walk the Way of St. James (also known as the Camino de Santiago), a pilgrimage of hundreds of miles that ends in northwest Spain at a cathedral where the Apostle James is said to be buried.Here are some reflections on the film from Steve Greydanus:
Tom goes to retrieve his son’s body and ends up walking the pilgrimage himself, scattering Daniel’s ashes along the way. Mr. Sheen gives a lovely performance as the no-nonsense doctor, and he gets wonderful support from actors playing fellow travelers who befriend Tom: Yorick van Wageningen as a verbose Dutchman, Deborah Kara Unger as an acid-tongued woman trying to quit smoking, and James Nesbitt as an Irishman with writer’s block.
This is not an “inspirational film” in the usual, syrupy sense; none of these people are overtly finding God on this trek. The beauty of the movie, in fact, is that Mr. Estevez does not make explicit what any of them find, beyond friendship. He lets these four fine actors convey that true personal transformations are not announced with fanfare, but happen internally. (Read more.)
One way to look at Tom’s pilgrimage is to say that he is looking for his son on the journey that Daniel was planning to take. The Way suggests, with effective simplicity, that Tom does find Daniel, in a sense. Does he ever feel a sense of disappointment, of not finding Daniel? Tom is not the sort to share his feelings, and the movie respectfully allows him to keep his distance.
Ultimately, The Way is a valentine to the Camino — and that’s enough. I appreciate the film’s exploration of the protocols and the rituals of the Camino: the credencial or pilgrim’s passport that must be stamped at various checkpoints along the way to verify the pilgrimage route at the end of the journey; the scallop shell that some pilgrims carry, with various symbolic meanings attached to it; the final approach to the statue of St. James on one’s knees; and so forth. I have no doubt that many viewers will resolve to walk the Camino at some point in their lives after watching the film. Count me among them.
If there is a glimpse of transcendence in The Way, it is at the climax, in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. While the film stops well short of a profession of faith, it does offer an affirmation of sorts of the human value of some kind of faith or religious heritage, and in particular of Catholic cultural accoutrements, of traditions like pilgrimages and the Sign of the Cross, and of beautiful cathedrals and such, particularly in times of crisis. This is a salutary thought, as far as it goes, and a welcome one in our cultural moment.
The catch-phrase “spiritual but not religious” is among the most glib and insipid pieties of our times. The Way, with its centuries of tradition, its ritual gestures and formalities, its institutions and symbols, its physically demanding regimen, and its cultural, Christian and Catholic particularity, is a gratifying reminder of how religion grounds and enriches us in ways that “spirituality” can’t. “Spirituality” has no traditions or rituals, makes no demands, gives us nothing to do in times of crisis. Spirituality itself points beyond spirituality to religion—a point The Way makes with unforced persuasiveness. (Read more.)One of the most enjoyable aspects of The Way was how it reminded me of the summer I spent at the shrine of Lourdes, on the French side of the Pyrenees. The variety of curious characters encountered by Tom on his pilgrimage, from the crazy Irishman and the eccentric innkeepers to the elderly priest, not to mention the gypsies, all brought to mind people I met during my own sojourn in the same part of the world. I love the scenes of sitting around a table engaged in a spirited debate, which happened to me a great deal in that culture where the wine and the conversation are as much a part of a good meal as the food. Am I looking forward to someday returning to walk el camino? Yes, I am. Share