One of my lifelong ambitions is to eventually hike El Camino de Santiago, or the way of St. James. For those who are unfamiliar with this path across Northern Spain, it is a pilgrim path that originates in Southern France and ends in the northwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compestela. Christians have been walking this path for centuries, seeking to visit what is believed to be the final resting place of St. James (Santiago is St. James in Spanish), one of the original Apostles of Jesus. It is my excitement to emulate my brethren among the faithful that led me to the film The Way (2010).
You might ask yourself, how could The Way, a movie about a long walk, be interesting at all? Fair point, I would reply. But there is a little more going on in it than just a bunch of people putting one foot in front of the other in Europe. It begins with the less than adventurous Tom Avery (Martin Sheen), a doctor and used to his staid routine, receiving news of his wandering son Daniel’s (Emilio Estevez) death. The young man had died after getting lost on the Camino, falling off the side of a mountain, and plummeting to his demise. There had been a divide between father and son, and after traveling to Southern France to collect Daniel’s belongings Tom decides to complete the Camino. Tom hopes that by doing so he will find some way to finally understand why his son was the way he was. At first, he wishes to be by himself, and scatters Daniel’s ashes along the way at the various holy sites that tantalize travelers as they walk and entices them on to their goal. Despite his intention of solitude, he is joined by a small group of other pilgrims. The first is Joost Michael de Witt (Yorick van Wageningen), a Dutchman hoping to lose weight by making the hike. Next is Sarah Marie Sinclair (Deborah Kara Unger), a Canadian who is fleeing an abusive relationship but tells everyone that she is there to quit smoking. And finally there is Jack Emerson Stanton (James Nesbitt), an Irish author and atheist who anticipates the trip will help him with his writer’s block. At first Tom is reticent to accept their company. Yet as they continue on, he learns that each one is there for their own reasons, and thus he slowly begins to empathize with them. By the time they finally reach Santiago de Compestela, Tom has come to terms with Daniel’s death and understands why the young man would risk his life to see the world.
While all the characters in The Way have their own moments of self-realization, particularly Tom, it is not necessarily spiritual. While I would have loved to see scene after scene of them praying along the way, that brand of cinema probably would not have had wide appeal. This is not the most popular of films in the first place, and according to IMDb.com it has only made a little over $10,000,000 worldwide, with an opening weekend that barely cracked $100,000. That is peanuts compared to most movies that get widespread premiers. I am guessing that this was expected by Estevez, who both wrote and directed this film. It is worth noting that both he and his father (and co-star) Sheen are Catholics, though it seems like he did not want to make a specifically Catholic movie. Nonetheless, there is a cool little anecdote about the making of the film that I found while researching it. Apparently the Church was initially not keen on the crew filming inside the cathedral at Santiago de Compestela. In response, Estevez asked the crew to pray that they be allowed inside to shoot, and it happened. It is the climax of the film, and well worth the view.
As I mentioned earlier, The Way, ultimately, is a movie about a long walk, which might not be the most exciting cinematic experience for some. Still, it is a touching story of a father connecting with his late son, and that is one worth telling and consuming. And if it inspires you to want to take up the pilgrim path of the way of St. James, maybe we will encounter each other in Northern Spain one day and show off our shells to each other?