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The Way Movie - A Journey of Grief

Updated on February 20, 2012

Take a Movie Walk on the Camino de Santiago

The Way The Movie is one that I had wanted to see from the minute I saw the first trailer clips. It appealed not only to the grief educator in me, but also to the walker and the adventurer.

The Way is about an American doctor Tom, played by Martin Sheen, who must deal with the death of his only son, Daniel, played in flashbacks by Sheen's son Emilio Estevez. (Estevez also served as the writer and director of the movie.) Tom (Sheen) comes to deal with the death by walking the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James, a trip his son had encouraged him to take time to do originally.

Ironically, the grieving father does get to take the trip on the Camino with his son as he decides to complete the trip his son had planned, but carrying the son's cremated ashes in a box in his backpack. Along the way the father discovers the meaning in the words his son told him, "You don't choose a life, Dad. You live one."

For many walking the Camino is a religious experience, and the film has been playing well with religious groups, but the film is also about the spiritual journey that Tom and his companions take in finding themselves along "The Way." Estevez has indicated in interviews that the movie is a spiritual film and not a religious one. Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post writes that "[The Way's] rewards are as rich for the secular as for the more spiritually inclined."

Viewers will discover their own meaning in the journey, although the newly bereaved may want to be aware that it may be an especially moving film for them. It is a powerful film for anyone grieving the loss of a loved one. Be prepared to laugh and to cry.

Estevez has created a film that can be shared by families. He reported to that

"Kids are posting on Facebook saying, "I've never heard of this before. Thank you for making the film. I'm going to Santiago. I'm taking my parents to the movie. I finally found a movie that I can take my parents to that is not vulgar, that's not so CGI-driven or about outer space, that they can relate to.'" The Way was a movie that I shared with my kids and is one that is proving popular with families.

The film's success has been mainly by word of mouth, by tweets and Facebook posts and by their 50 day bus tour to promote the Film that took them across the United States. The Way has been dubbed one of the Outstanding Independent Films of 2011 by IFC As of February 2012, The Way has grossed $4,405,147.

For the fun of it I created several traffic signs with the different slogans from the Way to use as graphics for this lens.

In addition, the research and information that I discovered in my own quest to find out more about the Camino, a Camino Documentary (still in the making) and walking the Camino has been included, in case you too are moved to begin your own pilgrimage on The Way.

The Way now available on DVD

Life is too big to walk it alone

Image by Kirsti A. Dyer

The Way - The Story

It's Never Too Late to Find The Way

The Way offers several messages for those who want to listen. The basic story is pretty simple, an American doctor walks the way to complete the trek that his dead son set out to do. The movie follows his quest along the Camino de Santiago.

TheWayTheMovie channel on Youtube includes this description of the movie.

The Way is an inspirational story about family, friends, and the challenges of navigating a complicated world. Martin Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to France to collect the remains of his adult son (played by Emilio Estevez), who died while walking the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James.

Embarking on the historical pilgrimage to honor his son's memory, Tom meets other pilgrims from around the world: a Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), a Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger) and an Irishman (James Nesbitt). Eventually, Tom discovers the difference between "the life we live and the life we choose."

Tom's son Daniel may offer the best advice of all, that his father comes to understand, as he explains some of his reasons for undertaking the Camino.

  • "You don't choose a life, Dad. You live one."

Image from The Way The Movie on Facebook

The Cast and Characters

The cast is a small one. The main characters include:

  1. Martin Sheen - Thomas "Tom" Avery, the American Doctor
  2. Yorick van Wageningen - Joost, the Dutchman
  3. Deborah Kara Unger - Sarah, the Canadian
  4. James Nesbitt - Jack, the Irishman
  5. Emilio Estevez - Daniel Avery, the Adult son

The Way - Official Trailer

The movie trailer for The Way from thewaythemovie.

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The Way on BluRay

The Way [Blu-ray]
The Way [Blu-ray]

This moving story of family, of grief and of discovery is available on DVD.


Google Map of The Way Route

The Way traveled the Way of St. James or the Camino de Santiago from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. They followed the Camino Frances, the most popular route, which crosses the Pyrenees Mountains along the Spanish-French border.

