….READ A GUIDEBOOK BEFORE YOU WALK THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO
The Way is the movie featuring the Camino de Santiago, starring Martin Sheen, and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. A bit of a background: the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, 2010. From that point, the producers had difficulty getting a distribution deal. It was released on DVD in some regions earlier this year, and the United Kingdom had a theatrical release in May. In July, Mr. Estevez announced that they had a deal with a North American distributor. The movie would also be re-edited prior to its release.
While I walked the Camino de Santiago in the spring of 2010, I had heard about a movie being filmed during the previous year. I had looked forward to The Way, and contemplated ordering the DVD until I heard it would be released in theaters. On the first Saturday the film was shown in Vancouver, a group of friends and I went to the afternoon show. The theater was packed with many people anticipating a movie that had been well promoted in the United States and had been well reviewed.
As a movie, The Way was even better than I had expected. Emilio Estevez did a great job with the script and directing. The cinematography was excellent. Martin Sheen was amazing in the lead role. The Way was touching, with a nice mix between humor and drama. I enjoyed the humor which I never had expected. It’s a movie the entire family could see, which is rare these days, unless you go to an animated feature.
Now for my criticism. As someone who had walked the Camino and wrote a book, Camino de Santiago In 20 Days (although I certainly don’t profess to be an expert at anything), I must say it’s not always accurate or representative of the pilgrimage. There may be some spoilers ahead so if you haven’t seen the movie, please be careful. For example, an early scene shows a flashback where the Emilio Estevez character gets lost which leads to his death. I recognized the area of Pyrenees Mountains where this was filmed, but remember that it was well marked and extremely difficult to lose the Camino, even in moderately foggy weather. Furthermore, unless Mr. Estevez’s character left late in the day, there would have been many pilgrims around. That area of Pyrenees had dozens of people the day I was there.
Martin Sheen’s character, Tom, arrives in Roncesvalles, Spain late on the first day. This may have been because he visited his son’s memorial for an extended period. Again, when I was on the Camino, I was one of the few people who walked into the evening. Most people, especially those older than me, found accommodations by midafternoon. Mr. Sheen’s character was portrayed as a fast walker and he should have arrived in Roncevalles well before dusk, even if he had spent a few hours at his son’s cross. The scene where Tom is trying to sleep in the albergue at Roncesvalles is funny and very typical of many of the sleeps that I had. If you’re a light sleeper and don’t like wearing earplugs to bed, nights can be very restless.
In my opinion, it’s difficult for mismatched people, or in this case, characters, to stay together for a long time on the Camino, especially if it’s a matter regarding fitness. The Dutch character, Joost, played by Yorick van Wageningen, is a large man who, despite walking the Camino to lose weight, is often shown eating large meals and drinking. Seriously, I didn’t meet anyone who hadn’t lost at least a couple of pounds during the 800 kilometer walk. I lost fifteen pounds, although I’ve sadly put it all back on. To the best of my recollection, the time it took the characters to walk the Camino was not discussed. I would think someone who was portrayed as slow and out of shape would have likely taken six weeks or longer. Tom was portrayed as a good walker and would have easily beaten the Joost character to Santiago de Compostela by many days, if not weeks. Furthermore, if you have four people who walk together and, at least two were not prepared, I would find it hard to believe that at least one of them didn’t have to deal with some sort of an injury. There was little talk of blisters and other common ailments that affect pilgrims.
I don’t know if I’m wrong but it seemed that part of the walk was out of order in the film. Maybe I need to see The Way again and watch closer. One example was Orission which is shown at about the midpoint of the film. Tom would have passed Orission within a few hours from St. Jean Pied de Port. For certain, my Camino was less dramatic too. I thought that the events regarding Tom’s son would have been enough, but dropping a backpack in a river, sleeping overnight under a shrub, and having a backpack stolen by a gypsy was a little much. Part of the thrill of my Camino was not having any drama so my mind was free to think and take it all in. I know things happen, though. And what was with the giant sleeping bags (I will have an upcoming blog on sleeping bags) and why did everyone have to carry a sleeping pad? The albergue or pilgrim hostels had mattresses. I never carried a sleeping pad and never had the need to.
So having said all this — I know I kind of went on and on in the preceding paragraphs — I thought The Way was wonderful. Thanks to Mr. Estevez for not preaching to the viewers what their Camino should be. I tried to take a similar approach in my book. I hope Martin Sheen is nominated for an Academy Award because he deserves it. I also hope Emilio Estevez is at least considered for an Academy Award for directing. In a world of vampire, robot, and violent or sexually graphic movies, it’s important that movies such as The Way are released, and are not ignored by the studios. It would have been a shame if it were only released on DVD. Well done, Mr. Estevez and everyone who worked on the film. However, if you plan to walk the Camino of the Santiago, please read a guidebook (other than mine, my book isn’t a guidebook) and do your research before departing. It’s not a walk in the park.