Director : Emilio Estevez
Starring : Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wageningen, James Nesbitt
Running Time : 123 minutes
Release Date : 26 April 2012
‘Life is too big to walk it alone’
Tom (Sheen) is reserved and mild mannered Ophthalmologist who receives a phone call from France informing him that his son Daniel (Estevez) has died during a pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago or The Way of St James. Tom flies to France to collect his son’s remains and his life is changed forever.
The Way of St. James or El Camino de Santiago is the pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. It is a major Christian pilgrimage route that has existed for over 1000 years. The most popular route, which is the route taken in the movie, is the Camino Francés which stretches 780 km from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France to Santiago. (Thank you Wikipedia & a few other sites for this info)
Yes this is a movie about a Christian pilgrimage so religion, religious iconography and the odd song about Jesus is to be expected. It is, however, subtle and not offensive or in your face, as some of these types of movies tend to be. Trust me, if this was the case, I would be the first to leave or switch off.
When Tom arrives in France, he is told his son was only on Day One of his pilgrimage when he had an accident and died. After some soul searching, Tom decides to complete the pilgrimage in his son’s honour. He is by his own admission, a lapsed Catholic so this is not so much a religious journey for him but one of love, honour and perhaps some redemption.
Along the way, Tom meets fellow pilgrims and over time, strikes up friendships with 3 of them. They are all making the journey for various reasons. Joost (van Wageningen) is trying to lose weight. Sarah (Unger) wants to quit cigarettes and Jack (Nesbitt) is a writer with writer’s block. Of course, these are the reasons they tell themselves but let’s face it, for someone to decide to walk 800 kilometres of sometimes difficult and challenging terrain, there is absolutely something else going on deep inside them.
As our pilgrims travel, they meet some odd characters along the way. A clearly nutcase of an innkeeper is my personal favourite. Alas, they leave that hotel pretty quickly and camp out for the night. They have some minor misadventures but nothing out of the ordinary.
The scenery is truly stunning. The vast, sweeping fields of the Basque Country, the lush dense woods and winding roads of France and the glorious open countryside of Spain is a feast for the eyes and senses. The icons and stations along the way are just as beautiful and are only shown within the context of the story.
This is a movie about people, as any movie about pilgrims must be. Pilgrimages are undertaken for many reasons but it is my belief that the pilgrim is searching for a lot more than divine inspiration. Sure they may use a well-travelled route as a physical manifestation of their journey but the real journey, the one that matters most, is the one taken within.
Each of our 4 main characters are well fleshed out throughout this movie’s 120 minutes of running time. As they become part of this new little group, they open up and become more self aware, finally realising why they are making this trip at all. Tom has the most difficulty voicing his reasoning but he doesn’t need to. Either Sheen is just that good of an actor or Estevez is that good of a writer. I suspect it is a little of both.
At the start of his walk, Tom is given a stone and is told simply to keep it with him, he will know what to do when the time is right. The scene that shows us the reason why each pilgrim carries a stone is truly moving. It manages to fully encompass the hopes, dreams, wishes and prayers of 1000 years of pilgrims. I admit, I had a tear in my eye.
I really liked this movie and would watch it again. It is a drama and I shed a tear or two but I also had quite a few laughs. It is never too much of one thing. It walks a few fine lines actually and it walks them with apparent ease.
To be honest, the only reason I watched it in the first place was because I could. I would never have seen it otherwise. That has to be one of the best parts of this job…….you see movies you would otherwise have never heard of or would never have considered seeing at all. This time, I am very happy I had the chance to watch this wonderful movie.
I don’t feel it is my place to recommend a movie such as this as religion is a very personal thing. However, if you like good stories about people and their relationships with themselves and each other, you might want to consider seeing this one. I know I was not disappointed.