Monday, April 11, 2011

The Way: watch it alone so no one will see you cry. [Movie Review]

Charlie Sheen has been kicking up a lot of dust lately.  He’s done some really excellent work in the past and I enjoyed him on Two and a Half Men, but the ratio of attention-paid to his public breakdown over the attention-that-should-be-paid seems way out of whack, so beyond that I’ll leave the personal judgments to addiction specialists and tabloid parasites.

It would be nice if Sheen could divert at least a small fraction of that attention towards The Way (2010), an extremely small-budget film project written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring their father Martin.

vlcsnap-2011-04-11-17h43m31s42The Way is about an ophthalmologist (Martin Sheen) with an only son (played in flashbacks and hallucinations by Emilio Estevez himself) who, after quitting a doctoral program at Berkeley to travel and find himself, dies suddenly while hiking in the Pyrenees.

The father, Tom, learns that his son was just beginning El Camino de Santiago, a walking pilgrimage through northern Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where Catholics maintain the relics of the apostle St. James are interred. 

vlcsnap-2011-04-11-17h51m41s70Expecting only to retrieve Daniel’s corpse and return home, Tom decides on impulse to complete the pilgrimage instead.  A lapsed Catholic about whom his friends joke on the golf course that he lacks a soul, Tom is broken by the news of his son’s death.  Daniel’s cremated remains symbolize the weight of his guilt and failure as a father. 

As he walks the nearly 800km westward journey, Tom periodically lightens his load, both figuratively and literally, sprinkling ashes by the small handful at notable sites.

vlcsnap-2011-04-11-17h55m40s205Not only those ashes keep him company.  Three other pilgrims join him one after another, each broken in their separate ways, strangely mirroring Dorothy’s companions from The Wizard of Oz.  First he meets the Dutchman, who cuts a comic figure, though of all the characters, the precise history of his sadness remains to us obscure (ostensibly he walks the Camino to lose weight, though we also learn that he is married and that he may love her more than she loves him).  The next to join is a morose Canadian, whose heart has been hardened by an abusive ex-husband and an abortion.  The last is the cowardly Irishman, a travel book writer haunted by the real book he could never write, hiding from his publishers on the Camino.

vlcsnap-2011-04-11-17h56m10s237 The Way is a small film in many ways, filmed with a skeleton crew of less than 50 according to IMDB.  Like Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, the filming of the pilgrimage required that the crew become pilgrims themselves, but The Way is no Aguirre.  Though people have died as the character Daniel died in the mountains, the film captures little in the way of peril.  Estevez’s camera captures odd moments, strangeness perhaps, but never the sublime.  Quiet pain and reconciliation dominate the mood.


The most similar comparison to my mind is that weird little movie David Lynch produced with Disney Studios, The Straight Story, about an old man who rides a lawnmower through the American Midwest to see his brother once more before he dies.  Both films will have you in tears if you’re not made of stone.


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