May 28, 2013 By Muhammed Noushad

To Reach You Move; To Transform Travel


Film Review: The Way (2010), Directed by Emilio Estevez, 121 minutes, English.

Ways are endless. More endless are their offerings of the unexpected. It’s obvious that ways can take you to places and people. To unknown, unheard, unthought of, unimagined universes. However, where a way eventually leads you hardly matters in comparison with what it fills in you when you are on the way. Of course, destinations are important. A mosque or a cathedral or a temple or a saint’s grave might heal your spiritual grief. It could offer you peace, for a while. But, what lasts is what you dig from inside, not something put on you. Despite the ritualistic obsession of pilgrimage in every organized religion, do the faithful realize that what is more important is why and how you decide to be on the way? Does it ever occur to you that it is the path that transforms? Those destinations are a means, not an end in itself. No wonder we have innumerable pilgrims in all religions, continually and repeatedly going to all those wonderful spiritual epicenters and coming back bored and empty. In Arabia, they say any mule can go to Mecca but that doesn’t make him a pilgrim.

Ways betray you with accidents. Life is full of accidents, we are often told. But, are they sure? Is there, in fact, anything called accident? As a character in the movie The Way suggests, none chooses a path of pilgrimage by accident. None. Everything is pre-written, maktub. All the ways you choose and all the awful and awesome people you meet and all the predicaments you come across. Everything is in the Almighty’s knowledge, or decision or whatever word you use to put it about. The film’s tagline goes, “you don’t choose a life; you live one.” In Sufism, they often say, it is important that you search; not necessarily you find.

The Way, in a sense, is a simple movie, with a simple plot of an extra-ordinary relationship between a father and son. We see death separating them in the beginning, and we later learn that death doesn’t necessarily separate, if our souls are mutually attached. Death connects mortals in strange ways and through the living ones, the deceased become immortal. Tom, the father in the movie, a California-based ophthalmologist by profession, gets a piece of painful news over the phone from France that his son is no more. The son, Daniel, has met with an accident in a poor climate during a pilgrimage called Camino de Santiago, an ancient Christian path that Jesus’ disciple St. James took to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Thousands of pilgrims of various nationalities and ethnicities and religious orientations have walked the Camino, over centuries. The father, a widower for a long time, reaches there to take his son’s body home, but decides to cremate it and pursue the path where the son couldn’t finish. No homage would suit his son better, he realizes, in a kind of mystic grief. Despite the fact that he is not very religious and he has almost always opposed to the son’s idiosyncratic ideas, the father chooses to walk the way. To reach, you need to move; to transform, you need to travel.

In the pilgrimage, Tom’s very first step is in the wrong direction. His inexperience, unpreparedness, privacy concerns, sensitivity, reservations about being lonely et al make him a tough, unsociable co-traveler. But, for sure, his obstinate seclusion is soon shattered by people walking the same way. Everyone has his/her own reasons. Every path has its unexpectedness. Every soul has its neighbours; you can’t deny their rights to enrich you, to give you salvation. You can’t be so alone in any spiritual journey, though a reverberating, undying loneliness is one of the priceless gifts any path offers. His secrets are slowly shared by everyone in the team. He is angry about it; thanks to his logical, civilized, conditioned and non-mystical lifestyle in California, he might have thought that pursuing a path for a deceased son, carrying his ashes, would be ridiculed by others. He hardly realizes that what he does would lead him to an unforgettable fulfillment of endless spiritual joy.

Tom is not the only person in the movie who has lost a child, or who is in the verge of losing a loving one. It begins from the very first man who hands over Daneil’s remains to Tom. Sarah, the Canadian chain-smoker, who is walking the way to quit smoking, has aborted her child and feels endlessly guilty about it. The gypsy father also reminds us of those historic fathers who have lost tracks with their sons, in spiritual ways. The overweight Dutchman Joost is afraid of losing his wife’s love and wants to lose weight by walking the Camino. Jack, the Irish travel writer, is suffering from a writer’s block. In another sense, none of them are making the pilgrimage in the typical religious sense. But, all of them are deeply religious, in some other ways. Faith, warmth, love and strength-they offer each other and take from each other. That is what being spiritual is, often. The fulfillment in the end of the movie is not physical, as Sarah, at least, keeps smoking. There is no shift in the Epicureanism of Joost, rather. Yet, we hope it fulfills them in unexplainable ways. It is important to note that the team proceeds further the Cathedral, following the advice of the gypsy father; had Daneil been successful in completing the Way, would he have taken this additional path, one wonders. Tom’s affectionate act of scattering the ash all along the way culminates before ocean. The waves would wipe away the rock upon which the final portion of the ashes are spread. Sea, as a spiritual metaphor, lets you end the Ways to your Beloved; it’s where you disappear and annihilation to the Lord is made possible. It is very important to note that Tom corrects his name at the pilgrims’ certifying centre and asks to put his son’s name instead of his. Death doesn’t change anything; it is just a door and your loved ones would take you through the ways you wanted to walk. Love is another word for spirituality.

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