Is it possible to make a movie about religious faith — why it works for some people, why it doesn’t for others — that explicates the matter in ways that anyone can appreciate, even if they don’t agree with it? Can a movie about spirituality be inclusive rather than divisive? Yes. Hell yes. Writer-director Emilio Estevez has pulled it off with his very powerful and deeply moving The Way, and I say that as someone who is not at all religious, as someone who is if fact actively disdainful of religion.
Martin Sheen is a mourning father who travels from California to France to collect the body of his adventurous son (Estevez himself, in a few brief yet touching flashbacks), who died in an accident at the beginning of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient 500-mile hike/pilgrimage through rural France and into Spain.
To honor his son, Sheen’s Tom decides to do the trek himself, and along the way befriends other unlikely pilgrims (played by Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt and Yorick van Wageningen) with their own exceptional reasons for the journey.
It’s as if Estevez has updated The Canterbury Tales for the 21st century and made an on-the-road movie for our existentially confused times, in which grief and understanding and acceptance aren’t always about losing a loved one but also about figuring out what is worth hanging on to, metaphysically speaking, and what is worth letting go of. Miraculously (pun intended), Estevez has captured a sense of spirituality as a universal human experience that is as robustly physical and carnal as it is cerebral, and one that does not necessarily have to have anything to do with the supernatural. Grade: A
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