Faith Review – The Way (2011)

The Way poster

Film Title: The Way

Reviewed by Inger Manchester


Year: 2010 (Spain Release Date), 2011 (US Release Date)

Director- Emelio Estevez

Original release form/venue: Limited Release – Bus Tour

Current Availability and formats: DVD, Blue Ray

Genre: Journey Drama


Story Elements:

Characters- Main Character: Tom Avery, American Father; burden: lost opportunity to connect with son. Daniel Avery, Son who has died.

Sarah- Canadian Fellow pilgrim; burden: abortion and abuse

Jack-Irish Fellow pilgrim; burden: blocked writer

Yoost- Dutch pilgrim; burden: failed marriage

Atmosphere: The atmosphere is based on the real weather on the trail. Cold, warmth, fog, wind are all showcased as true conditions that are met by the pilgrim. Reality is very important to the film maker.

Plot:  The story opens with the devastating news that Tom’s son Daniel has died. Tom races to Spain only to discover that Daniel had died on his first day on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. Tom decides to have Daniel cremated and to carry Daniels remains along the 500 mile pilgrimage.  This is entirely out of character for the settled doctor who considers adventure a game of golf. He begins the journey with the American mindset that it is the destination not the journey that is his goal. Along the way he meets 3 fellow pilgrims each carrying their own burdens and reluctantly they become a community of support for one another.

Structure of the story: The story is sequential. The movie watcher travels along the pilgrimage with the characters.


Film Language Elements:

Pacing: The pacing is slow and steady as a pilgrimage would be.

Acting: The acting is excellent and it is very apparent that this is a film that the actors are invested in. Martin Sheen who plays Tom is Emilio Estevez son and this is very much a family affair. In fact Martin Sheen, a stage name, uses his full given name- Ramon Antonio Gerardo Estevez on the credits. Emilio Estevez’s son and sister both have small parts. The film is done in Spain which is the family’s country of heritage.  This is a film born of love. Actor Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wageningen, and James Nesbitt fill the supporting roles.

Setting: : The movie is filmed on location on the Camino de Santiago, a 1000 year old, 500 mile pilgrimage path through the Pyrenees mountains of Spain. The actual path is filmed, the actual hostels that pilgrims stay at are used. The scenery is gorgeous  yet only provides a backdrop to the real pilgrimage that is going on inside the characters.

Images: The movie begins using images of the actual passport that is stamped along the journey. Each town is around 12 miles apart and the pilgrim receives stamps there. Also important is the map motif, aged to remind us that this journey of discovery has been done for 1000 years. There is nothing new, yet everything to be discovered.  Another image used is the shell which is the symbol of pilgrim for this journey. At first we do not see the symbol on Matt but in the end he proudly wears it on his chest as he marches alone thorough the town.

Sound or Music: Because this is a journey film for Matt, a baby boomer, music from the 80s is highlighted- James Taylor for example. In fact, Sarah disparagingly and then affectionately calls Matt “Boomer”.

Lighting: The film uses for the most part natural light, candle light or bonfire light. Again, the directors’ desire is to place you with the pilgrims on this journey.

Film maker: Emilio Estevez


Audience/ Cultural Context Elements:  

Intended Audience:  PG 13 for cannabis use. However high schoolers to the elderly could relate to this and it could really crate some great intergenerational discussion on how to live our lives.

Films attitude towards audience: The attitude is respectful. The film does not oversell the burdens each character carries. The movie watcher is left to make the connections and to ask his or her own questions regarding the benefits of community.

Social Context: This is a Spiritual not an overtly Christian film. In fact the disposition of ashes is considered against Catholic Canon Law. This has raised some questions in the Catholic Church but has been resolved by the character admitting that he is a lapsed Catholic.  Therefore he would not know to keep all the ashes together.

Relationship of Film to its culture: Our society struggles with the sense of true community that is portrayed in this film. As each of the characters journey they must carry their own burdens alone. However, the journey is not meant to be taken alone. It is in community that born of the 5 travelers that finally allows each of them to lay their burdens down and to rejoice in the joy of life.



Theology is found:

Theological Themes for Conversation:

Community- What makes a community?

Pilgrimage- what does this mean? Is it only Christian?

Parent/ child relationships

National Stereotypes (American, The Gypsy, the Dutch) Interesting that the Gypsy father has the name Ishmael, the Biblical one who was sent away. Are the Gypsys misunderstood?

Suggested type of Conversation:

What part does community play in the pilgrimage? Why do you think that Matt resists developing relationships for much of the movie? What finally makes the difference? Would you want to do this arduous journey? Why or why not?

Do you think technology – cell phones, ipods, computers help us to establish community or tear down authentic community? ( this is touched on in the scene where Sarah confronts Matthew on their first meeting)

Some may find that there are similarities to the Wizard of Oz. Who do you think is Dorothy, the Tin man, The Lion and the Scarecrow? Why?

What did the film have to say about parenting and the parent child relationship? Using the scenes where Matts son shows up in the film what does this tell us about the significance of Matts healing? Is Matt getting to know his son better after his death?


Recommended ways to review and engage the film:

One could use scenes but it would certainly be a shame. This film is worth taking the time to view as a whole. The beauty of the whole tapestry woven throughout this film by the setting, the acting, the signs and the reality of this pilgrimage would be lost if shown piece meal.


Concluding or Summary remarks:

Two thumbs up. I watched this film two times in a row. Inspiring and thought provoking.


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Rev. Tom LaBonte, Rev. Mason Todd, Rev. John Elam, Elizabeth Sigmon, Star Crawford, Rev. Jeff Smith, Rev. Noe Juarez, Erin Mills, Katie Todd, Kelly Hames, Russ Pearson, Kathy Sharp, Lisa Lewis-Jenkins, Newton Cowan, Andy Blackwelder, Kim Lee, Inger Manchester, Dr. Pamela Mitchell-Legg, Jonathan Davis, Holly Frisk, Rev. Bob Tuttle, Donna Fair, Jana Creighton, Marty Simmons, Frank Cunningham, Tommy Holderness, Katherine Lamb, Megan Argabrite, Ken Fuquay, Mark Moss, Mary Anne Welch