This is 2011 film, adapted and directed by Emilio Estevez, starring his father, Martin Sheen. They play father and son in the film.
Everyone seems to want to find something, fix something or understand something. Or all of the above.
Daniel Avery left his doctoral program to explore the world, much to his father Tom’s dissatisfaction. Tom is an ophthalmologist in Los Angeles, a widower and comfortable in his very organized life. Father and son had a major rift in their relationship. On the way to airport, Daniel had told his father, you don’t choose a life, you live one.
Daniel passes away in France, at the beginning of “El camino de Santiago, or “The Way of St. James”. The Camino is a centuries old Christian pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a walking route of 500 miles. It can certainly be biked, but I think the requirements of getting a official certification require walking and a meaningful inner search.
Tom travels to France to identify and claim his son’s body. Learning of Daniel’s plan to travel the Camino, Tom has Daniel cremated and decides to take his place on the pilgrimage. He wants to honor his son, eventually comes to better understand his son.
Tom impulsively takes off on the trek, with Daniel’s backpack and his ashes. Tom has not trained for such a physically demanding journey, and it doesn’t help that he walks angry.
Along the way, Tom meets three other trekkers, each from a different part of the world. Each has a different reason to be on the Camino. For most of the film, it is the four trekkers, challenged by the geography, each other and themselves. Tom spends little time getting to know the others. Along each stop, Tom takes out a bit of Daniel’s ashes to spread along the way.
His trek is personal and he refuses to share it with the others, who feel sad for Tom when they find out, but instead of embracing the sentiment, he continues to be angry, especially that his secret was leaked. One of the trekkers is Jack from Ireland, who is on the journey to break his writer’s block by writing a book on the Camino. Tom wants nothing to do with being part of the book. Sarah is from Canada and she wants to quit smoking by the end of the journey, but her reasons are more personal. Joost is from the Netherlands and he is out to lose weight, but he eats and drinks heartily so despite the walking he is likely gaining what he has lost. Tom has issues with each of the three, he is very judgmental of them and constantly talks in sarcasm and backhanded comments. He really believes he is better than them. Everyone on the trek seems to have a need, but Tom is above that, he’s only doing this for his son, so he thinks.
The film is a mixture of Jack Hitt’s book Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route into Spain (1994), along with observations from Estevez’s son Taylor who took the pilgrimage, and Estevez’s own views on coming to grips with loss and connection.
Critics were divided on the film, some deriding it for coffee table, new age enlightenment. It is not a film that will inspire deep religious thoughts or fill some emotional hole in your soul, but it will get you to think and realize that everyone walks around looking to find something, fix something or understand something. The film is well-acted and great to look at.