In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy journeys towards the Emerald City where she believes help will be found. Along the way she encounters a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and a Lion. Each believes benefit can be found at the same destination.
Emilio Estevez, director of The Way, claims being inspired by this tale. Estevez plays Daniel who has died on a journey. This death could be understood as symbolic of the tornado in The Wizard of Oz, and our Dorothy could be Daniel’s father Tom (played by Martin Sheen, the real-life father of Estevez). Tom, a bit of a curmudgeon, goes to France to claim his son’s remains, and discovers that Daniel was journeying along the Camino de Santiago. Tom, having been unable to travel with his live son, decides to continue along the path with Daniel’s remains.
The Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) is approximately a 500-mile pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied de Port (in France) to Santiago de Compostela (in Spain). Along the way, Tom meets (and is joined on his journey) by three others. Each has their own reason for being along the path towards Santiago de Compostela, the location which, according to tradition, holds the remains of James, an apostle of Jesus.
The idea of such a journey has never really appealed to me. After seeing The Way, I feel somewhat differently. Why would a person go on such a journey? Estevez explains his own person connection: Some years prior, his father Martin had a few weeks to spare, and decided to travel by car along the Camino with Taylor, his grandson (and son of Estevez). As it happened, their first stop was in Burgos (a city in Northern Spain). According to Estevez, at dinner, the Innkeeper’s daughter walked “into the room, and when she and my son met, it was love at first sight. They ended up getting married. That’s the [/our] first miracle of the Camino.” People travel the Camino in hope of a miracle, and I suppose what I like about The Way is that what one receives is not necessarily what one set out hoping to find.
Our four travellers are rather like this. Joost, a young and apparently cheerful Dutchman, hopes to lose some weight so he can fit into his suit for a coming wedding (Tom suggests he just buy a new suit). The Canadian Sarah claims that she will leave her habit of smoking behind when she reaches Santiago de Compostela, while Jack, from Ireland, perceives the need to overcome his writer’s block (Jack is played by James Nesbitt, one of my favourite actors).
It is hard to imagine that 123 minutes of some old guy walking some 500 miles would be interesting. Perhaps I enjoyed The Way because my expectations were so low. I think, however, once the viewer gets into this story, he or she will appreciate the gentle humour, and the healing that Estevez is able to bring to his characters.
The Way is not really about becoming less fat, or quitting a bad habit, nor is it about overcoming a certain creative block. What makes The Way work is that there is so much more to each character than meets the eye. Beneath Joost’s cheerful exterior, for example, is a person who no longer feels loved by those he loves. Sarah and Jack, as well, have suffered abuse, and yet (like Joost) are unable to initially give voice to what has really brought them to the Camino. By the end of The Way, I appreciated the way in which each character had opportunity to experience healing. Estevez claims: “They are imperfect and broken, but God loves them exactly as they are.” This is a phenomenal insight. God doesn’t love the persons he wants us to become. God doesn't love the person I can be. God loves the persons we are. A result of experiencing such love is transformation and movement towards becoming the persons God intends us to be, and this movment is evidenced in the characters of The Way.
Martin Sheen is, it has been said, very Catholic (he credits Tree of Life director Terrence Malick with bringing him back to God by giving him a copy of The Brothers Karamazov in 1981), but I want to dwell on the spirituality of his son (and not the son Charlie Sheen). Since Martin Sheen’s return to the Catholic faith, Estevez imagines that “his [father’s] hope and desire is that I embrace the faith completely. And I’m getting there.” In another interview he states that “there was a point in the production process [of The Way] where I stopped calling what happened along the way coincidences and began calling them miracles.”
Here's a trailer.