A couple of nights ago, The Lovely Daughter and I went to see The Way. Here's a brief promotional summary from the film's website:
"The Way" is a powerful and inspirational story about family, friends, and the challenges we face while navigating this ever-changing and complicated world. Martin Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to St. Jean Pied de Port, France to collect the remains of his adult son (played by Emilio Estevez [Martin Sheen's son and the movie's director]), killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James. Rather than return home, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage to honor his son's desire to finish the journey. What Tom doesn't plan on is the profound impact the journey will have on him and his "California Bubble Life."
I've always felt an attraction to Long Walks - the Appalachian Trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and yes, the Camino ~ and maybe someday I'll even make one of them ~ and so I was initially drawn to the film for that reason. Also, I know Martin Sheen to be a devout Catholic (more on that here), so I thought that the religious dimension of the walk would be dealt with seriously. Insofar as the son's death ~ I didn't know about that, that it was the basis for the plot line, until a couple of hours before we left the house, and it gave me pause. "Oh, let's give it a try," I concluded.
As a mother who has carried and dispersed her son's ashes hither and yon, there were many scenes in the film that might have been taken from my own life. The ordinary day. The phone call. The police officer. The crematorium. The container of remains. The first time that my eyes welled up with tears came when the French police captain, telling Martin Sheen "Buen Camino" and sending him on his way, says "I too have lost a child." That current of understanding between parents; that need to say no more.
I thought that the movie was a bit slow and that the four main characters, and some of the supporting characters as well, were somewhat one dimensional. (Although, now that I think about it, there's something Canterbury Tales-esque about the entire scencario.) But the landscapes were breathtaking and the travelogue aspect seems to have captured what I have read of the inconveniences and discomforts of the Camino pilgrimage. And the scene of the mass in the Cathedral of St. James de Santiago - SPECTACULAR:
(The above is from youtube, not from the film. You should turn off the sound after the first few moments of music; it captures much more in the way of tourista commentary than the sacredness of the scene.)
Interestingly, and unexpectedly, this film has stayed with me. I have been mulling it over, trying to ascertain what was so powerful for me. Not the storyline, not the characterizations, not even the remarkable spread of countryside.
Two small scenes.
One is the first of many in which Tom removes some of his son's ashes from the plastic bag in which they are contained to scatter them near the spot at which his son died. I have been thinking a great deal lately, for obvious reasons, about nursing my babies all those years ago, memories now blending with those of removing precious ashes from ordinary containers in order to make sacramental connections with land and water. Last week, I put some ashes in a locket so that I could wear them next to my skin as I was ordained to ministry.
I suppose that the scene has stayed with me because I did not know, until three years ago, what it would be, to feel the ashes of your child in your hand.
In the other, the main characters are relaxing at a hostel. The day is drenched in sunlight, and the only woman among them sits in a window, relaxing with her everpresent cigarette.
There is a part of me, even after all that has happened, that remains capable of sitting in a window frame in the sunlight, being and present.
The Lovely Daughter is ready to hop on a plane to Spain. I guess maybe I am, too.
(Here's another review, if you prefer something less personal.)