The Way

The Way is a film starring Martin Sheen, written and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. Thomas Avery (Sheen) learns that his son, Daniel (Estevez), has died in France. He goes to retrieve his son’s remains. There, he learns that Daniel died in a freak storm while trying to cross the Pyrenees as part of the Camino de Santiago, a centuries-old pilgrimage route through northern Spain. It ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which purportedly contains the remains of St. James. While examining his son’s backpack, Thomas is suddenly seized with the idea of walking the route himself while carrying his son’s ashes. He embarks on the journey. Right away he meets a group of eccentric characters: a Dutch gourmand, Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), an angry Canadian who smokes a lot named Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), and an annoying Irish writer named Jack (James Nesbitt). The film alternates between scenes of the characters engaging in not quite convincing dialogue and scenes of them walking through the Basque and Spanish countryside with obtrusive pop music blaring away on the soundtrack. (I thought the purpose of going on a pilgrimage was to get away from this sort of thing. I guess not.)

Just as you expect, the characters evolve over time. Thomas becomes less of a dick, Joost becomes less of a hedonist, Sarah becomes less angry and Jack becomes less annoying. Yes, this film will uncomfortably remind you of The Wizard of Oz (which is intentional, by the way), except that in this case the man behind the curtain is never revealed. When the group arrive at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Thomas kneels in front of a silver casket that may or may not contain the remains of St. James. He and the others then look on in awe as a large, porous metal container full of incense is swung back and forth. The significance of this is never explained. Indeed, the significance of the Camino de Santiago is never really explained, except that it is good exercise for people who can afford expensive backpacks, as well as a plane ticket to France.

This film does touch upon issues such as Basque nationalism and prejudice against the Roma. And it does contain breathtaking shots of the Basque and Spanish countryside. All in all, though, I found this movie less interesting than one of those travel documentaries on PBS.

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