Cinematic Gaze–A Quest on Foot


The_Way_posterPerhaps it’s just me or some soul mate out there also reached the same conclusion.  When I watched the movie The Way, adapted, directed, performed and produced by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen as Tom Avery, another movie came to mind.  Did anyone else catch the similarities between The Wizard of Oz and The Way? If not, I dare you to watch both movies back to back, then get back to me for a deep conversation about road symbolism.

First off we have unassuming heroes who reluctantly take a journey by foot as they search for their authentic selves.  Second, both movies start out with one character who meets another three characters along the way, also on their own quests. They join forces that are sometimes humorous and sometimes heart stopping.  And third the main protagonist comes off as naive/ vulnerable in both movies, even if the middle age character Tom Avery appears an unlikely innocent.  The thirteen year old Dorothy from Kansas fits into this role much easier.   Yet, the optometrist Tom with his comfortable country club-golfing lifestyle is out of his element hiking the grueling El Camino in northwest Spain.  He could use a little help from unlikely friends, just like Dorothy.

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Call to Action (The Quest Begins)

Tom’s journey begins when a phone call arrives announcing the death of his son (Daniel played by Estevez) who died in an accident while walking El Camino in the French Pyrenees.  Struck by his son’s sudden death and also the last conversation he had with his son, Tom decides to complete the journey for Daniel, even though he was not conditioned to walk the strenuous road (500 miles to Santiago).

Mirroring that, way off in Kansas, the young Dorothy finds herself in an enchanted land with a yellow brick road at her feet after she was swept up by a tornado.  She also remembers her last conversations with her parents and people in her community, but her memories come through in her dreamlike quest.  As the road in a strange land greet her feet, she begins her quest to return to a place called home where she will eventually resolve issues she has with family members.

While neither character had plans of hitting the road and finding themselves, circumstances forced them on a desperate and humorous adventure. Dorothy meets and befriends the Scarecrow in search of a brain, a the Tin Man in search of a heart and the Lion in search of courage.  Tom encounters a Dutchman (Joost) on the road to lose weight and lose his addiction to food, a bitter Canadian (Sarah) on the road to quit cigarettes (and make peace with herself) and an Irish journalist Jack on the road to heal a writing block.  While on the surface, the commonalities don’t hit us over the head, in both stories we encounter characters with fatal flaws on a quest for wholeness.

wiz witchPitfalls

Tom and his group of pilgrims encounter a crazy hosteler, a passionate (for wine and good food) priest, and a band of gypsies on route to Santiago.  And on the way, Tom loses his backpack twice.  The first time, his pack lands in a river and he dives into to save his pack (which also contains the ashes of his son).  Then later a gypsy teen steals Tom’s pack and makes a run for it.  This is leads to the pilgrims meeting gypsies and dining with them. However, most of the pitfalls in the movie are on an emotional level as Tom resists opening up to the other three pilgrims who have their own share of grief.

Dorothy’s pitfalls are more pronounced given the nature of the children’s fantasy in which the movie was based.  Dorothy encounters witches in the forest, flying monkeys, and magic.  She learns by the end of her journey that home is in her heart, the scarecrow figures out he already has a brain and the Tin Man discovers his compassionate spirit even if his chest empty of a heart and the lion develops courage in saving his friends. They all reach a point of acceptance of their circumstances from new eyes.

The Road

Both movies show four characters traveling extensively down a road.  While one group ends up in the enchanted City of Oz, the other group ends up in the enchanted city of Santiago (Spain), one city imagined and the other real.  Since walking down a road lacks excitement in itself and a movie requires twists, turns, and climaxes in its plot points, the writers toss in various obstacles and oppositions.  For Dorothy the oppositions appear in the outer world as witches and flying monkeys.  And for Tom the obstacles occur in his personality flaws and self-sabotage like when he turns against his friends in a public fashion, ranting about each one until he has a meltdown which lands him in jail.  Both Dorothy and Tom spend time locked up, wondering their next move.

By the end of their journeys, the characters do not manifest their original wishes (with the exception of Dorothy and Tom), but learn about the strength and courage that resides in them that they only discovered through profound experiences outside of the normal realm. I’ve spoken with many people who have walked the popular El Camino, including my sister who walked it four times, and each of them encountered experiences outside of themselves.  While none of them were tripping on drugs, all of them had access to their deeper subconscious mind as they footed 10 kilometers per day on a road, sometimes not much then a thin trail traversing through forests and mountains.  They literally walk away from their everyday life and learn to survive with only what they carry on their backs and benefit from the kindness of strangers they meet along the way.

Perhaps, besides the images of the pilgrims walking along a road reminding me of Dorothy and her friends on their journey to Oz, the movies wed in my mind because of the transformation themes that takes place during the simple activity of walking. Even when I go for a short walk (2 to 4 miles), I discover all kinds of activity brewing in my subconscious mind.  Old songs crop up, I recall people I once knew on my life journey or I come up with ideas for novels and short fiction.  When I walk with others, I end up rattling stream of consciousness thoughts and bouncing from tangent to tangent, often with fears surfacing.

Conclusion

Watch these movie clips and then watch the entire movies.  Open up a dialogue with yourself or with others about themes found on the road of life.  Why do we enjoy movies about characters taking road trips? Is it because our lives feel stagnant or that we search for friends we can rely on during the darkest moments? Or does it go even deeper than that? Do we long for a quest to discover our deeper selves and knock ourselves out of stagnation? Some people spend too much time contemplating such journeys as they sit at home in front of a television set or computer, myself included.  While others are always on the road searching for a place they call home.

I found this video after I wrote my post.  Talk about synchronicity!

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