Emilio Estevez and his father, Martin Sheen, combine for a remarkable movie, “The Way.” It is the story of Tom Avery (Martin Sheen), an American doctor who goes to Spain to recover the ashes of his recently deceased son Dan (Emilio Estevez). Dan died in an unusual accident on the Camino de Santiago. Sheen, pulled by the story of this ancient pilgrimage route, sets out westward to fulfill his son’s wish to do the whole 800 km.
Along the way, Sheen collects three other pilgrims, a Dutch party boy seeking to lose weight for a wedding; a sharp-tongued, angry Canadian woman wanting to quit smoking; and an Irish writer trying to overcome writer’s block. They get on each others nerves, they pick and posture, and finally come to terms with their temporary community. Sheen gets wet, the writer starts writing, the Dutchman gets high, the woman gets angry.
But they also come to terms with their demons and callings, their lives and deaths, their past and future. They walk across northern Spain and become smaller and smaller when set against the stunning background scenery, the crowds of the cities and finally the majesty of the ancient cathedral in Santiago.
The cathedral is the legendary location of the burial of St. James (Santiago) the brother of Jesus. Since the Middle Ages it has been one of the most significant if not one of the most popular of the pilgrimage routes for Catholics. In recent decades it has regained popularity and may arguably be called one of the great pilgrimages for Christians.
As the movie shows, though, around the Roman Catholic themes and history is another one that, as one of the characters says has “nothing to do with religion.” There is a small-c catholic (universal) theme as well. The character study of the four pilgrims and a few of the others they meet on the way highlights the mystery of pilgrimage, whether secular, religious or spiritual. In the final steps through the cathedral door it is all the indescribable work of the spiritual dimension.
Sure, the ending is predictable. You know as it starts that this movie has a purpose. It wants you to experience being a pilgrim. You know that these pilgrims will have a spiritual experience and come away changed. To tell you this is not to spoil the story any more than to say that the boat sinks spoils “Titanic.” It may be expected, but that does not diminish the journey.
Producer, director, and writer Emilio Estevez is not looking to keep the story hidden. The mystery of the story is not revealed in the events. It comes from the lives of the pilgrims themselves. It is a simple movie with depth, a complex character movie with a straightforward plot. As Dan Avery tells his father in a flashback early in the film, “You don’t choose your life, you live it.” This movie just might help you figure out how you might want to do that.