“Brain cancer. Surgery left a terrible scar. I wear this yarmulke to cover it up. They didn’t get it all… you know, the cancer. Said it’ll probably come back. Who knows about these kind of things? Only God… Anyway, they say that miracles happen out here on the Camino de Santiago.”
‘The Way’, directed by Emilio Estevez in 2010, is the story of an American ophthalmologist called Tom, played by Martin Sheen, whose son, Daniel dies on the Camino de Santiago. Tom flies to Spain and decides to honour Daniel by walking the pilgrimage route and scattering the ashes of his son on the way. During his walk he meets and befriends three other pilgrims, each of whom have their own reasons for walking. ‘The Way’ isn’t a major film, and in many ways it’s more about Estevez’s family than anything. It was inspired by the director’s son who met his wife on the route, it stars the director and his father and his dedicated to the director’s grandfather. But this hit home with me. It’s a Catholic movie and when it was released I decided not to go so Becky, my then wife, went alone. I’ve always regretted that, and regretted that I wasn’t able to share that world with her. But I did spend ten years hanging out with liberal Catholics and, although I’m not religious and despite my issues with certain policies of the Church and with organised religion in general, that particular world view does feel comfortable for me. There does seem to be a form of ‘drive’ in Catholicism for creating and altering the environment you are in, hence the incense, bells, smoke and candles in the church, but this tendency also includes the act of walking to discover yourself. The ever changing landscapes in the movie mirror the shifting and developing relationships between the pilgrims and, in turn, the slow emergence of Tom from a state of mourning. Today when I’m feeling under pressure or just empty, which does happen now and then, I use long walks to find a context to my life and to ground myself. This movie not only reminds me of the nostalgia of the past, it also reminds me that I shouldn’t turn down the opportunity to go to the cinema when it’s offered.
Would I recommend it? Yes – weirdly it reminded me of ‘Stand by Me’ both in terms of the look but also that feeling of discovery through journey. Alternatively, I plan to watch Luis Buñuel’s ‘The Milky Way’ next week, apparently it is also set on the pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela but has a different and more scathing view of Catholicism.