What we see on-screen in the way, a film collaboration of father-son duo Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, is in some ways symbolic of their off-screen relationship over the years. 

Called a “road movie” by Estevez, who serves as screenwriter, director, producer and also stars alongside his father, The Way releases wide in theaters this Friday, October 21, 2011 and follows the journey of a father trying to reconnect with his adult son by way of the camino de santiago—a 500-mile pilgrimage that for over a thousand years has been made by millions around the world for religious, historical, cultural and even health reasons.

Originally, it is said that most who traveled the Camino de Santiago did it for religious penance for their sins or to seek heavenly answers. But then it seems the way broadened, as evidenced in a poem posted in a thirteenth-century monastery along the historic path: “The door is open to all, to sick and healthy, not only to Catholics but also to pagans, Jews, heretics and vagabonds.”

To promote The Way earlier this fall, Estevez and Sheen embarked on their own pilgrimage during a two-month bus tour across America, travelling from San Francisco to Phoenix to D.C. and beyond.

“The whole journey has really been a confirmation of what we started out to create nearly four years ago,” shares Sheen, a devout Catholic. “And the journey is continuing and the miracles are continuing, and I tell you I’ve never done a project I’m more proud of.”

The Way to The Way

Ironically, Sheen arrived at the genesis for The Way during his vacation one summer in Europe. At the time, while on hiatus from his work on TV’s The West Wing and having just attended a family reunion in Ireland, Sheen realized he had another week left in his schedule that he could spend in Europe. So he found himself investigating something which had long inspired him: the Camino de Santiago.

Beginning at the French border and weaving through the Basque Country of Spain and all the way to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, the Camino de Santiago translates to “The Way of St. James,” since legend has it that the sacred relics of Matthew 4:16 are buried at the trek’s official end-point cathedral.

Walking the Camino de Santiago can take six to eight weeks to complete, and since Sheen was short on time he chose to drive portions of the route “just like an American tourist,” he admits. But even so, his time during the journey inspired him, and when he came back to the States he told Estevez all about it and insisted that “this is something waiting for us to do!”

As Estevez researched in order to write a scenario, he was inspired by stories he read in Jack Hitt’s irreverent account, Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route into Spain. Seeing it as a contemporary Canterbury Tales of sorts, Estevez used the stories as a launching pad and created the story of Tom (Sheen), a self-reliant, accidental pilgrim from California who must travel to Europe to collect the ashes of his son Daniel (Estevez) who has died during a freak storm in the Pyrenees Mountains.

In the film, flashback scenes inform moviegoers that the father and son had been at odds with one another. Daniel had left his doctoral studies to make the pilgrimage while the buttoned-up Tom didn’t understand or accept his son’s impractical decision.