(Photo: Theway-themovie.com via The Christian Post)
Contrary to popular opinion, it's the road most traveled – not the least – that will make for the best route on a journey and the one that'll make all the difference in life.
At least that's what it did for Thomas Avery in Emilio Estevez's film "The Way," about a well to do ophthalmologist from California whose life is turned upside down when his free-spirited son Daniel dies while on a historical pilgrimage across northwestern Spain.
Looking to finish what Daniel, played by real-life son Estevez, started, Tom (Martin Sheen) drops his work and embarks on the El Camino de Santiago or The Way of St. James, with the goal of spreading his only son's ashes all across the route.
A few unwanted and obnoxious strangers with baggage of their own, however, soon overturn his quiet journey of mourning and self-reflection, pushing him out of his box and opening him up to a whole new world of relationships which he never could have imagined.
Through their at times awkward or forced interactions, Tom slowly begins to discover the beauty and the value in community, despite its prying presence, finding the road less traveled, less and less appealing.
"I think ultimately the movie is about our spirituality and reconnecting," Estevez, the director and producer of "The Way," revealed.
"If we are told that we are so much more connected now by our devices whether it's a smart phone, computers or all of these gadgets that we have, I push back against that because I believe we are more disconnected now. This movie is about community, about connection."
The film beautifully depicts the evolution of the relationships between Tom and many of the secondary characters, which were once disjointed and uncomfortably disconnected.
When Tom first begins his way to Spain from France, he meets Joost, a fat, loud, and hash-smoking Dutchman on the pilgrimage for no other reason than to lose weight.
His shallow and all too chipper demeanor instantly repels Tom, who tries to avoid him every chance he gets, to no avail. Every place he passes through, Joost happens to be there, forcing him to interact with the pill popping man from Amsterdam.
A few other travelers he meets along the way also prove to be a nuisance to Tom; like Jack, a frustrated writer from Ireland whom Tom accuses of being an "arrogant bore" and fraud, disliking his pompous, know-it-all attitude; or Sarah, the angry, chain-smoking Canadian who takes her bitter past out on everyone.
All of their strained relationships with Tom are seen not just through their conversations with one another, but also through their physical distance kept while traveling.
When walking on the roads for example, Tom maintained a quicker speed to prevent him from conversing with the other three "pilgrims." The long distance also allowed him to spread his son's ashes unnoticeably without having to answer the inevitable questions that would result if someone were to see him.
Despite his efforts to conceal the reasons for his own journey, however, the other travelers soon discover Tom's "secret," which causes sympathy and understanding.
As Tom's own baggage begins to unravel, literally and figuratively, the others start to let down their guard and reveal glimpses into their own troubled lives as well.
Bonding through their baggage, the relationships between all four travelers slowly and painfully transform as the film progresses, replacing awkwardness with comfort, annoyance with pleasure, and ignorance with understanding.
Their improved ties reflect directly in their walk as well, with all four pilgrims traveling at the same pace and in close proximity to one another. They even begin to urinate in unison as well, directly commenting on the intimacy of their newfound community.
Growing in dependence on one another, the foursome, who previously found being together unbearable, now found it hard to be apart.
When they are separated for a few hours at a hotel, each in their own room, they one-by-one gather in Tom's suite, feeling comforted and at peace when all together.
And at the end of the pilgrimage, having finally reached the shrine of the apostle James and completed their long journey, the four continue to one more city together, showing the increased value of their community.
More than the pilgrimage itself, the relationships forged along the way take precedence in the film, proving that the journey is never greater than those on it.
And though every person came from their own unique path, all the roads eventually merged together, becoming a source of healing and power at its intersection.
Although "The Way" has been described as a deeply spiritual film, its lingering conversation about relationships and its far-reaching effects on one's life overwhelms the little to no emphasis on spirituality in the movie, which seems more appropriate in any case.
After all, it's a relationship that most people are after in life, not "spirituality."
"The Way" is rated PG-13 and also features Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick Van Wageningen and James Nesbitt. The film is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.