So you should read this only if you have seen the film already. It came out recently on DVD.
The film has been praised by many and it undoubtedly has some great points. Perhaps they make the film worth watching, just for themselves:
- the wonderful photography of the holy images of the Camino de Compostela, including the statuary along the way, the gorgeous basilica's interiors and Mass.
- a strong, beautifully executed pro-life message, through the character of the one woman in the group of friends who talks about how her abortion early in life has marked her life
- the character of the French gendarme, my favorite character in the film, a man of deep faith, full of understanding, respect, and kindness towards the newcomer, suffering American
Then there is the issue of the characters Martin Sheen befriends along the way. From what I read, they may be indeed representative of the people on the Camino, if all a bit flat and stereotypical: a Canadian woman hurting inside from past problems, a Dutch man attempting to lose weight, an Irishman undergoing writer's block. Well, for one thing, yes, after walking 800 km the Dutch man would have lost some of his stomach for sure, but in the film he does not. The Canadian woman swears the whole way she will give up smoking when she gets to "the feet of saint James", but the viewer already knows she will not quit. The Irishman does conquer his writer's block as he begin writing about Martin Sheen's personal journey, but of all of the characters he is the most forced one. His entry into the story is short of a theatrical caricature. Let's say if you or I met someone acting like that we would keep walking. I would have liked to see also one who is there for its traditional, religious, historical meaning.
Another problem is the very premise of the film: "You don't choose a life, you live it". Good grief, and what exactly does that mean? I beg to disagree. We absolutely make choices for our life, the question is not if we choose it or not, but what choices we do make, and how we make them. A no-brainer here.
But what about Martin Sheen? What about his character, a wealthy, California doctor who had just lived a very routine life so far? We are to believe that he is transformed, that his impulsive desire to take his son's ashes and scatter them through the Camino, accomplishing for him what his premature death made impossible, is a personal journey of discovery. Discovery of what exactly? The film seems to hint that he discovers himself and therefore God, or at least Love: he gets over, if reluctantly, of his closeness and anger, he begins caring for his newfound friends, and he evens hints to a priest along the way that his gift of a Rosary has "come in handy" (although that is not shown), and finally he is seen praying at the basilica, kneeling.
Finally, what crowned my concerns about the film is the very end. The final, five-second scene. After trekking with this man for almost 900 km we are to believe he has undergone this transformation. He now is a human being who has let go of his hangups, who has found God or at least Love. What would I like to see him doing? I know exactly what I would like to see him doing: I would like to see him going back to his responsible life of a caring doctor (which he was shown to be in the beginning of the film), taking now with him this newfound dimension of Love of Neighbor. So instead of wasting hours playing golf with his obnoxious friends, I would like to see him choosing instead to volunteer at the Soup Kitchen, caring for people in his life in a personal way, praying and being active in church, or doing similar works of charity. That is our calling, and a hard one, to do God's work where our life happens to be. So I'd like to him taking and applying to his daily life what he gained from the journey in the Camino. Instead, he is shown walking aimlessly, hippie-like, alone, through the streets of Morocco. Uh? How is that the life of someone who found true Love?
So this is my take. I have thought enough about the film after watching it at our neighbors' twice over this past weekend and just had to write this. I will post this on Amazon and Love2Learn.