CINEMA: News Weekly
A heart-warming and heart-wrenching story
, June 23, 2012
The Way (rated PG), starring Martin Sheen and directed by Emilio Estevez, is reviewed by Symeon Thompson.
The Way is a gentle and touchingly delicate film. Lacking virtuosoic imagery and editing, a complex score and a twisty-turny narrative structure; it succeeds in being a gentle and beautiful exploration of grief and faith, of life and family, and does so with warmth and wit. It is a lovely picture, well worth seeing.
Thomas “Tom” Avery (compellingly portrayed by the superb Martin Sheen, a man of great personal, but deeply complicated faith) is a successful Californian ophthalmologist. He discovers that his semi-estranged son Daniel (tenderly played by Sheen’s own son, Emilio Estevez, in flashbacks, who also wrote, directed and produced the movie), has been killed in an accident while travelling on the Way — the pilgrim’s route to Santiago de Compostela, also known as the Camino.
Tom travels to the French Pyrenees, initially to recover his son’s body, but while there makes the sudden decision to take his son’s cremated remains as he treks the Camino himself, leaving ashes at the key points along the journey.
Thus begins a Chaucerian travelogue as Tom trudges through the beautiful Catalan landscape meeting all sorts of interesting folk as he travels and travails in search of some sort of peace.
There is Joost (Yorick van Wageningen) a robust and cheery Dutchman trying to lose weight for his brother’s third wedding, always happy to laugh and sing and chatter — and always willing to oblige a fellow traveller with some “special” Dutch tobacco (those with a militant objection to illicit drugs in any way, shape or form might like to stay away from this film for that reason, although they’d really be missing out).
Then there is Sarah (the icily excellent Deborah Kara Unger), a bitter baby-boomer, apparently trying to quit smoking, who, upon meeting Tom for the first time, rips into him over the corruption and hypocrisy of that generation.
And finally there is Jack (James Nesbitt, as gloriously manicly mad as ever), a boozy Irish travel writer suffering from a severe case of writer’s block in search of a ripping yarn to make out of those he meets along the Way.
As they trudge along they come across all sorts of other characters, such as the American priest, Father Frank (Matt Clark), wearing a yarmulke to cover the scar on his skull from surgery to get rid of brain cancer, who just so happens to have plenty of sets of rosary beads. Or the gypsy family with their incredibly strong code of honour and sense of duty. All of these characters add a little something to the story and show a little more of the main characters’ foibles and virtues.
The cinematography is beautiful, not for any technical reasons or artistic excellence, but because the landscape is so beautiful, as are the towns and churches and people in the street. It is simple and uncomplicated, merely capturing the events and not trying to construct any artificed meaning out of them.
It is easy to see the resonances between the Pyrenees and many parts of Australia, and I can easily see the truth of my Catalan grandfather’s claim that the Australian mountains are some sort of twin of those in Europe.
The soundtrack is dominated by riffs and themes reminiscent of the “boomer” music so derided by Sarah; of James Taylor and the soft folk-rock stylings of him and his ilk. It offers yet another point of nostalgia for those of Tom’s vintage, or those young ’uns who grew up hearing their parents play such music quite regularly.
This film is a heart-warming, and heart-wrenching delight. It is simple and soft and delicate. There is not much to be gained from going into the twists and turns of the plot — they are there; but they aren’t points of grand drama rather than points of subtle illustration for the characters and the values so inherent in what it means to be human. There is delight in community, the communion of friendship and family, of laughing and loving and living a good life — and atoning for the sins and mistakes that we are all prey to.
In this respect, The Way beautifully evokes what it means to go on pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a simple thing, but it is also a complex, rich, multi-faceted, nuanced one. It is a way of making amends, but it is also a way of celebration, of feasting as well as fasting. There are hardships and deprivations, but there is also humour and delight.
Ultimately, The Way presents a way of life that is intrinsically human, by putting us in touch with that which is divine, something that is both holy and wholesome. And, like any pilgrimage, which is best appreciated by being taken, The Way is best embraced by being seen, not read about.