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.