Santiago de Compostela
Waits for pilgrims crossing Spain,
Journeying on El Camino,
But their trek is not in vain.
Hikers through the centuries
Have walked the many-mile trail,
Ending at the tomb of St. James
After braving much travail.
Thomas Avery is told
His son died in the Pyrenees,
So he flies to claim the corpse,
Though he and Daniel weren’t at ease.
Daniel wished to see the world,
Including this, the famous Way.
Now that he is only ashes,
Thomas has a debt to pay.
As he carries Daniel’s pack,
He sprinkles ashes as he goes,
Feeling Daniel still is near him,
Nearer than the lives they chose.
Early on, he meets a Dutchman,
Joost, who’s hiking to lose weight.
Eating, chattering, smoking drugs,
Joost cannot help but irk his mate.
Soon they separate, but Thomas
Meets a girl Canadian, eh.
Sarah seems extremely angry,
Unlike most who walk the Way.
She is trying quitting smoking,
Which she’ll slough off at the end,
But until then she’ll keep lighting
While avoiding any friend.
Joost and Sarah and old Thomas
End up trekking as a group.
Thomas, though, keeps wholly silent,
Marching like an army troop.
Then they meet an Irish writer,
Jack, who suffers writer’s block.
He is hoping inspiration
Just might find him on this walk.
Briefly, Sarah opens up
To Tom enough to introduce
Guilt about a past abortion
And her husband’s cruel abuse.
Joost and Jack seem always merry,
But when wine is passed around,
Thomas gives his full two cents,
Insulting these comrades he found.
Feeling guilty afterward,
He lets Jack write his journey’s tale,
And they continue, heading west
Along the ever-winding trail.
Most they meet along the Way
Are friendly (one a little mad),
But when they reach the town of Burgos,
Tom’s pack’s stolen by a lad.
There is little they can do,
For Gypsies all of them despise,
But the young man’s father comes,
Returning to apologize.
With his pack, Tom journeys on,
Continuing with Dan’s remains.
Near the end, he gifts his friends
With luxury for all their pains.
At last, they reach the great cathedral,
Where so many have arrived.
During Mass, they all look on
With hope and faith perhaps revived.
Goals they set may not have happened,
But they journey to the sea.
Thomas empties Daniel’s ashes
And keeps up his odyssey.

A coworker of mine once criticized the Lord of the Rings movies for having way too much walking, but that’s what a quest is for. It’s what happens during the walk that matters. The Way received little fanfare upon its release in 2010, but when my family heard about it, we decided to go see it on Halloween night (since I was too old for trick-or-treating by that time). Most people watch horror movies at that time of year, but this was much more inspiring.

The film was the brainchild of Emilio Estevez, who directed, produced, wrote, and starred in the film as the deceased Daniel. Inspired by Martin Sheen’s own journey with Estevez’s son, who met his future wife on the Camino, the film isn’t melodramatic or overly sentimental. Martin Sheen evokes a father’s pain at the loss of his son in very realistic ways, clamming up, yelling when his inhibitions are lowered, feeling he must take this journey but wanting to get it over with as soon as possible. All the other characters likewise seem very authentic, not fitting into a tired Hollywood archetype. Yorick van Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, and James Nesbitt are quite convincing as Joost, Sarah, and Jack, all of whom have quirks that clearly irritate Tom but aren’t enough to make them unlikable as characters. They’re the kind of traveling companions one would hope to find on such a journey. (By the way, if it wasn’t for this film introducing me to James Nesbitt, I would be totally unfamiliar with the thirteen dwarves in The Hobbit. He played Bofur and was at least one face I could recognize.)

The entire film was shot on the actual Camino, with all the walkers being real pilgrims, aside from the main actors. This heightens the authenticity but doesn’t detract from the artistry. Estevez’s skillful camerawork frequently focuses on a close-up of something, whether meaningful or insignificant, and then switches to a wide shot showing the enormity of the Camino and the surrounding countryside. The little character moments along the way range from funny to touching, and the final outcome for the travelers’ reasons for walking the Camino is more realistic than most Hollywood fare. It also presents Gypsies in a more sympathetic light than I think many Europeans would.

The final scene in the cathedral is not only fascinating (there’s a giant thurible called Botafumeiro that swings incense throughout the entire church) but also especially moving and brought my VC to tears. Estevez claimed he wanted to make a film that could appeal to everyone, “pro-people, pro-life, not anti-anything,” and I think he succeeded. The religious elements can appeal to Christians (though Catholicism technically forbids the spreading of ashes), but there’s enough cynicism and character-driven drama to captivate everyone else. It makes me want to perhaps walk the Camino myself one day. Who knows?

Best line (a frequent excuse for not doing things in life): (Tom) “Have you ever walked the Camino, Señora?”   (Spanish woman in the stamp office) “No. When I was young, I was too busy, and now that I’m older, I’m too tired.”

Artistry: 9
Characters/Actors: 10
Entertainment: 8
Visual Effects: N/A
Originality: 9
Watchability: 8
Other (brief language): -1
TOTAL: 43 out of 60

Next: #185 – Spaceballs (now for something completely different)

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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