Surviving when life squeezes us sideways |

Surviving when life squeezes us sideways

The movie “Sideways” is a strong candidate for an Oscar as the year’s best movie. Viewers laugh so hard when seeing this flick they cry. Tears gushing down cheeks do not run only because viewers feel their funny bones have been struck. They cry because “Sideways” connects when life pinches us. Then we feel trapped. Losers. We voice many expressions that reflect the mood of the four prominent characters “Sideways” features. We say we are spinning our wheels. Life seems for us a long ways from the Winner’s Circle at the Daytona 500. Like a plow horse circling a field, pulling the plow of a sharecropper, we align ourselves with boring routine of this sorry animal. We sigh that we are stuck in our ruts. Some of us describe ourselves as a square pegs in round holes. We don’t neatly fit into life’s patterns. An antique expression to signal that life has a nasty habit of becoming unglued is that we “are at sixes and sevens.” Life doesn’t add up the way we prefer. We are fit to be tied. We feel as if we are turned sideways.The anti-establishment author Hunter S. Thompson, who no longer wanted to feel like he was skidding sideways in life, recently pointed a gun to his head. He squeezed the trigger, taking his life. Hunter wrote, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” Tragic how this author misconstrued the evidence.” Drinking excessively and fooling around with drugs didn’t work for Thompson. Nor did they bring spice to life the main characters in “Sideways” long for, either.One charming feature of Jack Lopate and his pal Miles in “Sideways” is that the script’s author loves them, faults and all. Like Jack and Miles, we feel out of sorts. We see ourselves through the laughs this movie gets. We try to hide our hidden crevices from others but we cannot camouflage them from God. He finds us when we are lost.Craggy faced cowpoke Jack Lopate and his sidekick Miles, an author whom publishers have spurned, want to travel a straight road to good times in California’s vineyards. They go on a weeklong wine tasting fling. This trip of “likable doofuses,” as People Magazine dubs them, depicts Lopate as wanting to get hitched at the trip’s end. Like a mangy tomcat, he is on the prowl for whatever babe he can bed. Repeatedly, he faithfully telephones his fiancée, telling her in lovey-dovey chitchat that she is the flashiest jewel in his crown.Some viewers pan the movie because it shows plenty of drinking, a bit of frontal nudity, and serves as a primer on how to cheat on spouses or lovers in a committed relationship. People Magazine sized up this flick in a catchy alliterative headline about it centering on wine and whining. Yes, Miles does habitually grouse about life’s stern challenges. What critics miss when they get upset with this movie’s cavalier rejection of morality or see it only as a funny trip into vineyards, is underneath the fun is sadness. It’s the story of our lives at some point. When the camera pans those immaculate vineyards in California’s wine country, vibrant, colorful scenes are not flashed on the screen. The camera constantly overexposes the countryside. Its vitality is sapped. Overexposure serves as an excellent metaphor for life. Nothing filters the bad from the good. We try to get on the fast lane but feel we are sliding sideways.Shakespeare in All’s Well That Ends Well, sums up the enduring theme this movie projects: “The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” Miles and Jack, together with the two women they meet, are tangled in a search that sends them to one more drink, one more vacant sexual tryst, and one more day in which all is trite motion minus meaningful action.Not all is lost in “Sideways.” Watch for the knock at the door just before the credits run on the big screen. Then we see glorious colorful hues. There’s not more overexposure. Miles no longer dwells on whining about why he has screwed up his life. He finds a woman in whom he can confide. Life is more than a party. It consists of an unexpected grace note in an otherwise pedestrian score. The knock on the door is what saves Miles from taking a gun to his head and pulling the trigger.Verbal dramas Christ spun are not unlike the theme of this movie. Doctor Luke records three of them in rapid-fire succession. Jesus tells story of a shepherd who leaves the ninety-and-nine sheep to find the one lost on a ledge. He tells of a woman who housecleans and discovers a treasured coin that had slipped through cracks in the floor. Christ pictures a father with two sons, both lost. One discovered he was lost, not in California’s Napa Valley but in a pigpen. His older brother suffered even more grievous estrangement. He never knew he was lost. Like Jack on the telephone with his bride, the older brother sounded self-assured. But he was spinning sideways and couldn’t admit it. Jesus comes to us to “seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10). When we don’t really listen to his stories if we assume we know them too well. “Sideways” presents a cinematic update of the Prodigal Sons. It shows four lost souls who go into the far country, squandering themselves in loose living. They drink it up, sex it up, and drug it up. Just for a high. With many laughs for fend off the sadness pervading their lives.In the closing scenes, Miles is touched by grace. He doesn’t like living sideways. He finds a woman with whom he can share a life. That’s far, far better than a fling. Grace gives him the gumption to knock on a door. Rather than messing around, searching for good times that are fleeting, Miles discovers a direction in his life. It gives him hope to meet again the special woman behind the door. He’s no longer sliding sideways. The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads CREATIVE GROWTH MINISTRIES, enhancing Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’s book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.Vail, Colorado

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