The Start of the Camino Walk of The Way:
St. Jean Pied de Port, France

get directions


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Burgos, Spain:
Burgos, Spain

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Leon, Spain:
Leon, Spain

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Ponferrada, Spain:
Ponferrada, Spain

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The End of the Camino Walk of The Way:
Santiago de Compostela, Spain

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The Final Destination for The Way Pilgrims:
Muxia, Spain

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The Way - A Metaphor for the Grief Journey

Image from The Way

A Father's Journey of Grief on the Camino

Grief is a central component to The Way as we watch a father's journey of grief and loss while he must adjust his life to process the news of the sudden, unexpected death of his adult son.

Ultimately this grieving father decides to take the time off that initially he was too busy to do and to walk the Camino with his son (now a box of ashes) using his son's backpack and shoes as a way of honoring his memory. One reviewer suggested the father is paying "penance for his unwillingness to listen to his son." Perhaps that is the Catholic perspective. Along the way Tom scatters his son's ashes, as a way of honoring his son's memory and including a part of him in the Camino.

Reviewer Kenneth R. Morefield from Christianity Today shares his thought on how grief plays a role in this movie.

The story is, in many ways, about intimacy-particularly about how grief removes some of the social boundaries we keep up, boundaries that prevent intimacy in more normal circumstances.

As a grief educator, the movie is such a powerful teaching resource. The Camino itself is a metaphor for the journey of grief, starting at the beginning of the trail with the loss and ending the walk at the ocean with coming to terms with that loss. The movie is also a powerful healing resource for those who have lost loved ones. They can join this grieving father on his quest to make peace with his dead son.

The movie traces a grieving father's personal internal journey in dealing with the death of his son and how as he slowly learns to cope with the loss as he undertakes the physical journey on the Camino. Over time the grieving father is able to open up to others on the trail, coping with their own grief and losses and in the process, discovers how to live life.

Screen Shot YouTube Clip of The Way

The Way - Video Clips

We get a taste of Tom's grief over the loss of his son through these video clips.

The Way as a Grief Resource

When I first saw the film trailers for The Way last year, I knew it was going to be a movie that I would have to view for teaching grief and loss. I drove over 2 hours out of town to watch the film, because I felt it would be one that I wanted to use for teaching about grief and loss.

I was not disappointed.

As in Motherland the Film, another movie that I have used for my students to follow the grief journey of six women, so does The Way do an excellent task of following not only Tom in his journey of grief, but of several other peregrinos or pilgrims that he meets along the way.

We discover that each of the four major characters is walking the Camino for reasons that they do not share initially and each of them leaves a part of them behind and transforms along the journey.

The Way is a wonderful new addition to the movie list for teaching grief and loss.

Screen Shot YouTube Clip from The Way

The Camino is More than a Vacation

Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers these insights about walking the Camino and "The Way."

As with any pilgrimage, the Camino is much more than a vacation or and sight-seeing trip. It is an opportunity for prayer and a strengthening of faith.

The four pilgrims in this movie, each making the journey for a different reason, band together for an unexpected but ultimately enriching process of self-discovery as they travel together to the burial place of Saint James the Apostle.

The movie The Way shows the journey of these Camino pilgrims and discovering themselves along the way.

Image from The Way The Movie

Image by Kirsti A. Dyer
Image by Kirsti A. Dyer

Other Movies for Teaching about Grief

In the years that I have been teaching grief and loss as a graduate course, I have included movies as teaching tools for exploring grief and loss.

Watching a common movie is a way of sharing a common grief response, which is then useful for teaching students. I started out using Bunny the Oscar Winning Short Film and once it came out transitioned in the past few years to using Motherland the Film.

Bunny is only seven minutes long, so it can easily be shown in a classroom setting. In this short, there is a sometimes humorous and sometimes serious look at dying, death and the hope of reuniting with loved ones.

Motherland the Film has been an excellent resources for exploring grief following the loss of a child. This film follows six women on a trip to Africa where they go to help others but learn a lot about healing their grief in the process.

Beyond Believe is another film that works well for teaching about grief. In this film by director Beth Murphy, Patricia Quigley and Susan Retik, as widows of 9/11, explores how two 9/11 widows began living beyond September 11th by reaching out to widows in Afghanistan.

Image Created by Kirsti A. Dyer

Motherland the Film - Another Grief Resource

Another film resource that I have used in teaching bereavement is the Motherland Film from film-maker and director Jennifer Steinman.

Live a Life

Image by Kirsti A. Dyer

The Way - Reviews

Funny, Hip, Moving and Transcendent

The Way the Movie has received many positive reviews and some mixed reviews. I would like to know if those who give The Way poor reviews have ever been on the journey of grief. If not, they may not understand the significance of the film.

