In The Way (2010), Thomas Avery (Martin Sheen), a successful Southern California ophthalmologist, satisfied with the ordered life he has chosen, finds himself on an unexpected trek. Avery is a decent man—a doctor who will come to the office at eight in the morning to accommodate a patient’s schedule—but one who, a friend joshes, has no soul.
Soon after that telling jibe, Avery’s world explodes when he receives a phone call informing him that his son has died in an accident near St. Jean Pied de Port, France, at the beginning of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James), the centuries-old pilgrimage route to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Flying to France to bring home his son’s body, Avery impulsively decides to have his son’s remains cremated and to carry the ashes on the Pilgrimage.
Intent on being alone so he can sort through his thoughts, his grief, and his regrets over his troubled relationship with his deceased son, Avery nevertheless gains one, then two, then three traveling companions. Joost (Yorick van Wageningen)—a smiling, hungry-for-life Dutchman who doubles as a mobile drug repository—is intent on losing weight. Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), an edgy, bitterly sarcastic Canadian, insists that she walks the Camino so she can finally quit smoking. Jack (James Nesbitt), an Irish travel writer who burns to be a novelist, has undertaken the trip to crash through writer’s block. Avery tries to shake the trio, especially when Joost reveals to the others his own painful reason for walking the Way, but they persist.
The four actors wear their characters as easily as a comfortable pair of walking shoes and play off each other effectively. The doctor’s determined strides and equally determined gaze keep the others at a distance—for a time. Eventually, he warms to them. Eventually, Avery warms to life.
Written, directed, and produced by Emilio Estevez, who appears in cameos as Avery’s deceased son Daniel, The Way is a moving exploration of the restlessness of the spirit; the deep desire to expiate long-harbored tormenting guilt; and the ability to forge bonds when opening your soul to the pain that others, like you, carry inside.
The film was inspired in part by Jack Hitt’s travel book Off the Road, which recounts his own adventures as a modern walker of the Camino, but Estevez does much more than study the odd characters that make the trek and the myriad motivations that compel people to do so—or that convince them to serve, or exploit, those who make the journey.
Aided by the cinematography of Juan Miguel Azpiroz, which captures the rugged beauty of northern Spain and its ancient but still vibrant human geography, The Way is an eloquent tale of an odyssey both ancient and very contemporary, reminding that inside each of us is (dare I say it?) a pilgrim seeking greater meaning than that provided by our pedestrian lives.
One of Daniel’s few lines, spoken in a flashback, resonates long after the closing credits. “You don’t choose a life, dad. You live one.”
The Way is available as a DVD or instantly from Amazon.com, Netflix, and on-demand cable systems.
Originally published in slightly different form at The AtHome Pilgrim's author page, at www.fictionique.com.
Words © 2012 AtHome Pilgrim.
All Rights Reserved.