“We’re all on Daniel’s terms,” Tom (Martin Sheen) says referring to his adventure- seeking son in the new film, “The Way.” Daniel (Emilio Estevez), a born explorer, spends much of his time travelling the world as the story begins. Unfortunately, that leads to a tragic accident and Daniel is killed early on while taking a pilgrimage down the Camino de Santiago (“The Way of Saint James”).
Directed and written by Estevez, “The Way” finds Tom travelling overseas to pick up his son’s remains. When Daniel was alive, his father was always too busy to travel with him. However, when Tom sees the world his son left behind him, he decides to follow in his son’s footsteps. He will finish the pilgrimage, carrying his son’s ashes with him and scattering them along the way.
In interviews, director Estevez has compared this story to “The Wizard of Oz,” another film about the journey of one individual on a path of self-discovery. However, in this story, the main character encounters real people, not fanciful characters.
On his path, Tom meets a young cynical woman named Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), who is trying to quit smoking. Tom also crosses paths with a talkative Dutchman named Yoost (Yorick van Wageningen), who is trying to lose weight. Jack (James Nesbitt) also joins the group as a writer looking to publish a book about the people who take the spiritual pilgrimage.
Tom’s journey is not only from one point to another one. While saying goodbye to his son, he is also on a journey of religious discovery. He starts on the path as a lapsed Catholic. When a priest offers to pray with him, Tom coldly asks “what for.” However, the walls that he has built against religion slowly begin to break down. When he is offered a set of rosary beads, for instance, he begrudgingly accepts them.
Unlike other religious films, “The Way” never feels forced or overt. There’s never a single moment when Tom rediscovers God. Along the way, though, he begins to find his faith once again. Late in the story, he even comforts Sarah, who sorrowfully admits that she had an abortion years early and has been haunted by it ever since.
“The Way” has been embraced by a lot of religious organizations who appreciate its message and its focus on faith. Interestingly enough, its story is similar to Sheen’s own religious journey. Sheen himself was a lapsed Catholic who backed away from the Church only to accept it into his life years later. In a recent interview on “The Hugh Hewitt Show,” Sheen discussed his religious struggles and why he remains to this day, a pro-life Roman Catholic. Although some viewers may be turned off by Sheen’s liberal politics, it’s impressive to hear him talk about staying true to his faith despite the Hollywood culture that surrounds him.
As a film, “The Way” should be admired both for what it isn’t and for what it is. It’s not a film with a lot of special effects or plot twists. It’s simply a story about a man on a spiritual journey who is mourning the death of his own son.
Early on in the film, Tom flashes back to a conversation that he had with his son. During it, Daniel turns to his father and says “you don’t choose a life, Dad. You live one.”
“The Way” is the journey of a man who started living one and who found faith along the way.