The Way to Where?

Last summer when I heard about the new movie by Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen entitled, “The Way,” I was very excited about seeing it.  After all I have seen “The Fourth Wise Man” and Martin Sheen is Catholic and holds passionate Pro-life views .  Instead of providing an inspiring, uplifting movie that led the viewer towards a deeper relationship with God, it depicted broken people who, while traveling the Camino de Santiago, they journey towards self discovery and learn to accept and love who they are, character defects and all.


Media of all types is very powerful, the views of the writer or director come through in the story and are intended to convince us of something or help us to see an issue or lifestyle in a new light.  We are profoundly shaped by the media we consume, the more time we spend with it, the more it shapes our attitudes, values and life choices.  The effect is intensified the younger the viewer is.  Be careful little eyes what you see and hear, they are the portals into our souls.  I have written much more about the effect of media at my personal blog, please read this article if you need more convincing.


Based on my conviction that media is a very powerful means of shaping our beliefs and attitudes, I have reviewed “The Way”.  The Way is set in a picturesque area of the world that many of its viewers are unfamiliar with.  The Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) begins in France at the edge of the Pyrenees Mountains and travels about 800 km to the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  Most of the pilgrimage is through quaint Spanish towns with a healthy dose of character.  The journey is completely on foot and the accommodations along the way are rustic.  The Camino de Santiago is a traditional Catholic pilgrimage route and there are many Catholic pilgrims, artwork, and Churches along the way.  The Way features a Catholic priest pilgrim who carries with him more than a few rosaries to distribute to other pilgrims. The police officer whom the main character meets prior to his journey is a devout Catholic who attempts to share his religious experience of the way, which he has made three times (there and back).  The movie almost reaches its climax at the Cathedral of St. James where it appears the pilgrims attend mass, but the main scene in the Church is of the Botafumeiro, which is a famous thurible, that swings over the altar.  For the casual observer, you might think it is some kind of side show or tourist attraction that takes place within the Church.  The entire film was shot on location and thus there are many real life pilgrims who were caught on film with the actors.


The main character, Tom, is a lapsed Catholic who is mourning the death of his son.  The Dutchman is experiencing difficulty in his marriage and struggles with his weight.  The lone Female was a battered wife, committed an abortion and is a chain smoker.  Lastly, we encounter an Irish writer who is very eccentric, has writer’s block and hasn’t set foot in a Church in quite a few years.  Each of these characters is likable, we see much of ourselves in them.  Only the Dutchman appears to have a true encounter with God at the end of the movie and appears to surrender to the divine physician for healing from his brokenness.  However, at the end of the tale, each character comes to accept him or herself as they are with no apparent resolve to amend their lives.


This movie is rated PG-13 for a reason, this is not a kid friendly movie about a Catholic pilgrimage.  Drugs are a prominent and recurring theme throughout the whole movie.  The drug use is displayed in a humorous, “Breakfast Club” kind of way, no bad effects from drug use, only fun, fun and more fun.  The movie does have some profanity, I can’t recall the number of times nor the specific words, but it is fairly recurrent throughout the film voiced mainly by the hip young people.  It is portrayed as normal to use vulgar language as part of everyday speech.  Smoking is also featured positively and all the cool people are doing it.  One of the funniest scenes in the movie is when the Female traveler rises early and is taking in the beautiful scenery and a man wearing only a thong yells out a greeting to her while he is gathering his clothes from the drying line.


Director Emilio Estevez stated during the question and answer session at the screening I attended, that the main message of the movie is “I’m ok with being exactly who I am”.  We are all broken, true enough, and each character seems to receive some healing from this brokenness, but it was unclear where this healing came from.  In a sense, they accepted their brokenness instead of seeking out God to heal it.  The positive portrayal of vices, smoking, drug use, gluttony, is a real point of concern for me as a father.  Smoking, drugs and over indulgence are real problems in our society today, our Christian faith calls us to be free and to be masters of the flesh.  This movie presents an alternate message that to indulge is human and it can be fun and rewarding too!

The body of Tom’s son was cremated, and then distributed along the Camino and dumped into the ocean at the end of the movie.  Besides this going against Canon law (which Emilio and Martin made clear that they were aware of and didn’t care), it communicates a lack of respect for the human body.  The Church’s law concerning the proper treatment of mortal remains exists to protect the dignity of the human body.  The movie uses this recurring activity (disposing of the ashes) to symbolize Tom’s letting go of his son and it is effective, I fear that it may cause many more people to choose this method of saying farewell to a loved one.


In this writer’s opinion, the answer is no.  Unfortunately, it is being promoted heavily in

Basílica de Santiago
Basílica de Santiago

Catholic circles.  The Way is a secular movie in a Catholic setting.  Unfortunately, one can come away from this movie viewing the Catholic Churchas scenery in everyday life.  In Europe this has already happened, the beautiful Catholic Churches are more museums than places of worship.  The message of Christianity is viewed as historical fiction, rather than the living good news of God communicated to his children.  According to director Emilio Estevez, The Way is a departure from the message given in popular Hollywood movies today (Emilio and his Dad funded the movie themselves and thus it is considered an Indie film), but I beg to differ.  Many movies contain too much violence, too much sex, and frequent positive portrayal of objectively immoral actions, the Way avoids most of this and instead preaches a gospel devoid of God. God is portrayed as unnecessary for happiness, the only thing that is required is to get away from the rat race and take a long walk, it is in this solitude that you will find yourself and then you will truly be happy.

Have you seen The Way?  If so, please share your thoughts on the movie and if you agree or disagree with my observations.


