The Way, a low-budget movie starring Martin Sheen, one of the most radical left-wing activists in Hollywood, has won unstinting praise from conservatives like Laura Ingraham, a prominent talk-show host in the United States. At the conclusion of an interview with Sheen and his son, Emilio Estevez, the movie’s writer and director , Ingraham enthused: “There are not many films that I say you must see, that you must run to see. You need to support these films.”
Readers of The Interim who have seen the film will understand Ingraham’s enthusiasm: The Way is a subtle and moving portrayal in film of family, faith, healing and redemption.
Tom Avery, the lead character played by Sheen, is a Californian ophthalmologist and curmudgeonly widower. In the middle of a game of golf, he is devastated to receive a call from a police officer in the Pyrenees who relates that Tom’s son has perished in a storm on the first day of a trek along the Camino de Santiago, The Way of St. James – a popular pilgrimage route for trekkers dating back more than a thousand years that stretches for some 800 kilometres from France across north-western Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
A lapsed Catholic who rarely attends church, Tom is beyond consolation. Nonetheless, having travelled to the Pyrenees to pick up the body of his son, Tom resolves to memorialize his son by hiking the Camino and scattering his ashes at pilgrimage sites along the route.
Early in the journey, Tom encounters an embittered Canadian woman who purports that she is hiking the Camino in a bid to quit smoking. She tells Tom that he impresses her as a moody and self-indulgent boomer. Later, having found out that he is mourning the death of his son, she apologizes to Tom and confides that she, too, is suffering from a death in the family – in her case, a death by abortion. She explains that she was driven to the desperate expedient of abortion as a means of sparing her child from abuse by her cruel, wife-battering husband. “Sometimes I hear her voice,” she laments. “I know it sounds crazy, but she talks to me.”
Tom understands. He has vivid impressions of seeing his dead son, played by Estevez, at various points along the Camino.
In addition to the Canadian woman, Tom is joined by two other trekkers – one, a jovial Dutchman with secret sorrows of his own who says he aims to lose weight, and the other, a cynical Irish writer and lapsed Catholic who is writing a story about the Camino and blames his loss of faith on scandals in the Irish Church.
By journey’s end, the four companions have become good friends. While there is no overt preaching in the film, it’s evident from the silent and reverential demeanour of the trekkers in the Cathedral of Santiago that they have each been spiritually transformed.
In the closing scene, the Canadian woman is still chain smoking. But even she seems to have found peace.
In the interview with Ingraham, Sheen identified with the troubled characters in the film. Having struggled with alcohol addiction and other serious family problems, he observed: “Really, very often the only way that God can get in is when we are broken and we are on our knees.” But then, he testified: “We are open, we are receptive to the spirit and that’s when transcendence and healing begins.”
Evangelical pastor Rick Warren has hailed The Way “as a gentle, but powerful masterpiece.” Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, concurs. He writes: “The wonderful new movie from Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen, The Way, made me feel as if I had actually journeyed on the pilgrimage – and only reinforced my determination to make this spiritual journey for myself… the four pilgrims in this movie, each making the journey for a different reason, band together for an unexpected but ultimately enriching process of self-discovery as they travel together to the burial place of Saint James the Apostle.”
Readers who cannot see The Way in a local theatre are urged to rent or buy the DVD.