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The Way (2010) - Study Guide

By Brendan O'Regan.

Overview: This film is about a father-son relationship and is set against the background of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. Martin Sheen plays the father, while his son Emilio Estevez plays the son, and also wrote and directed. It is quite moving, challenging and thought provoking. Gradually we get to know the Sheen character and the motley crew he meets up with. It's a strongly human film, and its empathy with the characters is what makes it involving and touching. The pilgrimage motif is a powerful one - the journey through life, the baggage we carry apart from our backpacks, the varying paths we take, the people we journey with.

Estevez seems to want to distance himself from having an overly religious film - at one stage a minor character says it's not about religion at all, and stresses the point. None of the characters makes an obvious connection with God in any way, yet the film is imbued, in a positive way, with religion, without being heavy handed in any way. The Sheen character prays, though at the beginning he doesn't see the point. In a key scene the woman who journeys with them struggles with prayer. Churches and religious images abound, and there are at least two positive priest characters.

There are some fine set pieces, and such scenes may well be useful in RE, though the full film is probably too long and leisurely for youngsters. Near the start a French policeman explains the nature of the pilgrimage, and later, on the road, the pilgrims discuss the nature of the "true pilgrim". For symbolism there's a scene at one point where the tradition is to say a prayer and leave a stone at a particular monument (useful for studying ritual as well). Among the interesting conversations on the road, one has a subtle pro-life message as a woman wonders about her unborn baby. The scene where they arrive at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostella is really well done, and effectively captures a sense of awe and wonder. Some elements raise questions of suitability of the full film for young viewers - in particular there's an ambiguous attitude to soft drugs.

Useful Extracts:

10.17 - 12.45: - A policeman explains the traditions. ("We the believers "), explains the stamping of passports, says "the way is a very personal journey". This should be very useful for classes on pilgrimage. A shell is used as a symbol of making the journey The policeman has done the way three times, will do it on his 70th birthday God willing.

49.53 - 60.00: The main character (played by Sheen) chats with a priest - "they say that miracles happen out here on the Camino de Santiago". He offers the Sheen character a rosary beads, says "a lot of lapsed Catholics out here on the Camino". There's a reference to Catholics who go to Mass just at Christmas at Easter.

1.05.51 - 1:07:19 - the pilgrims chat at night about the nature of pilgrimage Some of the viewpoints include: "This is true pilgrim experience". "A true pilgrim walks the Camino with nothing, he has to live off the land, he has to accept the kindness presented to him, and he has to carry his goods on his back. A pilgrim is poor, and must suffer". The woman says: "Do we honour the poor by imitating them?" - The pilgrims long ago didn't ignore the "creature comforts". The Dutchman, one of the main pilgrims, asks - "What about Pilgrims on bikes?" The Irish writer, also one of the main pilgrims says - "Tradition would dismiss bikers at least" "I don't think we have to artificially add more hardship" The Sheen character doesn't offer an opinion - "Finally, an American without an opinion - take a picture"!

1:10:45 - 1:12:31- the Sheen character has a chat with the woman about abortion - "my first, my only", "I got rid of my baby girl", "sometimes I hear her voice, my baby", "she never got to take her first breath", "I imagine what she would have sounded like" Sheen has also lost his (adult) son. This exchange follows: "I'm sorry about your baby". "I'm sorry about yours". "My son was almost 40" "But he'll always be your baby"

1:41:15 - 1:43:34 - stones are left at a point in the trail. Prayer with stones ("a symbol of my efforts") - "weigh the balance in favour of my good deeds that day when all the deeds of my life are judged" - very useful for classes on symbolism.

1:48:00 - 1:53:00 - The arrival at the Cathedral. Great for classes on awe and wonder - spellbinding and emotional. Little spoken - but with effective music in the background.

*Teaching point: Catholic practice allows for cremation but not for the scattering of ashes. "The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body" (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2301). "The Church earnestly recommends the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching" (Code of Canon Law no. 1176).