Wednesday, July 15, 2009

After Five Years, The Same Film Can Be Completely Different

So Sunday night, I watched Sideways again for the first time since I saw it in theatres back in 2004. When I first saw the movie, I laughed almost all the way through. The reason for that is because the relationship between Miles and Jack in the movie was very much like what I thought the relationship between me and one of my old friends would be like by the time we hit our mid-thirties. I’m not going to say my friend’s name because I’m Miles, and I wouldn’t want to make him have to make any unnecessary explanations to his partner(s).

As if anyone actually reads this blog. But I’ve made that mistake before.

Anyway, when I watched it again after five years of being alive, I had a very different reaction. First, I was able to notice a lot more of the little details in the film, the hidden aspects of Miles’ life that I didn’t remember from the first time. I didn’t remember the trip to his mother’s house at the start of the film, or his taking a pile of her money. And I certainly hadn’t noticed in 2004 the extra moment Miles spends looking at the picture of his father on the desk. And that made me pay more attention to what I could call Miles’ hidden story.

It’s a term I stole from Roberto Bolaño. He used to say that all his novels were not about what the main points of their narrative were, but that they were driven by a hidden story, some event or set of events that drove all the action of the obvious narrative while rarely if ever being explicitly mentioned. For Sideways, that hidden story is Miles looking after his father after the older man is badly debilitated by a stroke, and the mysterious circumstances of his death. Being able to spot that hidden story and understand it gave me a very different appreciation of the film than I had before.

Now here is where it gets a little emo. While I was smiling all the way through, I found it so much more depressing, and Miles was even more like me. In 2004, I saw similarities between us in the way he related with Jack. I saw his drinking his best wine at the fast food joint as embracing the joyful advice Maya had given him, that a wine this good is a special occasion. But this time, his depression and loneliness was much more evident and affecting to me. He was pathetic the way he slept with Maya even though he knew he was lying, and I don’t even think he felt bad about Jack’s deception by the time he went home with her.

Since I first saw that movie, I had gone through an even longer amount of time than Miles without a woman, and had become similarly torn up and spit out over someone just as Miles was over a woman. I had become a much more bitter and less forgiving person. The selfish aspects of Miles were even more evident in the way I thought about myself and about other people.

Not only that, but we had also both written bittersweet novels with considerable autobiographical input, and I’m becoming equally pessimistic as he was of ever getting it published. And even though I’ve been successful so far in my career, I’m growing increasingly pessimistic about actually being able to get a professor’s job once I’m on the market in a few years, and about whether anyone but me will see any value in my philosophical work. As I learn more about the professional academic scene, the less I think I’ll fit in. And rebels are not tolerated in academia.

Yet even while Miles and I have converged so much in all the most depressing and pessimistic ways, I love this film even more. It’s because I can see so much more of the hidden story now than I could, and because Miles is so much more flawed, mean, and beaten-down than when I first saw him. I think that happens to all of us eventually.

When I first saw Sideways, I was young and hopeful, thinking that my goals would come to me fairly easily. Now I’m still young (but spotting my first grey hairs on the sides of my head and chin), but quite a lot more jaded, and accepting of the fact that chances are I won’t succeed to the degree I want, and that I’ll have to fight much harder than I thought I would.

Sideways is now going on my list with Five Easy Pieces and À Nos Amours as the movies that I love because they’re brilliantly made and speak to how I think of my life. Alexander Payne needs to make another film.

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