The Way

Fr. Shay Cullen
October 3, 2011

I first met Martin Sheen the famous actor in 1993 thereabouts when he came to the PREDA center to attend the Sunday Mass and see the work of the charity that saves children from abusers, brothels and prisons. Martin Sheen is a devout Catholic dedicated to living out his faith for the cause of human rights, social justice and peace. He is lauded as one of the best character actors in the world.

After the successful movie, Badlands, directed by Terrence Malick, his career took off. It was a chaotic start in the Philippines in 1976 where he was the lead actor in the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now about the Vietnam War. Martin brought his wife, the celebrated artist Janet Temptation, and his children to the Philippines and as the stress and pressure built on the set of Apocalypse Now, he had a serious bout with alcohol. He was 36.

His eldest son of four, Emilio Estevez was 14 at the time and was emotionally alienated from his father and even had a physical fight with him. Some years later in 1981 Martin emerged from the dark days to a restored life based on faith and spiritual values with the help of his friend Terrance Malick. He became involved with human rights and peace advocacy and made more than 70 movies. Perhaps the most impressive performance of all was The West Wing, a television drama where he plays President Josiah Bartlet, a highly respected moral, intelligent and catholic president.

Years later Emilio (now 48) emerged as an impressive actor and director. His impressive performance in the Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire showed his own talent but he became an equally impressive director with the movie “The War at Home” and then semi-documentary film Bobby (2006) that traced the days and hours of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, brother of the murdered president John F. Kennedy.

Martin’s other two sons Ramon and Renee have their own successful acting careers and the younger son Charlie Sheen (45) was most successful when only 21 with the award winning Vietnam war movie Platoon (1986). More recently he slipped into a self-damaging negative life-style that has ended his married life and his career for now.

Remarkably his Father Martin has never given up on him and openly and courageously acknowledges his son’s addiction and self-destructive life-style yet stands by him. It is a vigil of a caring father, filled with pain.

In a new remarkable and beautifully poignant film “The Way”, son Emilio and father Martin set out to tell a story of a father (Tom) discovering the spirit and character of his estranged and all-too-soon tragically dead son (Daniel). The father (Martin) a non-practicing catholic flies to Spain to recover the ashes of his son Daniel (played by Emilio) who died in a storm while on a Pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago, a long arduous trek across the Pyrenees of Northern Spain.

It’s the story of a father who had no meaningful personal relationship with his son Daniel, who had a deeply spiritual nature and set out to discover himself on the Camino. Holding the ashes of his son, the father realizes he had been a remote, unloving and non-supportive father and vows to make amends. He sets out to spiritually connect with his lost son by completing the 500 mile hike bringing the ashes of his son with him so that together they would complete the pilgrimage. It would be a penance for him, the repentant father, and a home coming for the lost son.

Is this an artistic celebration of the long sought bonding between Martin with his son Emilio in real life? Or is Danilo the misunderstood and ignored Charlie of earlier years and Martin’s late realization that he must make up for the lost years of father-son friendship and journey with him, and carry him lovingly over mountains of life even though he appears to be spiritually dead in real life?

Primarily it is a powerful and ingenious storytelling, rooted in life-experience. It is a cautionary tale for fathers and sons to love each other while they can before their neglect leaves them isolated, lonely and longing for lost friendship that once lost might never be found.