Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

A thousand different pots of water: we all reflect the same sun »« Three men, a map, and an arrow to nowhere

Here’s why the movie The Way didn’t work for me

hiking boots low-res

A pilgrim’s abandoned hiking boots
adorn a Camino waymarker.





While walking the Camino, it surprised me how many pilgrims I met were inspired to do the pilgrimage simply from watching the movie The Way. I confess: I’m not crazy about the film.


However, among those who have walked the Camino, saying that you don’t like The Way is almost akin to admitting that you don’t like babies or kittens or fresh-baked bread.


If you haven’t heard of this 2010 U.S. movie, it follows the journey of a father, Tom, played by Martin Sheen, who decides to walk the El Camino de Santiago to honour the memory of his son Daniel, played by real-life son Emilio Estevez. The son died while on the Camino, so Sheen’s character wants to complete the trip to fulfil his child’s dream.


I loved that motivation and the father-son relationship, even though Estevez barely appears in the movie. Sheen’s character is thoughtful and open and he’s led by his heart. I liked the scenes in which he shared his pent-up anger because they came across as raw and real and utterly believable.


Parts of the plot, to me, were contrived, but I don’t want to dwell on that. What struck me as deflating and ultimately discouraging were the end results of the main characters that Tom meets.


I liked the character Jack, a pithy Irish travel writer who’s suffering writer’s block and has dreamed of penning a great novel; as a writer, I couldn’t help but like him.

Me with statues low-res

I’m standing next to the hilltop Alto del Perdon, wrought-iron portrayals of medieval pilgrims,
about 7 km west of Cizur Menor. These statues appear in the film The Way.

Tom also walks with Joost, an overweight, too-chatty Dutch guy, who’s determined to lose some pounds along the way. And he meets Sarah, a Canadian who’s fled a violent husband and plans to quit smoking by the time she reaches Santiago.


I found both of these characters uninspiring. By the time he finishes the pilgrimage, Joost hasn’t lost weight and Sarah is still smoking. Sure, I know that it’s only human to have goals and not meet them, but the idealist in me wanted something more uplifting.


After walking the Camino and returning to Canada, I decided to watch The Way again. I reasoned that perhaps this movie, which has obviously influenced many pilgrims, might prove more meaningful to me. The second time, it was heart-warming to see the same scenery, pathways, and landmarks that had so recently absorbed me. I loved that part.


I could also understand more innately why the four pilgrim buddies, each ensconced in a private room in a Santiago hotel, sought each other out to reconnect within its walls. The binding sense of community on the Camino is a powerful force.

scenic low-res 344

But even so, I came away from the movie with the same hollow feeling. It’s been hard to articulate why the film disappointed me (I admit: I’m always guilty of high expectations), but this morning, I read something that provided a way of explanation.



In Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred, Mark Nepo likens life to a fisherperson’s (he uses “fisherman’s”) net that we are constantly untangling. He says that learning to accept the weave of tangle is intimately tied to the rhythm of being whole-hearted and half-hearted. In his words: “When we are half-hearted, we tangle the net. When we are whole-hearted, we untangle the net.”


In The Way, Martin Sheen’s character is whole-hearted: originally, he flies to Spain on a purely practical mission: to retrieve his son’s body. But once there, because of his vulnerability and willingness to open to grief, he tunes into his son’s beingness and vision and decides to walk the Camino himself. This decision and journey transform him deeply.


I realize now that the characters of Joost and Sarah bothered me because their quest, in my view, is only half-hearted. Unlike Tom, neither is truly committed to his or her respective goals; they have not made the same whole-hearted investment. There is not as much at stake for them. Tom is dealing with the weighty issue of death and the value of love and life itself. He has plugged into a drive greater than himself, his son’s essence; that’s part of why his journey spoke to me, and theirs didn’t.


Perhaps I reacted negatively to these characters because they reminded me of my own half-heartedness in different matters; I judged them as “less than.” Maybe I’m too fixated on a whole-hearted pathway, rather than accepting the half-hearted way as part of the same net of life. The human experience—imperfection—isn’t easy to live or watch.


February 16, 2014 at 5:22 pm
Leave a Reply