ROME, October 26, 2011 ( – The Way is a film written and directed by Emilio Estevez, starring his father Martin Sheen, which, on the surface, appears very simple. An ordinary American, a doctor from California, gets a call from a policeman in France to tell him that his son Daniel has died while on a walking pilgrimage in the Alps.

Tom Avery goes to France to collect Daniel’s remains, learns about the Camino, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a route taken for centuries by people looking for different things, meaning, forgiveness, health or just adventure. Tom takes a leap of faith, and decides to walk the Camino, though he does not really know why.

But the story’s simplicity hides an inner complexity. It is a homely, low budget film, cast mainly with unknowns, about great things: human failings, the price of love, suffering and grace. Beautifully shot on location in France and Spain, The Way is, as the saying goes, spiritual without being overtly religious, about the quiet and gentle, almost invisible way that God converts suffering to love.


Tom Avery is not a bad man. The opening scenes of the film show him dealing kindly with a patient at his ophthalmology practice. He loves his son, Daniel, though the latter drives him up the wall with what Tom thinks is his lack of direction and drive. Tom is selflessly devoted to his work and his patients and looks upon himself as a responsible adult in an adult’s world.

Driving him to the airport, Tom tells Daniel, “My life here might not seem like much to you, but it’s the life I choose.”

“You don’t choose a life, Dad, you live one,” Daniel replies.

But Tom has failed in one crucial respect: though he is a believer, he does not trust God. A fault that makes him like nearly every one of us.

All the people Tom interacts with along The Way treat him kindly, the policeman who calls him to France from his golf game, his fellow walkers, the hostel operators, even the police who arrest him and toss him for a night in the drunk tank when he overdoes it one day and makes an ass of himself.

But Tom’s heart is closed to them all. He is an adult, in an adult’s world. There can be no room in the adult world for the child of God, protected and loved by God. Tom keeps his inner child of God carefully enclosed and protects him himself, without God’s help.

The conflict between father and son is one filled with grace. In a flashback, we see Daniel deciding not to finish his PhD, a choice that his father puts down to his son’s fecklessness. Daniel goes off with his backpack and a pocket full of maps to learn the world first hand, but his father refuses to come with him.

Tom wants to protect his son as he protects himself, keeping him safe, enclosed in a garden, walled high around with the rules, with PhDs, jobs and health insurance. He fears life, and fears for his son.

But God was calling Tom, and when Daniel is killed by bad weather in the Alps, he goes to France to collect his body and realizes he can no longer resist that call, though he does not yet recognize the voice.

Along The Way, Tom tries to walk the route while keeping his garden gate firmly locked, but he is thrown together with three others who are, in their own ways, equally damaged.

The first one he meets is Yost, the fat, happy Dutchman whose kindness comes naturally from his simplicity but who has trouble with impulse control. Yost is doing the Camino for a simple reason, his wife won’t sleep with him because he is too fat.

Jack is a manic Irishman, a blocked writer who loves words and, as a modern man, searches for meaning that is right under his feet. The Irishman, “a writer who has lost his way,” has not set foot in a church in 20 years. “Where I come from, the churches have a lot to answer for. Temples of tears, Tom. Don’t go in them any more.”

Sarah, an angry Canadian has come for a traditional reason; an abused wife, she aborted her only daughter and now can no longer have children. She tells the others she is doing the Camino to quit smoking, but she is there, as so many others through the centuries, to do penance.

Tom, twenty years the eldest, becomes the de facto father of the others, and together the four broken people help each other to their goal.