Making ‘The Way’
Producer breaks Hollywood’s secular mold
By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor
Emilio Estevez is on a journey. Teen “Brat Pack” star of the 1980s, son of “West Wing” President Martin Sheen, and brother of TV bad boy Charlie Sheen, Estevez has been defining his own professional path in recent years. With his most recent film, “The Way,” he has used the “Sheen” name to blaze a new path through Hollywood’s secular smoke screen.
He said in a phone interview, “Hollywood is proudly secular. They wear it as a badge of honor. I think Hollywood can use a little more spirituality.” His film, shot along the 500-mile pilgrimage route of northern Spain leading to the tomb of the Apostle James, was shunned by major studios. But he and his dad believed in the project and went with a smaller distributor. After a limited theater run, the film will be out Feb. 21 on DVD, and father and son expect to find popular support.
They drew such support last fall when they toured the country, staging screenings in dozens of locations for 40,000 viewers. “It was embraced out there in the world beyond Hollywood,” Estevez said. “We hear from people how the movie touched them, changed their lives. It helped reconnect parents with their children.”
Rejecting the notion that movies need to be offensive or “edgy,” Estevez said, “We have an obligation to lift people up.”
Named for the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) – and for the name that early Christians gave their faith – “The Way” is an intensely personal film that explores the human yearning for the eternal and the rugged bands of love between father and son. An unusual film, it is difficult to categorize – filled with mystery and “Intimations of Immortality,” yet never wandering far from earthy expressions of human frailty and sin. Maybe it’s best to say that this is a religious film that will not appeal to everyone’s religious sensibilities.
There are some crude language and humor; an attractive female who ruins her fair looks by chain smoking; a joint-smoking, overweight Dutchman named Yorick (alas, the skull held up by Hamlet), and a confused Irish writer who’s bitter about losing his verse. Then, of course, there’s the star of the show, Martin Sheen, who plays a wealthy American eye doctor. He spends most of the movie acting cranky with the world over the death of his adult son, who was lost in a flash storm along the pilgrim’s way, and his failure to understand the wandering spirit of the character played by Estevez.
If you are devoutly Catholic, you may not relate to the plot at first, but be patient. There is something for everyone by the time the credits roll. The different narratives of the pilgrims – like those of Chaucer’s Tales – may not all fit into the pages of a children’s illustrated Bible. But this is a grown-up story of sin and redemption, and in many ways it is a decidedly Catholic story, for the Church is a hostel for lost souls.
You may also wish to consider this scenario that I witnessed at a pre-release screening last fall in Manhattan. With a West Side audience that included “pro-choice” former President Bill Clinton (a friend of Martin Sheen’s), the theater erupted in an ovation at the conclusion of the film. There was, I surmised, an appreciation among the crowd of the gritty grunting that goes into a monthlong pilgrimage, as well as the hard-won achievement at the end. Yet there was also applause for the higher things that the film introduces.
Only the most hardened secular soul could sit unmoved as the grimy pilgrims make their way at last to St. James Cathedral in Compostelo, and witness the enormous pendulum-swinging thurible wafting incense over the spirits of the living and the dead in an ancient tradition of blessing. Those in the theater could find something of themselves in the characters along the way, and they had to be lifted up by the thoroughly Catholic conclusion that what we really seek cannot ultimately be found in this world. We must search above, in God and his kingdom.
Emilio Estevez, writer-producer-son-brother, has brought this message to the Hollywood home crowd, as well as to audiences across America. He describes his own religion as “seeking,” perhaps because of personal issues that may keep him from reaching the doors of the Catholic Church, where his father Martin has found a home. But Emilio is definitely a pilgrim on the way.