Anyone who is tired of watching the typical Hollywood blockbuster movie should see this rare gem about the power of transformation. Tom (Martin Sheen) is a doctor from California who gets the news that every parent dreads—that his estranged son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) has died in an accident in the mountains of southern France while attempting to walk the famous El Camino de Santiago. When Tom visits France to recover his son’s body, he is helped by a local police captain, Henri (Tchéky Karyo, who played General Lafayette in The Patriot). Henri explains to Tom that pilgrims have walked this 500-mile trail for over a thousand years, seeking transformation on the journey and at its end, the Santiago de Compostola, where the bones of St. James are said to be buried. After going through Daniel’s personal effects, which include little more than his backpacking gear, Tom decides to walk the Way himself, using his son’s gear, and he honors his son in a special way as he walks the trail.
Along the way he meets and walks with three very different people, all of whom have their own reasons for walking El Camino. There is a jovial Dutchman, Joost, who is undertaking the journey to lose weight. There is the bitter Canadian, Sarah, who wants to quit smoking. And then there is the comical Irishman, Jack, who wants to write the big novel but has been suffering from a bad bout of writer’s block. As they progress on the 500-mile journey, they learn much about themselves and each other as they experience the sights and sounds of the Camino. As they get to know each other, they slowly build a sense of community, helping each other find the transformation that they all seek. And together they learn the difference between the life they live and the life they choose.
There are many qualities that make this movie stand out. The acting is excellent. One of the reasons I saw this in the theater was because of Martin Sheen. I had just finished watching all seven seasons of The West Wing, a TV show about the White House, where he figured prominently as President Josiah Bartlett. I wanted to see him act in a different and much more demanding role. He doesn’t disappoint. Emilio Estevez is great as Tom’s son (and is Martin Sheen’s oldest son in real life), and also directs and produces the movie. They are supported by a fine cast of actors: Yorick van Wageningen as Joost, Deborah Kara Unger as Sarah, and James Nesbitt as Jack.
As an avid traveler, I loved to see what the El Camino was like in the movie and would love to experience it for myself some day. The many scenic views of the El Camino were well chosen and were often breathtaking. The movie is enhanced by the wonderful music of Tyler Bates and songs from the likes of James Taylor and Alanis Morissette.
Williamsburg Regional Library has some resources you should check out if you want to know more about the Camino. They include Jack Hitt’s book Off the Road: A modern-day walk down the pilgrim’s route into Spain which was used as a basis for the movie, but there are several others, including The Road to Santiago by Kathryn Harrison, Travels with My Donkey: one man and his ass on a pilgrimage to Santiago by Tim Moore, and Walk in a Relaxed Manner : life lessons from the Camino by Joyce Rupp. And coming up in May 2012, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez will be releasing their book Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son.
Check the WRL catalog for The Way