In "Sideways", two friends-Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) spend the week before Jack's wedding touring California wine country. Along the way Miles gets to know Maya (Virginia Madsen), and Jack gets acquainted with a woman other than his fiancée. [Spoiler alert: This interview reveals critical plot developments in the film.]
The trip Miles and Jack take is certainly about wine and women on one level, but can we also see it as a sort of spiritual pilgrimage?
I think it winds up that way. Miles starts out, it seems like, "in the lie": lying to his friend that they're driving straight through, and then stealing from his mother. But his time with Jack really gets him to see how ugly that path is. Miles sees the lies of his friend [who is cheating on his fiancée] and is ultimately so shocked and disgusted by them that he has a spiritual wake-up call. He sees what a life of no integrity looks like by watching Jack's behavior and realizes, You know what, I want something better for myself.
Sometimes we can't see our own selves, our own shortcomings, but it's so easy to see somebody else's.
Your books emphasize "conscious choice." Is that what Miles is learning to do here? At first, numbing himself through alcohol, he seems like a poster child for the opposite.
Yes, I think that that is exactly what happens. It's only when we are able to see our own behavior that we are able to wake up and start making conscious choices. When we're in the patterns of our past or in a pattern of self-destruction or numbing ourselves-whether it's from drinking wine or shopping or being on the Internet-it's very hard to make a conscious choice because you don't know the consequences of your behavior.
We don't learn what had happened in Miles' marriage to Victoria, but he seems to consider the divorce a failure in his life, which is a feeling I think a lot of people could relate to. But your view of divorce is very positive.
Divorce is a time of change. It really rocks a foundation of most people's lives. When we have our heart broken or our dreams taken away from us, it is a time of growth and change. I see it as a spiritual wake-up call, as a time to recommit to our deepest desires and our deepest dreams, a time to grow.
I think that any time of great pain is a time of transformation, a fertile time to plant new seeds. And if we decide to take a painful incident-in this case, divorce-we can use it as a catalyst to have the best life, a life beyond what we thought imaginable for ourselves.
Aside from their issues with women, these two men are both facing mid-life and feel as if they've fallen short of their potential in their careers. If you were a spiritual coach to them, what would you advise?
I would tell them both to stop drinking, number one. They have definitely overindulged-if that was just a microcosm of their lives and I'm going to suggest that it was-and they have no control or no ability to choose what is good for them or not. So I would start by at least giving them a year of sobriety.
For Miles, we're much more in contact with his deep desire to be a writer. I would tell him to take some more writing classes or get a writing coach, to create a plan to continue his process. Obviously he had a gift, he felt something inside that he wanted to deliver, and he's not unlike probably a quarter of the population that has some creative artistic project that they want to come out. Most people don't do it because they don't have a plan or don't get the proper support that they need, like a coach, like somebody who could be a mentor or a guide to them.
And a year of good therapy would probably offer some good anger relief. You know he's an angry guy and when we're angry, we self-destruct. And so that's what I was seeing Miles do.