Eat, Pray, Love
Release Date: October 7, 2010
When Eat Pray Love opens next week, it will have a ready-made audience waiting at the ticket box. That’s not just because of the 6.2 million people who have read the book or the even greater number of Julia Roberts fans. Eat Pray Love addresses a yearning common to middle-aged Australians – people who are beginning to sense that their name has come to represent a series of obligations rather than an actual person.
Eat Pray Love’s story emerged from just such a realisation. The film is based on the real-life account of Elizabeth Gilbert, a successful author who had fulfilled every goal society could set, yet still felt a devastating lack of meaning. It chronicles the death of her marriage, a desperate affair and the decision to try and discover herself through a series of profound experiences. “I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two,” she wrote. So she focused on food in Italy, prayer in India and love in Bali. And enough people have been inspired by her journey to keep Eat Pray Love on the New York Time’s Bestseller list for 190 weeks.
There’s no getting away from it: Eat Pray Love sounds like a typically Western, sadly trivial way to deal with a serious question. Not all the star power and stunning locations that $65 million dollars can buy can erase that impression. In fact the film doesn’t hide from it. When Liz tries to master Indian meditation, she ends up butting heads with Richard, an enlightened Texan:
Liz: “I can’t focus in there. All I think about is my meditation room and how to decorate.”
Richard: “The meditation room is within – decorate that.”
Liz: “Do you always talk in bumper stickers?”
But that doesn’t mean Eat Pray Love is easily dismissed. Bumper sticker philosophies often paper over genuine cracks, and the one Liz Gilbert has exposed is distressingly deep. Well-fed, well-dressed, well-catered for Western readers and film goers still have well-founded doubts about the expectations that direct their lives. Liz tells her friend,
“I’m so tired of counting every calorie so I know exactly how much self-loathing to take into the shower. I’ve no interest in being obese, I’m just through with the guilt.”
Leaving those expectations behind for a better destination does take courage, even if the directions seem simplistic. For that reason alone Eat Pray Love’s heroine deserves to be applauded. “The beauty of the book – and, I think, the reason we all wanted to do it – is that it says, ‘Get out of your box,’” says writer / director Ryan Murphy. Eat Pray Love certainly promotes this ‘free yourself’ philosophy. The Indian stage of Liz’s journey introduces us to a faith that is the antithesis of organised religion. Days disappear perfecting the practice of blocking out the world so you can finally hear yourself. It’s an attitude Christians will have some sympathy for given we also encourage people not to be swept up by the world, and to separate themselves for their spiritual good.
However my concern is with Eat Pray Love’s assumption that the only options are either pursuing society’s expectations or following your heart. It’s true that the man who gains the world is in danger of losing his soul. But centering the world on ourselves will hardly have a happier result. Worse, Liz’s path to enlightenment is almost indistinguishable from the glossy brochures pored over by aspirational globetrotters. How do you tell the difference between a tourist and a guru when they’re both devoted to munching pizza in Naples or love in Bali? In effect Eat Pray Love offers us the cloak of ‘personal spiritual development’ for all our carnal desires. They say that ‘travel broadens the mind.’ My fear is that Eat Pray Love will reduce it to a focus of one.