The Way The Movie is described on their website as "a powerful and inspirational story about family, friends, and the challenges we face while navigating this ever changing and complicated world."

Washington Post's Ann Hornaday writes that The Way is, "funny, moving, hip and transcendent all at the same time" while also being "deeply thoughtful and enormous fun to watch."

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers invites viewers to "open yourself up to this thoughtful, moving personal adventure" because if they do so they are "in for a uniquely memorable experience."

Marshal Fine, Film Critic for The Huffington Post, writes "The Way goes exactly where you expect it to" and also notes "yet this journey is worth the trip because the destination ultimately proves so moving."

I think that many viewers will end up agreeing with AARP's Meg Grant about The Way's inspiring message "that it's never too late to change." She noted that the movie, sent her "from the theater to my computer to explore the possibilities of one day walking the Camino de Santiago on my own." If you have been inspired to learn more about the Camino, look at the next section on The Way - The Camino.

Image from The Way The Movie on Facebook

The Soundtrack for The Way

The beautiful, calming soundtrack, background pieces by Tyler Bates is one that is lovely to listen to outside of the movie in addition to setting the tone for movie.

The Way: Music From The Motion Picture
The Way: Music From The Motion Picture

The tracks are by Tyler Bates unless indicated otherwise.

1. Ventura

2. Daniel (Main Title Theme)

3. A Higher Place

4. Pilgrims

5. Tom Begins

6. This Must Be the Place

7. Nadal De Luintra by Berroguetto

8. Country Road by James Taylor

9. Tom Alone

10. Spanish Morning

11. Pamplona

12. Fusco

13. My Oh My

14. Gypsy Thief

15. Ali Ali Oh by Coro El Encuentro Burgos

16. Thank U by Alanis Morissette

17. Pink Moon by Nick Drake

18. Buen Camino

19. Santiago de Compostela

20. The Journey Is the Destination

21. Muxia - A True Pilgrim


More Ways to Enjoy The Way Movie and Music

Get your own copy of The Way or watch it on Demand online. You may want to get the beautiful soundtrack after watching the movie.

The Way
The Way

Watch online On Demand

The Way
The Way

MP3 download


It's all about the Journey

Image by Kirsti A. Dyer

The Way - The Camino

Image by Fresco Tours
Image by Fresco Tours

The Camino de Santiago - The Way of St. James

The Way of Saint James, el Camino de Santiago to the Spanish and Le Chemin de Saint Jacques for the French is the 1,000-year old route from France to northern Spain that has been walked by millions of pilgrims or peregrinos over the years. The walk ends in the city of Santiago de Compostela where the remains of Saint James are supposed to be buried.

People have many different reasons for walking the Camino. Many devout Catholics are walking as a religious pilgrimage, a journey of great religious significance following in the footsteps of other pilgrims or peregrinos. Others are walking for a spiritual significance, looking to heal and find themselves. Walkers, hikers and backpackers walk the route as a journey and a way of experiencing life in Northern Spain. Peregrinos travel by foot, some by bicycle and some even by horseback or donkey.

There are several different routes and origins. One popular one is from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostella through León is about 800 km. In The Way the route taken by Tom started in the border town of St. Jean Pied de Port in southern France. Some pilgrims prefer taking a shorter walk starting in Valença, Portugal / Tui, Galicia for a 108 km walk that can be done in 5 days.

Pilgrims who want to earn the certificate or the compostela for completing the way need to walk the last 100 km (62 miles) or cycled the last 200 km (124 miles). The compostela is an official certificate of accomplishment given to pilgrims on completing the Way from Pilgrim's Office in Santiago. One of the more moving moments for me in The Way is when Tom finally gets his compostela.

Read more about The Way of St. James on Wikipedia

Camino de Santiago Marker by Fresco Tours

Videos about The Camino

Several Videos about The Camino de Santiago including a beautiful documentary, a list of life lessons from one Camino walker, recommendations for traveling parts of the Camino from Rick Steves and traveling the Camino by bicycle.

Learn more about The Camino Documentary

The Camino Documentary - Video

The Camino Documentary (working title) has been in the making since fall, 2008, when Director/Producer Lydia B. Smith returned from walking the 500-mile trail herself. This is a Trailer preview of the work in progress.

