It's a lovely movie that combines sorrow, comedy, road trip and travelogue. The script and acting are subtle and gentle, letting the power of the journey speak for itself. I recommend this movie for walkers of all ages. It debuted in American theaters on Oct. 7, 2011, mostly playing in smaller art houses. It is worth a rental once is is available on home video if it doesn't make it to a theater near you.
Walking the Camino de Santiago
Tom keeps his grief to himself, he shows only a curmudgeonly exterior. He reluctantly accepts companionship from a Dutchman, Joost, who says he is walking the Camino to lose weight. Tom carries Daniel's ashes with him, leaving a handful here and there along the path. He also sees Daniel along the way, usually in situations where Daniel would appreciate that moment of the journey.
The movie was filmed in sequence along the Camino de Santiago. Director Estevez uses the scenery as backdrop rather than making it the star, but we have plenty of sequences of walking through the changing countryside. The cinematography was not as great as I wished for, but I was left longing to trek myself through those villages and across that landscape.
You Never Walk Alone
All of these trekking companions smoke, which is realistic for Europeans, and weed is as popular with them as tobacco. Tom keeps up a determined pace, he is on his own mission.
As the writer character describes, people walk the Camino for various reasons. Physical challenge, cultural immersion, spiritual exploration or journey to repentance, all have been reasons for people to walk the Camino for over 1000 years.
There are many moments when Tom sees Daniel and only the hardest heart isn't moved. But it never feels like heavy-handed tearjerking.
The Journey to Discovery
In the past, people walked the Camino to earn repentance for their sins. Our traveling companions all find some of what they may have been seeking. There are no dramatic revelations and transformations. But the long walk gives you a chance to come to grips with past choices, traumas and regrets.
Martin Sheen is a devout Catholic, and Estevez's choice to make Tom a lapsed Catholic rankled him, but was the right choice. It is easier for the audience to go along on the journey with someone who isn't on a blatantly religious quest. Those who know the religious history of the Camino will appreciate all the details, while those who don't aren't hit over the head with them.
Estevez got the whole crew to make a prayer of novena to become the first film crew allowed to film inside the Cathedral de Santiago. This was a necessary part of the movie, and it is great that we see the actual Cathedral rather than using a stand-in church.
A Walker's View
This is fiction, not a documentary, so here are my gentle criticisms:
Sore points: Tom is shown as a golf-cart using golfer, who never walks when he could drive. I doubt he could have made it through the first challenging days over the Pyrenees without training.
Tom was using his son's gear, which seems to fit perfectly. Martin and Emilio do seem to be about the same size, but still, it made me wonder. I wouldn't recommend starting off in boots you haven't trained in. Where were the scenes of blisters and chafing? Ah, but this is fiction, not documentary.
Realistic Points: Joost was using trekking poles with correct technique. There was a stream of banter about what makes it an authentic Camino experience. Don't you have to suffer? Isn't roughing it by camping or staying in a hostel dorm a necessary part of the experience? These are the sort of things walkers often debate. In a non-competitive sport, folks somehow feel the need to create "rules." I was happy that some of the characters disputed the need for suffering. The time spent walking, no matter where you lay your head, is what can clear the way to self-discovery and open you to the world around you.
Bottom Line on "The Way"
As a small note, the producer of the film is David Alexanian, who also produced and appeared in "Long Way Round" and "Long Way Down," accompanying Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman on their two around-the-world motorcycle trips. Those series are also worth a rental.