Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Walk This “Way”
Estevez’s own father, Martin Sheen, stars as a father who flies to the Pyrenees to retrieve the remains of his son (Estevez), killed in a hiking accident. When he learns that his son was setting out on the historic 800 km pilgrimage route across the north coast of Spain, Sheen’s character resolves to walk the Way himself, in honor of his son and only child.
Before I explain the characters’ tears, I should explain my own. Any reviewer (if that’s what I am) who begins watching a film in tears might reasonably have his objectivity called into question. The parent-child axis is perhaps the most important axis in my life today. The death of my father three years ago still surprises me for being raw. I have grown much closer to my widowed mother since Dad’s passing. And during this same period my two children have moved definitively out of the house and onto their own paths, not without some ups and downs along the way. How to be a father now, is a question that plagues me along with, what would Dad do?
Still, wiping away my tears as Tom Avery (Sheen) takes the phone call every parent dreads, then arrives clueless in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, then arranges for the cremation of his son surprised even me. My wife by my side in the cinema was resilient in the face of my melt-down.
What is striking about “The Way” is that it starts out as a single father’s journey and ends in a companionship, much like the Christian life lived in fullness. Sheen is called, answers the call, then finds himself gathered in a friendship. Striking out without preparation, carrying only the pack that his son had carried (plus a precious cargo I should not reveal), he meets the Dutch Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), Canadian Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), and Irish Jack (James Nesbitt) Each has a secret—carries a cross—of his her or her own, as the film slowly reveals. A father’s love for and search for the truth of his son blends with a husband’s pain, a mother’s terrible love, and the brutalized but hopeful faith of a Catholic writer.
As my wife pointed out astutely this morning over coffee, Estevez’s script places “beacons” along the path of this unlikely foursome. One is the policeman who greets Avery at St. Jean Pied-de-Port and helps him through the visit to the morgue and other arrangements. Captain Henri (Tchéky Karyo) carries a cross of his own and, as he tells Avery, has walked the Way round-trip three times himself.
Another shining beacon is a gypsy (Antonio Gil) encountered at a critical moment who sheds his own light on the plight of fathers and sons, loving and warring, together and alone.
I have seen too many “Catholic” movies, both at the cinema and on EWTN—“Bella” comes to mind—that have embarrassed me by being naive, syrupy, and lacking in humor or any sense of life’s oddities. I was grateful last night to watch a Catholic film that combined first-class Hollywood filmmaking, lots of riotous joking, and an upbeat pop soundtrack. (Alanis Morissette’s “Thank You” accents a particularly stunning moment.)
So, amazing but true, in 2011 there have been three high-quality films that have treated Christian faith with respect and artistry: Emilio Estevez’s “The Way,” Vera Farmiga’s “Higher Ground,” and the unmatched “Of Gods and Men,” which I have seen three times already.
So take my tears with a grain of salt and go shed your own. Walk “The Way,” round-trip, then do it again. As I wrote yesterday, you may find me there too.