This 6-minute clip is a preview for the full 23-minute Fundraising Trailer, which gives the viewer a taste of the themes, scenery and real-life characters that will be featured. The full trailer was created for the sole purpose of raising the funds necessary to edit the final film.

Learn More about The Camino Documentary

"The Camino Documentary" (working title) is about the experience of walking the ancient 500-mile pilgrimage across Northern Spain known as "The Camino de Santiago". The film follows six strangers from incredibly diverse walks of life as they attempt to cross a country on foot with only a backpack, a pair of boots, and an open mind.

The Camino Documentary (working title) has been in the making since fall, 2008, when Director/Producer Lydia B. Smith returned from walking the 500-mile trail herself.

Image by Fresco Tours
Image by Fresco Tours

A Journey of a Lifetime

I think for many people walking the Camino de Santiago is on their "Bucket List" of things to do before they "kick the bucket." A quest on the Camino would definitely be a journey of a lifetime, one from which you would emerge from transformed.

I first became aware of the Camino de Santiago when I had two dear friends go on their own pilgrimage to Spain to find themselves and discover what the truly wanted out of life.

After watching The Way, as did many other people, I have explored walking the Camino someday with my family. For walkers, it might be one of the ultimate walking trips. Knowing that one only needs to walk 100 km (62 miles) in order to receive a compostela, makes it seem more doable than walking the entire nearly 500 miles (800 km). For now the cost, the time and the distance would be prohibitive. When my girls are a bit older they would appreciate it more and it may make for a family bonding experience of a lifetime.

For now, we will stick closer to home and explore parts of the John Muir trail (some more remote than the Camino), or begin planning for a shorter walking tour to a closer destination, but being able to walk part of the Camino remains on my Bucket List.

Camino Shell Marker from Fresco Tours

Vote on a Camino de Santiago Trek

Image of Pilgrims from The Way

Is a walk on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in your future?

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Comment on The Way

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    • HealthfulMD profile imageAUTHOR

      Kirsti A. Dyer 

      6 years ago from Northern California

      @TeacherSerenia: The Way is an inspiring film. Glad to see you were inspired to do a lens on the Camino.

    • TeacherSerenia profile image


      6 years ago

      WOW, you will be very pleased to know that I have just made a lens about the Camino De Santiago after I finally got to see the movie The Way starring Martin Sheen. I watched it on Netflix Canada.

      My lens is called The Way of St James. I must add this lens to it. And my bucket list lens too - I'd forgotten I mentiioned the Camino at all.

    • Brandi Bush profile image


      6 years ago from Maryland

      I just added this to my Netflix queue after reading this lens...looking forward to watching it! :)

    • Gayle Mclaughlin profile image


      6 years ago from McLaughlin

      My husband recently purchased this movie and told me about it. With this review, I know I am going to go watch it. Thank you!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Such an amazing movie. I would recommend it to anyone.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I hadn't heard of this movie. I look forward to seeing it. Thanks for sharing this lens with us.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Had I known about this journey in my younger days...I would have given it serious consideration. For now I have my own walking program...and yes, it is a journey for me.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I like Martin Sheen a lot and this is my first info on this movie so I'm definitely going to watch it. Thank you :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      useful info thanks for sharing

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Its the biggest review on a particular topics ! I would like to see it. Thanks

    • pufek77 lm profile image

      pufek77 lm 

      6 years ago

      Walking Camino Trip is one of the greatest experiance I have in my life. Actually my pic is from this trip. I walk with my 2 friends (sister Twins) and we made over 400 km in 10 days.

      We did not make it to walk entire trip, but we say that we left there an unopened present for next time.

      I Higly recommend this journey!!!

      I'm sure that you will meet nice people, have fun and clear a lot of mindbreaking stuff. I'm not religious man, but I have a lot of fun, clear my mind and enjoy in walk trough beoutiful country with nice people from all ovr the world.

      Movie "The Way" I love it,because i know it's true and can't wait to go back!

      Thank you and sorry for my bad English :D

    • MillBucks profile image


      6 years ago

      Interesting write up, I am surely going to watch this movie to learn more. Thanks for sharing.

    • allenwebstarme profile image


      6 years ago

      I would like to see the movie first. Nice lens.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I've read a few books about the Camino.. I would be interested in seeing this movie.Thanks, nice lens

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I will watch The Way, I'm sure. It sounds like a great movie with an important message.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you for showing me The Way! You've shared an amazing review and journey and I will certainly see this movie. Your graphics are the perfect pathway signs for The Way.


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