The Way, a passion project from the father-and-son team of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, presents the intensely faith-filled practice of pilgrimage in a way that is not heavy-handed or saccharine.
Sheen is a famously devout Catholic while his son describes his faith as "a work in progress," but they both found transcendence in the story of Tom (Sheen), a doctor who decides to complete the journey of his son (Estevez, who also wrote the script) after he was killed in an accident. The lapsed Catholic father walks an ancient pilgrimage route from the Pyrenees Mountains to the cathedral in Spain where the remains of Saint James are said to be buried. The grieving father meets other pilgrims on the "Camino," all with their own needs that drive them to a trip that feels foreign to their modern sensibilities.
"You don't have to go to Jerusalem or Mecca or Santiago to go on pilgrimage, you go in your own heart," Sheen said when I talked to him, Estevez, and producer David Alexanian in Washington, D.C. "But it is more conducive to get you out of your normal, everyday life. ... You begin to let go of judgments and envies, anger and resentment, and all the negativity that keeps us from being human, keeps us from being free and knowing ourselves, that's the real pilgrimage. That's what lasts."
An unusual topic and profound faith combine to make a beautiful but quiet movie about a group of strangers, each with metaphorical baggage, who form a miniature Christian community as they travel together. The only thing they have in common is deep need that can only be filled with something greater than themselves. Like other films about faith that have been released this fall, the movie feels unfamiliar but ends up being a true, moving, and profound experience. The same could be said of actual pilgrimage as well.
The Way is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, drug use, and smoking.