‘The Way’ - There Goes the Backpack…
aka Martin Sheen plays Frodo
The Way is about a father who travels to France so he can retrieve his son’s remains. The son, Daniel Avery (Emilio Estevez), died on his first day out while walking the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage taken by people of many ages for various reasons. Which is not typically fatal. People do this in their 80s and there’s an awkward undertone throughout the film suggesting Daniel may have been… a bit of an idiot.
Martin Sheen stars, and it was produced, written and directed by E.E. We see Emilio a handful of times via flashback. Rather than building our empathy for his character (he died so young!), it really just reminds us that it’s possible actual family members may have no on-screen chemistry.
Upon Tom Avery’s (Sheen’s) arrival in Europe. his son is cremated and then predictably decides to walk the Camino for his son.
As he begins, the police captain who handled Daniel’s cremation asks, “Mr. Avery, do you know why you are walking The Way?”
He says he’s doing it for his son, to which the captain replies, “You walk The Way for yourself. Only for yourself.”
That’s when Tom admits, “Well, then I guess I don’t have a clue, Captain.”
From there, Tom meanders for half the film and as we meander with him we wonder why we’re watching. I spent a not-insignificant amount of time and attention wondering whether we were walking toward the left side of the screen because we would find ourselves in the Shire at the end. Was this an intentional nod at walking back from Mordor, and by extension, Hell? Probably not, although it does feel an awful lot like watching Hobbits exist in a world without anything interesting happening around them. And despite what Tolkein or anyone else tells me, I don’t find Hobbits inherently interesting.
We finally encounter random strangers who force the plot forward in stuttering lurches, but as a whole, the film suffers from something that plagues a lot of independent films: it’s a series of interesting moments mashed together with little else binding it.
Tom loses his backpack then recovers it. Twice. Of course, his son is in said backpack, and of course said loss and reclamation are symbolic of his loss and attempted reclamation… whatever. The point is that we somehow needed to experience Martin Sheen’s cartoon physical comedy while he jumps in a river. We also needed to experience some of the racism that’s alive in contemporary Europe as our companions say racist things about “gypsies” until we somehow party with them in an alley all night.
One of the film’s strengths is that it is deliciously on-the-nose regarding pilgrimage tropes. Two of Tom’s self-appointed companions hold this exchange:
“It’s not a race.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Then why does it piss me off so much that I haven’t seen him stop to take a break and why does something that should be inspirational make me so angry? Totally irrational.”
It is in this message we finally see the movie’s true purpose. It’s about the journey! But it’s really about making yourself miserable until the end, maybe it’ll be pretty when you get there and maybe you’ll feel some catharsis for having survived.
Or maybe that’s just how it feels when you finally finish a movie about a bunch of people walking for two hours.
Rating: 2/4 Sheens, 3/5 Stars
For more in the “Mission: Estevez, Emilio” Series, click here.