Movie Review: The Way

- February 9, 2012

"This movie shook me up, and it was the final scenes that delivered the death blow"

My main computer has been dry-docked for a while so I haven't been able to blog in my preferred way. So I'll give it a try on the iPad although I won't be able to provide a link over to my visual blog because that can't be built on "The Pad"---or at least not as far as I know.

I saw a movie recently called "The Way" with Martin Sheen. It's gotten some mixed reviews and I don't understand why that should be the case. The movie deals with a bereaved father, Tom, attempting to deal with the death of his adult son. The son, whose name escapes me, was at the start of walking that famous pilgrimage known as The Camino de Santiago, when he was caught in a storm high in the Pyrenees Mountains and died.

Tom receives the news while in the middle of a golf game at some very posh country club in the U.S. He immediately books a flight to go retrieve his son's body and personal belongings; and it is his plan to return to the U.S. immediately. But, life really is what happens while we're making other plans---and through a series of encounters with the French official who is helping expedite the transfer of the son to the United States, Tom experiences a dramatic change of heart. To me, it was more like an epiphany---a supra rational experience which can reveal and point to another, and better, path. Unlike so many modern minds which would summarily dismiss such an insight as silly, emotional or, worst of all, feminine, Tom, in a decision that baffles even himself, acts on this gift of insight, heeds the call, or the invitation if you will, and decides to walk The Camino in his son's place.

The Camino de Santiago consists of many routes which cross-cross Spain and parts of western and southwestern France. These routes are mostly rural and narrow paths or roads which lead into the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims have been walking this difficult path for a thousand years at least. Why? Is it only to pay homage to the scant remains of St. James or The Catholic Church? Maybe. Or is there something else at work here? The movie attempts to deal with that question as each of the three other pilgrims we meet on the way tell their story and give their "reasons" for undertaking this arduous and uncomfortable adventure.

None of their so called reasons rang true to me as I listened to them. The one salient emotion which I felt was common to each of them, however, was: hunger. "For what do you hunger?" I kept asking throughout the movie. Then I thought, "Where there is hunger, something is lacking." That seemed simple enough. Was it that easy? If I were to simply identify the lack, the "thing" missing---then, would the mystery solved? Or would that answer only lead to the beginning of a different way, or a different journey, or a different kind of Camino de____?

This movie shook me up, and it was the final scenes that delivered the death blow. Here we see our four pilgrims, all disconnected and feeling adrift in their respective societies---attending a deeply mystical and traditional Mass at the terminus of The Camino. At this point they've walked, struggled, been rained on, slept out in the cold, quarreled with each other, and been without food and water at times, for weeks---all in the hope of attaining the cure, or the goal which each one believed would be attained somewhere "out there".

The scene of the Mass in the Catholic Church, for me anyway, became immediately emblematic for what is missing in many so-called "modern" lives....and that is a deep sense of connection to something far greater than who we think we are---with all of our worries, self recriminations and judgmental attitudes. I'll call that missing element, the mystical sense, or the mystical connection. Sounds very New-Agey I know, but maybe don't allow that to obscure the kernel of the idea which may have merit. This is not an endorsement, by the way, for the Catholic Church, or any other religion or creed. But this movie does point out that something is way out of whack in our lives. These pilgrims arrive at that awareness through sheer physical and mental exhaustion....their guards are dropped, the masks stripped away, and something bright comes through. Indeed it does.

It's always so exceedingly difficult to put these things into words, and I always feel hampered and inept whenever I try. So, since a picture really is worth a thousand words, go see the movie and see for yourself. You may come away with an entirely different "take".

"The Way" will be available on DVD February 21.