By Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
(Martin Sheen) is a prosperous doctor, a widower and a kind of “retired”
Catholic. His son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) is a doctoral student who decides to
put his dissertation on hold to go on a journey to find himself and discover
life’s meaning. Tom thinks he is wasting his time and not taking responsibility
for his life.
Not long after, Tom gets a call on the golf course with the
news that his son has died in an accident in a small village in France. He goes there to bring Daniel’s body home. He is surprised to find that his son is traveling very light and that he was ready to begin a 500 mile pilgrimage on
foot, with only a rucksack with necessities.
Tom decides to make “el camino” or “The Way” to the shrine
of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a path worn by the feet of thousands of
pilgrims for a thousand years. The Shrine of St. James the Great is the
destination, where the relics of the apostle are believed by many to lie under
the altar. He places Daniel’s ashes in a metallic box in the rucksack and sets
off. The next morning, after sleeping on
a riverbank, he drops the rucksack into a river and in the struggle to retrieve
it is thoroughly soaked. But it is a sign of a new beginning for Tom, washed
clean to start again.
Along the way Tom meets people making the camino, but he
doesn’t want any company. He’s grumpy, sad, and though determined, is in shock
at losing his son. He constantly brushes off the irrepressible and friendly
overweight Dutchman, Joost (Yorick van Wageningen) who travels with his own
questionable pharmacy. Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) is a stringent Canadian who says
she wants to quit smoking. Jack (James
Nesbitt, whom you may remember from the lovely film “Millions”) is an Irish
writer with a seemingly terminal case of writer’s block.
Eventually Tom comes face to face with his own limitations
when he starts a brawl and becomes a kind of father or wisdom figure for
I was privileged to see this film twice and it was even
better the second time. You see more and can follow Tom’s journey more closely.
Frankly, I felt like signing up for the pilgrimage then and there!
Some folks are concerned that Tom leaves little handfuls of
Daniel’s ashes along with way, at different roadside shrines, and then at the
end, tosses them into the crashing waves near a Catholic church along the
northern coast of Spain. Yes, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that
the cremated ashes are to be kept and buried together so that the integrity of
the body is maintained. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Tom is way out of
touch with his faith, and this pilgrimage was his way of finding his way home
To quote the film critic Roger Ebert: We don’t go to the
movies for Sunday school. However, films
often provide a means to talk about things that truly matter.
I think “The Way” expresses well what the Catholic author Flannery
O’Connor once wrote, that most people come to the Church (or return to the
Church) by means that the Church does not approve.
When it comes to God’s grace, there are no limits for God is
all-powerful and colors outside the lines to get our attention. The movie offers us so much to talk about.
“The Way” is a movie full of grace.
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