Every once in a while, I encounter a movie that exceeds my expectations, and Emilio Estevez’ The Way is just such a movie. Here’s why I liked it.
The movie starts off with Thomas Avery, played by Martin Sheen, receiving the devastating news that his son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez), has died. The news is all the more tragic because Thomas and Daniel left on poor terms, with Tom angry about his son dropping out of Medical School to travel the world.
Despite his grief, Tom travels to France to retrieve the body of his son. There he learns that Daniel died while embarking on the medieval pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. Initially, Tom is in a hurry to retrieve his sons remains and return home, but while examining Daniel’s possessions, he decides at the last minute to complete the journey his son started.
While walking this ancient, several hundred mile pilgrimage route, Tom encounters three pilgrims from very different backgrounds who are traveling for various reasons—most of them different than they claim. Bitter over his son’s death, he is reluctant to engage them in any sort of conversation, yet the four end up growing in friendship as they journey together. Their interactions make up the majority of the movie, and their friendship provides many tender moments of humanity and laughter.
The movie culminates as the four pilgrims arrive at the Santiago de Compostela, the burial place of the relics of St. James. Here, the pilgrims realize the journey has changed them forever. It is also here that one of the most magnificent scenes in the movie takes place: the swinging of the Botafumeiro—a massive medieval censer—that fills the church with clouds of incense. It is unforgettable.
The Way is not action packed, and the plot moves slowly—just like a pilgrim on the Camino. But it’s far from boring, and because most movies these days have a sex scene or action sequence every five minutes, I think you’ll find the pace a refreshing change.
The predominant theme of the film is the journey of grief and grace. Every one of the pilgrims on the Camino has a hidden hurt that they are reluctant to share with the others. They start their journey dealing with their pain in various ways—some through anger, some through food, others through artistic expression. As they progress on the way, the grace of the pilgrimage draws the grief to the surface, laughter and friendship replace cynicism, and they begin to heal.
The Way is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time, and it’s filled with stirring imagery, great acting, humor, a life-affirming message, and a powerful Catholic ethos. In fact, it even inspired me to add a pilgrimage on the Way of St. James to my bucket list. Check it out.
The Catholic Gentleman Score: 5 TiarasThis article is reprinted with permission from our friends at The Catholic Gentleman.