Along the Way is a dual memoir by the father and son team of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. (Sheen’s real name is Ramon Estevez; he changed it to Martin — for a director he met on his first trip to New York City — and Sheen — for Bishop Sheen of New York.) I especially love the title as it’s a play on words. Martin and Emilio made a film together in 2010 (lead actor, director, respectively) called The Way, about the relationship between a father and a son revolving around the pilgrim trail from Camino Francés to Santiago de Compostela. It was a tribute to Martin’s father, Francisco, who came from Spain where the movie takes place. It has been described as “a film inspired by a grandson, dedicated to a grandfather, and created by a father and son in between”. In a very real sense, this book is that of a pilgrimage for father and son, and tells what they’ve learned along the way.
I’ve been a fan of Martin Sheen for a long time but especially loved him as President Bartlett of The West Wing. When I realized he had co-authored this memoir, I was immediately intrigued. The book begins with Martin telling about his parents, where they came from and how they met, and his family life in Dayton, Ohio. Then one day, he heads for New York City to become an actor. After Martin falls in love, marries, and has a son, Emilio starts taking turns relating stories about life with father. It’s really interesting the way they tell about the same time periods from the two different perspectives and you can see how the opportunities Emilio had growing up — observing the actions on sets, seeing different director techniques, and seeing, not just the world of filming, but the world — Italy, Ireland, Spain, India, the Philippines, Hawaii — were all things that helped shape him into the very talented actor, director and screenwriter he has become — and also into the father and son he has become.
But you also see Martin growing as an actor, a person, a husband, and a father. Their stories aren’t embellished or glossed over. Obviously, not everything is related or there would be volumes rather than one book, but it hits on all the highlights, the touchstones, the turning points, and some low points as well. Emilio says that “reliving our relationship in its entirety for this book wasn’t always easy. It required painful, honest gazes backward . . . but it was well worth the time”.
Some of the most interesting stories here involve filmmaking in other countries when Emilio was still a youngster and then later on, as an adult, when father and son worked together on projects such as Bobby and The Way (both of which are available in DVD format). How the films came about and how the two men were able to work, plan, and act together seems to be a direct growth, if not a straight path, from their heritage. The stories Emilio tells from the making of Apocalypse Now in the Philippines were spell-binding and a bit scary, as was the toll that the making of the film took on Martin both psychologically and physically. (A movie I’ve now ordered and will watch as soon as it arrives.) Another amazing adventure took place in India for the making of the film, Gandhi, where poverty, hunger, and death confronted them everywhere, and made them incredibly grateful for simple things like being able to turn on a tap and have clean water pour out.
Emilio tells about growing up in Malibu, going to La Junta, Colorado to watch the filming of Badlands, and using his parents movie camera to shoot short films in Ireland where the family traced Martin’s mother’s relations. Martin tells about his struggles with alcoholism and trying to reclaim a sense of faith, and of becoming an advocate for various causes, protesting and sometimes ending up in jail. The stories are poignant and revealing, about triumphs, mistakes and healing, and how, above all, where there is love and a sense of belonging, the important things are put first.
I loved reading about how the film Bobby came about — all the seeming coincidences that contributed to Emilio’s screenplay — and having seen the movie, how his intentions and intuition gave the movie the view of the dramatic impact the event had on the everyday people who came to be there that day.
The making of The Way seems to be the culmination of what they have learned and when you watch the movie after reading this book, many of the emotions Martin demonstrates as Tom seem to belong to them both rather than just to the character in the movie. It is a very powerful movie.
The title of this book is no coincidence. It may have been well thought out or it may have been spontaneous, but it is definitely a fitting title. This book is very much the record of a pilgrimage that examines the past for both the good and the bad, to seek faith, to affirm beliefs, and to find the shared values of family and community. It is the discovery that individuals are not more important than the whole and that individuals have a responsibility to the whole and to the future. It is a story of heritage and love. It is a documentation of what Martin and Emilio have learned along the way.