The Way

We have a dinky little arthouse cinema in Dunedin. There are maybe 50 seats, a coffee machine and a personable  guy with a few days stubble and an encyclopaedic knowledge of movies who sells the tickets, makes the drinks and chooses the flicks. We go as often as we can, and this Saturday afternoon past it was to see The Way. As veteran readers of this blog will know, we walked half the Camino Santiago in 2009, and we are planning on returning to Spain this coming September to walk the last 400 km from Sahagun to Santiago, so we had been wanting to see this particular film for a while.

The 2010 movie, written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Estevez's real life father, Martin Sheen is about an American doctor who "accidentally" walks the Camino Santiago. Travelling to Spain to collect the body of his son (Esteves) who has died on the first day of the Camino, the one that takes pilgrims over the Pyrenees, the doctor (Sheen) decides instead to cremate the body and carry it to Santiago himself. He walks the 800 km, teaming up with three unlikely pilgrims along the way, and encountering, from time to time, the image of his son.

I must say we enjoyed the movie, and I'm glad there were only 2 other patrons at our session to be bothered with our elbow nudging and stage whispering. "Look, Roncesvalles!" "Burgos?" "No, Logrono." "Sshhh! Hey look, Najera!" Ahh... The joys of being, at long last , after all these years, one of the cognoscenti. The Spanish landscape was the best bit, though, to tell the truth it wasn't a bad film: sort of a slow motion road movie, with some  memorable one liners and some strong and unusual characters.There were some bloopers and inconsistencies, instantly noticeable to peregrinos, but I won't bore you with a list.  By the end of the film  the four walkers are sitting in the Cathedral of Santiago and  all have made the personal journey required of this sort of film and which is engendered, in real life, by the Camino.

We walked home entertained but slightly unmoved. The Way captures some aspects of the Camino quite well: the camaraderie and the shifting temporary communities that form, dissolve and reform along the way; the sense of purpose that gradually absorbs everyone who dons the scallop shell no matter what their original motivation might have been; the breathtaking scenery and the centuries worth of cultural artefacts which fill it. What it doesn't manage to convey is what it is really like to be a peregrino, and neither Clemency or I could articulate what we mean by that. There is an engagement with the long sweep of the Path of Miracles that can only come from actually walking it, not from looking at it, no matter how well crafted the photos might be. There is the ongoing friendliness and decency of the Spanish people; there is the difficulty of walking a long distance day after day; there is the sheer length and monotony of some sections of track, interspersed with surprises and wonders at unpredictable intervals; there is the beauty and grandeur of it; there is the way that the rhythm of footstep after footstep becomes a form of prayer; there is the way that centuries of prayer have soaked into this strip of land in the way it has into the walls of ancient European cathedrals. None of this could possibly be known except by actually walking it.

The film is entertaining. It whetted our excitement over the prospect of September, and it is better than any YouTube clip for giving an idea of what the pilgrimage is like. But to know what is so special about this path, and why so many thousands fell compelled to walk it, there is no substitute, absolutely none, for a small pack, a pair of stout shoes, a stick and an air ticket to St. Jean Pied de Port.


Katherine said…
I am going to the Northern Hemisphere next year for three months or so. I've had in my mind that I want to go to Catalunya. Perhaps I will explore the possibility of doing the Camino Catalan...

Lovely post. I guess this makes me one of your 'veteran readers'. I remember reading all of your walk posts. Gosh was it three years ago?
Evelyn said…
very true Kelvin.
At the risk of sounding elitist:
No way to know the way than to go the way!
Bon Camino for september
VenDr said…
Hi Katherine; I didn't even know there was a Catalan Camino. Being the sort of person I am, Myers briggs and all that, I haven't even finished Camino # 1 and I am thinking about #2. Perhaps the Northern coastal route, or maybe one of the many French ones. But at the moment the preferred option is the Portuguese Camino, from Lisbon north along virtually the whole length of Portugal to Santiago de Compostella. But if you do make it to Catalonia be sure to report back via your blog.

But Evelyn, we ARE elite. Gracias.
Evelyn said…
Ive walked twice from Porto to Santiago.
(The yellow arrows from Lisbon to Porto are said to be a bit dodgy.)
The 250 k from Porto fit nicely into a short school holiday. AND its peaceful, green and utterly wonderful!
I would say do it!!
Oh yes..there are blue and red arrows along the way as well.
The blue are easy: the way to Fatima.The red took a little more figuring out: they pointed into forests where scantily clad ladies seemed to be entertaining the local electricians, plumbers and businessmen. Im sure there was money involved :)
Anonymous said…
Sarah-Kate's travel column in Woman's Day is "muy bien" for keeping current on travel. Also there are ways of organizing free travel:
Graham Young said…
Hi Kelvin and Clemecy
Thank you for the short time we spent over a meal, reminiscing and sharing camino experiences. I agree with your comments on the film 'The Way'. The DVD is worth viewing for the extras with Martin Sheen and his son discussing the making and the background to the film. We have a copy if you want to borrow it.

All the best for September and the preparations for that.
I made my own 'pilgrimage' to Cape Reinga successfully. I am now back at work which turns out to be a lot harder than I expected.

Buen camino
Graham Y
Anonymous said…
A good read, Kelvin, thanks.

The way things are going, Spain will need all the prayers in can get!

Might you be in Canterbury again this September?