Maybe American popular culture is not beyond redemption: a review of Emilio Estevez’s film The Way.
By Lyle Dunne
Recently my wife and I had a rare expedition to the cinema. After a debate about whether to see The Avengers in order to catch up with the pop-culture references whizzing about our household (and in truth to see what the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had done with the comics of our childhood), we ended up with a classic compromise: we went to see The Way, a sensitive film about human relations, feelings and stuff.
First, a word to the trusting: Read no farther, just go and see it.
To the less trusting, the incurably curious, and those who’ve seen it: it’s a film not about Opus Dei, as the name might suggest, but about the Camino de Santiago. It was made by Emilio Estevez, stars his father Martin Sheen, star of many movies and TV shows including The West Wing, Apocalypse Now, and a little-known but hilarious film called Catholics in which he plays a Church envoy trying to deal with the problem of a recalcitrant Abbey on a remote Irish Island who insist on saying the Mass in Latin, despite the reforms of Vatican III [sic]. The Way was dedicated to Sheen’s father, Estevez’s grandfather.
More recently, he’s done ads for the Obama administration.
(Sheen is also the father of the troubled Charlie Sheen. Curious about the family connections – and in truth, assuming the usual Hollywood explanation for the variations in surnames – I googled. It turns out Martin Sheen’s real name is Ramon Estevez: his father was a Galician immigrant, his mother an Irish-American. He took his stage name from Bishop Fulton J Sheen. He’s been married to the same woman for about 50 years as far as I can tell.)
[Spoiler alert: the following reveals the beginning.]
The premise is that Sheen is a widowed ophthalmologist, who receives a call on the golf course telling him that his only son, an anthropologist who’d abandoned his PhD to travel the world, has been killed in the French Pyrenees.
So the father goes to collect the body, discovers his son was about to walk the Camino, and decides to go in his place.
On the way – and on The Way – he meets People, some of whom have Stories.
People are walking the Camino for different reasons – some of which are clear at the outset; others unfold gradually.
Watch out for “El Ramon”, a playful reference to Estevez’ father.
This is not a capital-C Catholic Film, in the sense of The Song of Bernadette, The Passion of the Christ, or even Of Gods and Men. (Did I tell you to watch that one? Do. Look at this if you need convincing.)
No miracles occur. A priest has a cameo: there’s a hint that his advice might have made a difference – but he’s not Bing Crosby.
This is a film about humanity, grief, friendship, that sort of thing.
On the Chaucerians-vs-aesthetes dimension, this is broadly more sympathetic toward the Chaucerians. An important rule of thumb – at lunch, try not to have more bottles of red wine than diners – is nonetheless vindicated.
Yet this all occurs against a backdrop of gorgeous scenery, mood music ? and Catholic culture.
I had at least one “did that just happen?” moment, and I daresay you will too. In a good way.
Warning: if you watch this you’ll want to go on the Camino. (Did it have that effect on me? No – I’d already decided to go. I’ll let you know how that goes.)
Oh, and you’ll be pleased to hear that in the interests of family harmony, we’ve since been to see The Avengers – yes, my wife got her way. It’s escapist fun, quite well-crafted, and there’s a line from Captain America you might like. And I’m almost over the headache: turns out 3D, choc-tops and mosh-pit decibel levels are not a good combination.
But go and see The Way first – for one thing, it won’t last as long. The fact it was made in 2010 and has just opened in Australia may tell you something, although I was pleased to see some TV ads for it. Maybe even American popular culture is not beyond redemption.