Monday, June 25 , 2018, 7:23 am | Overcast 62º


Cinema in Focus: Estevez, Sheen Take Us on Spiritual Journey in ‘The Way’

The film is a fictional tale of a real spiritual journey people have been making for millennia

4 Stars — Inspiring

Father-son relationships are difficult. God-human relationships are even more difficult. Yet when these relationships are navigated successfully, they give meaning to our lives individually and collectively. That is why the Christian faith was simply called The Way in the early church because people quickly realized that following Jesus Christ is more about going on a journey together than having a religion to practice. However, the journey is different for every person, and community is experienced most fully with those with whom we share the journey. That is the clear message of Emilio Estevez’s film The Way.

As director and writer of the adapted screenplay, Estevez cast his father, Martin Sheen, in the lead role of Dr. Tom Avery. The original story was written by Jack Hitt and is set on the European pilgrimage called The Way of St. James, a several month-long walking journey that leads to the city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

A lapsed Catholic, Avery has lived a responsible life that has increasingly become bound to his ophthalmology practice. After his wife died, not only did the color leave his life, but Avery’s grieving anger has been seething just beneath the surface as well. This anger has focused primarily on his son Daniel (Estevez), who has reacted by abandoning the pursuit of his Ph.D. to take off and see the world. Inviting his father to join him, Daniel tells him he is going to spend a few months in Spain. Avery’s response is to lecture his son on his irresponsible wandering.

When Avery receives a shocking transatlantic call informing him that Daniel has died on his first day of his journey on The Way, Avery goes to Spain to claim his body. In an attempt to connect with his deceased son, Avery decides to complete the journey and scatter his ashes along the way. It is Avery’s journey that is the focus of the film.

Recognizing that the journey changes a person through not only the miles traveled but also the companions that God providentially provides along the way to share the experience, the ensemble cast is superb. In this instance, there are three fellow travelers: a kind and fun-loving Dutchman named Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), a bombastic young Canadian named Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) and a struggling author named Jack (James Nesbitt). Although each states his or her superficial reasons for making the journey, it becomes clear that each has a far deeper and more spiritual purpose for the pilgrimage.

The power of the film rests in its authentic humanity. Not preaching the Gospel or forcing a theological or religious belief, the journey brings our four travelers into circumstances and experiences that challenge their categories and their expectations. From a priest with an inoperable brain tumor, to a gypsy who enforces honesty in his son, to an insane innkeeper who scares them from his home, the journey creates a bond that after days and weeks together opens their hearts to one another and to God.

The call to walk the way with others and experience true companionship and community is the simple message of The Way. For those of us who walk the way with Christ and fellow Christ-ones, we know this journey of divine and human relationships to be a difficult yet rewarding experience requiring commitment, perseverance, resilience and the support of others. That authentic message of the cost and reward of walking in faith is movingly shown in The Way.


» Spiritual pilgrimages come in both geographic and relational forms. Have you ever made a spiritual pilgrimage? Have you or are you now living life within a community of people making a spiritual journey together? What have you discovered about yourself and God on that journey?

» Often those who take a spiritual step are running from something, just as Sarah is doing. Or they are trying to make up for something, just as Avery is attempting. What was or is the primary motivation behind your spiritual journey?

» As you watched this film, did you consider taking the pilgrimage someday? Why or why not?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit

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