“You don’t choose a life…You live one.”
– Daniel, Emilio Estevez, “The Way”
A theme is emerging as we continue on our 30-day film journey: finding yourself. But more than just finding yourself, it’s discovering the world around us, we may not have noticed before. This was true for Tom, the main character in our film, “The Way.”
Emilio Estevez is a “sensitive director.” Son of actor Martin Sheen, “a compelling actor,” and brother to Charlie Sheen, Renee Estevez, and Roman Estevez, Sheen’s real last name is Estevez, yet changed it when he was beginning his career, however, all of his children except Charlie chose to keep the original family name.
Emilio wrote and directed “The Way” in honor of his family and their pilgrimage. He wrote this film for his father to play the lead role to fulfill a life-long dream of his Sheen’s of hiking the El Camino de Santiago. It was inspired by his own son and it is dedicated to his Spanish grandfather. It was Martin’s idea to make a film based on the Camino: he and his grandson, Emilio’s son, hiked it together, and the grandson met his wife in Spain and never returned home. In a way, you could say both on-screen and off-screen father lost their son to the Camino.
The El Camino de Santiago, also called the Way of St. James, is a spiritual journey through Spain. It was believed that the Apostle St. James was buried here and, at one point in history, was discovered by a shepherd. Now “pilgrims” travel from all over the world to make the journey. The majority are on trekking for spiritual reasons. Many have their own purposes, such as adventure, health, or just as a new challenge.
Tom did not take the journey for any of these reasons: his only son Daniel, played by Emilio himself, had been on the Camino and had tragically not made it to the end. Tom and Daniel had many disagreements and arguments over the years because Daniel believed in living life to the fullest. His father did not. He was happy with his predictable life as a doctor and a golfer.
When tragedy struck, he went to retrieve his son and his son’s things. For reasons we are unsure of as the viewer, he puts Daniel’s pack on and decides to finish hiking the Camino for his son. Along the way, he meets several other pilgrims who are each searching for something they lost in life, tag along with Tom. He makes it clear he wants to travel this journey alone, but even a grieving father on a spiritual journey needs a friend sometimes. Martin Sheen’s depth as an actor allows us to see everything he feels as he grieves for his son. He is a deep thinker and a determined man. His son Daniel was the sensitive one. Sound familiar?
There never is that moment where everything is right with the world. The pilgrims do not have an epiphany that takes away all their pain or problems. No million-dollar idea or cure for cancer. The pilgrims all stick together and finish the odyssey together. I believe that is the key: finish what we start with people who are on our side. The father and son aspect of the film is always present, and you can feel the love and trust on both sides. As Martin Sheen said about working with his son, “From my point of view there’s nothing better. I’d work with him for the rest of my life, frankly.”
“The Way” is one of my absolute favorite movies of all time. Whenever I am feeling particularly lonely, I tend to watch this movie. It is one of my comfort movies. It is strange, I know, why I would be comforted by a father grieving for his son while hiking the Camino. I believe it is because they were regular people with no one else to turn to and have to finish the journey together. It is a lot like life: only not as visible.
Filmed on location in Spain and France, we are armchair travelers to a sacred site. It has also fueled my desire to hike the Camino! I would love to have a fellow “pilgrim” with me on the journey if any of you would like to go with me when the world settles down.