The Way, a film starring Martin Sheen as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago, has opened. Having twice walked chunks of the 500-mile route across northern Spain, I eagerly chose it from the menu of movies offered on a flight I took last summer.Sheen plays an American doctor whose wayward son decides to hike the Camino in search of himself. When the son dies in a freak accident, Sheen's character, an uptight man named Tom, goes to fetch his remains. Tom decides to complete the Camino for his son.The movie focuses on the same question about the pilgrims that intrigued me and which I wrote about in 2008 for BustedHalo.com: What Are They Walking For? In heavily secular Europe, few will say they are hiking the pilgrimage route for religious reasons. And yet, if a conversation gets much beyond the superficials of how far one has walked, from where, and whether blisters have developed, one finds very often that a peregrino has reached some crossroad in life - starting or finishing school, for example, or loss of someone close - and is looking for something. The Way features such characters: a Dutchman who says he is walking to lose weight, a self-absorbed Irish writer who wants to overcome writer's block. It's not so much a film about the Camino as it is about the spiritual journeys of the many people who feel they don't need religion in their lives. I don't want to give away the plot, so will just say that although the movie is a bit heavy-handed, Sheen and the director, his son Emilio Estevez, deserve credit for bringing these matters to the screen.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.