July 06, 2013

Traveling THE WAY In Search Of Meaningful Experience

"I needed a new suit anyway."
I had a friend who told me that, when it came to TV, he lived by what he called "The Wire Rule."  Whenever he saw a new TV show that had a cast member from The Wire, he would at least give the show one look to see if there was anything there worth watching.  I have a very similar rule, but for me it's The West Wing.  Aaron Sorkin's series depicting life in the Bartlett White House is without question my very favorite television show of all time.  It holds a very special place in my heart for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that every time I watch it I wish that Jed Bartlett were really the President of the United States.  (Which is nothing against Barack Obama, who is easily my favorite President of my lifetime.)

Suffice it to say, any movie starring Martin Sheen has me interested.  And when it's written and directed by Sheen's son and former Mighty Ducks coach Emilio Estevez, then I'm even more curious.  Besides, after coming home from Ms L's funeral, a film about a man coming to grips with the death of a loved one felt more than a little bit appropriate.

Sheen stars as Tom, an opthamologist whose globe-trotting, estranged son (played by Estevez himself) is unexpectedly killed in France while hiking the el Camino de Santiago, a nearly 500 mile pilgrimage that stretches from France to Spain.  When Tom arrives in France to claim the body, he suddenly takes to heart his son's urging to get out and see the world.  And so, with his son's ashes secured firmly to his pack, Tom decides to set off on a pilgrimage of his own.  Over the course of his journey, he encounters a garrulous Dutchman named Joost looking to lose weight, an excitable Irish writer trying to work through his writer's block, and a cantankerous Canadian named Sarah who wants to quit smoking.  The ragtag group of pilgrims travels across the Spanish countryside together, taking in breathtaking sights while meeting colorful characters and making their own personal discoveries.

It's a lovely showcase for Sheen, who is really just never not awesome.*  He particularly shines in the few scenes he has with Estevez, who now bears an even more startling resemblance to his father with age.  Tom's transition from surly, bereaved loner to friendly, generous patriarch is absolutely lovely to watch.  Much like Tom's months long physical journey, his emotional journey is gradual and given plenty of room to breathe.  Some might find it a bit slow or ponderous, but I thought the pacing was appropriate given the circumstances.  And there's one scene in particular when Tom's pack and the ashes contained within are stolen by a gypsy boy and Martin's reaction is absolutely devastating.

Estevez deserves credit as a director for not only crafting a smart, emotional piece that allows his father to do fantastic work in a rare leading role, but he also shows off all the wonders of a long hike cross country without ever making the thing feel like a travelogue.  In fact, after watching The Way, both Jamie and I were definitely won over on the idea of spending a few months backpacking across Europe or Australia.  Many people travel the Camino with some sort of religious motivation (the path ends at the supposed resting place of the remains of the apostle St James) but it's certainly not necessary to embark on the journey.  Anyone can tell you that I'm not exactly a spiritual person, but the whole point of traveling The Way is that everyone finds their own meaning in the journey, even if it's not the same thing that motivated the traveler in the first place.

A little bit of self-discovery is good for everyone.  And honestly, there's nothing like a funeral to motivate you to get out and see the world a bit.  Ms. L lived to the age of 72, but I've seen too many friends cut down far too early in life.  We only get so many opportunities to have real, meaningful experiences in life, and it's important to take advantage of each and every one.  As much as I've enjoyed being back in Boston, close to family and friends, I'm looking forward to our eventual departure and I can't wait to see where life takes us next and what I'll discover about myself along the way.

*Let's not talk about Spawn.

Title: The Way
Director: Emilio Estevez
Starring: Martin Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wageningen, James Nesbitt, Emilio Estevez
Year Of Release: 2010
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant (TV)

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