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‘The Way’ offers road map for life

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP | Contributor
Sunday, October 9, 2011

For anyone who has walked “El Camino” — the ancient pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain — this film will be a treat. For anyone who has not, this is your video travelogue, and much more. “The Way” is a journey film (physical and spiritual) and it’s a walking journey film.

If you don’t already know, this “El Camino” involves pilgrims walking to the shrine from distances days, even weeks away on foot. It ends at the Spanish shrine, which is believed to hold the relics of the Apostle James.

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, who also acts in it with his father, Martin Sheen, “The Way” is a moving and alltoo- common scenario of an estranged father- son relationship. Martin Sheen is the main character, a stubborn codger who winds up on “El Camino” with three aging Gen-Xers (one of whom dubs him “Boomer”). Boomer’s traveling companions are a hilarious, portly Dutchman, a chain-smoking Canadian gal and an Irishman with writer’s block.

This was a very difficult film to make. Four strangers walking for the entire film. But it holds your attention and interest. There are tiny suspenses, and a certain tongue-in-cheek, amiable self-consciousness of what a big metaphor for life it all is. And we can see ourselves in this motley crew.

I don’t want to give too much away of the simple but rich story line, only that “The Way” is a “sit back, relax and enjoy it” film. We are not given any beautiful countryside landscapes, because the film is shot in lots of tight medium-range shots. This is squarely a film about people, not about breathtaking nature. But we will experience all the human customs, hospitalities and tropes along the Camino.

The lesson of the Camino seems to be that we’re all on it, whether we want to be or not, whether we’re in Spain or not. As the tagline of the film says: “Life is too big to walk it alone.”

“The Way” is as open ended as life. We have no idea what’s going to happen along the way. And opting out is really bad form.

“The Way” goes to great pains to make sure we understand that none of these “pilgrims” are doing it for religious reasons, and this reflects the reality that many who take up the sojourn are not there for to grow closer to God. However, religion is inescapable all along “the way,” given its profoundly religious roots and the devotion we witness of pilgrims outside our little cadre.

Buen Camino!