9 Replies to “The Way to Where?”

  1. Thanks Allen for the review, I have been trying to find some information on the content of this movie. I do not usually go to many movies, but thought I might like this one because it was ‘Catholic’, but maybe not so much. Sounds like the scenery is the best part of the movie. I think I can spend my time in better ways. Thanks for being a ‘guest’ writer for Catholic Sistas.

  2. Thanks for the review. I have had mixed feelings on even seeing this film. After the review, I have a take it or leave it.
    The only thing I’m confused on is that you said Martin Sheen has “passionate Pro-Life views”. That floored me. Less than 2 weeks ago he was defending President Obama, the most pro abortion president our country has ever had.
    Nor do I understand Mr. Sheen’s lack of knowledge about scattering ashes. Though most of us, myself included do not know all the rules of cannon law, I am disappointed that they did not do the research.
    Once again, mixed messages being sent.
    Great review, Allen.

  3. Allen. You missed the entire point of the film. The characters in the film did not go looking to find God. God found them. There was NO profanity in the film. Drinking and drugs were not celebrated – as all of the characters came undone under the influence.

    You missed the pro-life message and director/writer Estevez giving a voice to the unborn. When was the last time you saw a rosary presented in such a glorious way in a mainstream Hollywood film that didn’t poke fun at it? The scattering of the ashes. Yeah. It bothered me, but the Sheen character is a lapsed Catholic who doesn’t follow Canon Law. What a great talking point for many others who are not well versed.

    Is it a Catholic film, no? Is it a spiritual film? You betcha. Spirituality. Hmmmm. There’s a concept. Maybe THAT’S what’s missing in the Catholic church.

  4. Actually, Jim, I think Allen got it *EXACTLY* where most reviews of this movie have missed some key elements. In fact, I think Allen is quite nice in his review. Mine? And I attended this same review with Allen and saw both Emilio and Martin talk about the movie.

    I agree with Allen…and respectfully disagree with you. There *IS* profanity in the movie, not sure how you missed that.

    His assessment that it is a movie with Catholic elements is *spot on*. I walked out, with the realization that a Catholic promotions company had invited us, as Catholics, to review this movie…as what? Yup, as Catholics. Guess what? Emilio Estevez is *not* Catholic and does not pretend to be. That is actually ok with me because I can view this movie objectively as both a Catholic and with the realization that he wasn’t Catholic, so my expectations of this movie to actually uphold the Truths of our Faith does not exist. I also give some leeway to the lapsed Catholic character, Tom, *because* he is lapsed. I cringed when the ashes were scattered, but it’s not like I was surprised because his character was…lapsed, as it was explained at the beginning of the movie.

    As for the characters finding God, I question that completely. None of the characters were looking for God, yes, but NONE were actually, visibly, tangibly touched by God. None of the characters had any redeeming qualities. ALL went back to square one. It was as though the experience of the Camino was left on the Camino. Hardly convincing to anyone who is looking for characters to be challenged and change as a result of those challenges of looking inward.

    I didn’t find anything spiritual with this movie, but again I have two views of this movie – one as a Catholic, who was asked to view this movie through my Catholic lens and then a secular one. It didn’t appeal on either level and left much to desire, to be honest.

    I would also like to gently point out that your last comment is borderline defamatory. Please choose your words carefully if you choose to respond – if you disparage the Catholic Church, your posts will not go through. I know you understand and look forward to your future posts.

  5. I’d also like to take issue with a couple of your other points – you said:

    **When was the last time you saw a rosary presented in such a glorious way in a mainstream Hollywood film that didn’t poke fun at it?**

    ^^I take issue with this because we first have to define what “glorious” means to each of us. My definition is going to differ from yours vastly because if glorious to you means someone passes off “the beads” to someone in the movie and they are not ONCE seen praying them, then I have to say I disagree with you. I have seen many Hollywood movies that depict rosaries with respect. I think The Way could have done more, yes, but again it goes back to the fact that Estevez is admittedly not Catholic. My expectations for him are not the same as it would be for, say, Mel Gibson, who is theologically more aware of what the Church teaches {that is not a commentary on Martin Sheen, please understand}.

    In terms of this movie being a great talking point for those who are not well-versed {in presumably the Faith, you were suggesting?}, I would not put this movie in a position to educate others on Catholicism…not even close. If anything, it would create scandal for those who might think the Church condones scattering cremated human remains.

    Well-versed Catholics understand the pitfalls with this movie, and can enjoy it for entertainment. As for educating and for making the Church look good? It just didn’t do that…sorry.

  6. Well, I haven’t seen the movie yet. But perhaps it’s a matter of expectations and target audience. Perhaps this movie tries to meet where people are and portray the faith as the answer to their yearnings.

    Jesus met many people from many walks of life, some followed Him, some rejected Him. But He did take the trouble to meet them at their level and extend them His hand to bring them up close to Him. So, this is my question to those who watched the movie: was His hand extended to the audience, even if subtly?

    TIA and God bless.

  7. Augustine, In my opinion, no. But I know people disagree with me, so if we say that this movie did meet people where they are at (un-churched, not Christian, never go to Church services), then why target Catholics? The promotion of this movie has been heavily targeting Catholic moviegoers.

    And if the target audience is who I mentioned above, where is this movie leading them? To take a walk, to quit their jobs as doctors, to have a better relationship with their children? There are many messages that come across very loud and clear, but Christianity is not one of them. It is there in the scenery, but it is one path among many, and the movie shows that there are more attractive paths to take to get you to the peace you desire.

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