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.
I think he also needs to ask for forgiveness for the wreck that he's made, and I think a lot of people try to skip that step of really getting sober with yourself, looking at the cost of your behavior, and how it affects other people. I would put him on a 12-step program.
So they both need to sober up. But Miles really blossoms when he talks about wine. The beauty he sees in it-do you think he could get that from something else in his life?
Yes, absolutely. He should take love and that beauty and the attention that he's spending on wine and put it toward his writing.
When we're not able to manifest our desires or reach our goals, it is a time to reflect and ask, Is there something taking my attention away? Is there something that I'm doing that is destructive? Is there some place I'm spending my energy when it would be better spent on this project?
Maybe Miles is able to have a couple of glasses of wine once a week. I would tell him, OK, try it for three weeks to a month. If you can do it and manage it, then fine, but if you can't it's because you have a problem.
Why do you think this movie is so popular?
I think it's got a lot of things in it that people can relate to. First of all it has a lot of shadow in it, a lot of dark side, and all of us have a shadow- and most of us like watching other people's shadows self-sabotage rather than our own. It gives us kind of a relief, and we can say to ourselves, Well, I'm not so bad, I only drink two glasses a night and they're drinking six.
I think also there's love and romance and a lot of hope. Especially when we see Miles turn around, it gives us that hope, that, Ah. people do realize the truth and make better choices in their life-and I think that gives all of us hope that if there's a place where we're falling short, we'll one day wake up and start making better choices for ourselves. And I think any movie like that-where ultimately it looks like Miles is going to win, at least win in love-you know we all want that.
In the movie, things don't improve for Miles simply because this beautiful woman has landed in his life-but because he opens himself up to her. The change is in him.
When Miles first says to Maya, I'm sorry I should have told you [that Jack, who is fooling around with her friend, is actually engaged to another woman], she walks away from him. She says, I'm sorry I'm not going to have that [kind of deception] in my life, I've done that. She sets a very strong boundary. And then we don't see her for a while, right?
In the meantime, Miles has an internal awakening, and he starts to shift his behavior. And then she calls. So that takes us back to a good question, Would Maya have called if Miles had never had that "aha"?
So you don't see it as a coincidence. In one of your books you write, "Everything is as it should be."
No, I don't see it as a coincidence at all. I think that Miles' external world starts to match up with the internal shift. She is obviously a woman who wants integrity and truth and honesty in a relationship. And in the beginning he wasn't honest with her about anything. But he eventually comes clean with her. He takes those steps along the way, and then he just gets back to his life a different way, and we can feel that shift from him. And that's when she calls.
Our external world really is a mirror of our internal world: We send out energy, we send out that vibrational frequency. You can tell me what's going on in your outside world, and I can always tell you what's going on in your inside world. And so when we really want to see something different happen in our outer world, we have to go inside and make those shifts.
Have you heard about all these people now flocking to Santa Barbara wine country? I read that many of them are not necessarily even into wine.
They're chasing love. Ultimately, that's what it's about. It's about somehow finding love there. Even if it's like with Jack, for three nights [laughs]. People want love, and it's sexy. So here you have love, sex, and wine in this beautiful movie that winds up hopeful. They're just chasing hope. And it looks right now like hope lives in Santa Barbara [laughs].