This gorgeously produced film is based on the best-selling 2006 memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert. Roberts stands in as Gilbert, a writer who is miserable in her marriage, career, and everything else. She needs to find meaning in her life. So, she decides to chuck it all—marriage, cool NYC apartment—and go on her grand voyage. Her journey takes her to some fabulous, intriguing places: Rome, Calcutta, Bali.
Late Friday matinee with Eat Pray Love: What a perfect cinematic escape for a few hours–from a life that, for me, seems to become increasingly challenging as time marches on.
But surely, I could learn some life wisdom from Elizabeth/Julia. Besides having a career in common with Elizabeth/Julia, this heroine also goes to places I once had the privilege to visit in my lifetime. Post college, traveled on my own for eight months to Europe—and, yes, Rome was one of my stops.
Later, my husband and I lived in Asia and took vacations to India and Bali. The latter, an equatorial island in Indonesia, with volcanoes, deep canyons, rushing rivers, rice paddies, Hindu temples, and white beaches, is indeed, one of the most breathtaking places on Earth.
I thought, I’d be visiting, at least through this movie, places for which I have fond memories.
Unfortunately, my disconnect with the film began pretty early in:
It soon felt I was entering what the Bitch magazine essay, Eat Pay Spend,called the world of priv-lit–or in other words, the world of the Wealthy, Whiny and White.
“Eat, Pray, Love and its positioning as an Everywoman’s guide to whole, empowered living embody a literature of privilege and typify the genre’s destructive cacophony of insecurity, spending, and false wellness,” the essay says.
“Eat, Pray, Love is not the first book of its kind, but it is a perfect example of the genre of priv-lit: literature or media whose expressed goal is one of spiritual, existential, or philosophical enlightenment contingent upon women’s hard work, commitment, and patience, but whose actual barriers to entry are primarily financial,” the essay continues.
In both book and movie, Gilbert a successful writer in her 30s, is miserable in her marriage. In the movie, we see that her misery is compounded by her husband, who maybe feels a bit lost himself, deciding that he wants to go to graduate school. What a fink! To get out of the marriage, Elizabeth/Julia decides she will give up her share of the community property—a decision that we’re told leaves her broke.
A hot, sexy affair with a hunky, sensitive younger actor (played by James Franco) also proves unsatisfying, so Elizabeth/Julia decides \ to travel and figure herself out.
She lands in Rome, and my first question is, what’s she living on? Sure, she gets a room in a cheap but charming pensione (where she has to boil water to fill her bathtub). I stayed in a few places like that myself while traveling through Italy. But last I heard, Italy was not the bargain travel destination anymore. Throughout her Roman holiday, Elizabeth/Julia wears fabulous clothes and gets to take side trips around Naples, eating nice meals in Neapolitan pizzerias, and more chic-looking outdoor restaurants in Rome where the wine flows generalys. (The movie never says this, but articles about Gilbert’s book reveals that her year-long journey, which Bitch magazine estimates would cost around $60,000, was paid for by her publisher’s book advance.)
Elizabeth/Julia’s journey continues to Calcutta to stay, work and pray in an ashram. “I just spend some time in Rome, and I’m feeling so great. Now that I’m here more at the source, I feel more disconnected than ever.” That’s what our heroine tells another Ashram volunteer, a guy named Richard from Texas whose past is a lot darker that Elizabeth/Julia. He responds, oh-so-wisely, “You want to get to the castle, you got to swim the moat.”
Eizabeth/Julia must have been staying in a different part of Calcutta than I remember. Where’s the heat, the soot, the exhaust fumes, the crowds? Didn’t she get sick? Everyone I know who ever traveled to India got sick and that includes me. I left India 15 pounds lighter, a jeans’ size smaller and touting the benefits of the Giardia Diet. But no icky digestive disorders for Elizabeth/Julia. Rather, she learns to meditate and the big lesson: that it’s important to forgive oneself. Isn’t that nice.
In Bali, she gets herself set up in a nice little house in the middle of a rice paddy. Mosquito nets drape oh-so seductively around her bed with its Shabby Bali Chic pewter bed frame. Elizabeth/Julia also bikes around those red-dirt Balinese roads in flouncy linen shirts, seeks words of wisdom from a medicine man, and winds up bedding and in love with—Javier Bardem.
Of course, Elizabeth/Julia is once again afraid to love. Yes, here we go again. But she eventually draws important lessons from her time in Rome and Calcutta. At first she says no, no, no. But, like the damsel in a silent movie, she finally allows herself to surrender, just surrender, to the inevitable charms of Javier Bardem.
We leave the movie presuming that Elizabeth/Julia will live happily ever after with Javier, prosperous from his import/export business, and the two will no doubt divide their time between his Balinese estate, his home in Brazil, and some writing nest she’ll set up in Manhattan—which she’ll buy once she sells her book, it becomes a best-selling, and wins the approval stamp from Oprah Winfrey.
The idea that this woman’s escape is something profound and universal to women of a certain educated class is insulting to many women in that educated class. I’m one of those women. Right now, I don’t know many women who have the money, or more importantly, the time to worry about the meaning of life. We’ve got marriages that may not be perfect but we’re not giving up on them. We’ve got kids, We’ve got jobs and we’re struggling to make ends meet. Maybe we’re looking after elderly parents, or have kids with special needs, or we’re struggling with health issues, or our husbands are struggling with health issues. In this economy, some of us have lost our jobs. Or our husbands have lost our jobs. Maybe we have a mountain of debt from that home improvement project we started before the economy crashed. Maybe we lost our retirement savings in the 2008 crash.
Some of us havecompanies that instituted non-paid furlough days, or reduced their contribution to our health benefits. At my last job I was essentially paying all my health benefits for my family of three—to the tune of $1200 a month—which didn’t include all the other money we’ve paid out of pocket for my husband’s prescriptions. Darn, I could have put all that money into saving up for my Rome/Calcutta/Bali adventure.
Right now, I’m in a start-up kind of job that has certain demands and policies that make it extremely difficult for me to take even a night off, or a weekend off.
So, no, I don’t have time to figure of the meaning of life. “Me time’ right now might be finding an hour to catch the latest episode of Mad Men. To make an effort at self-improvement means reading an important article about about the state of the American economy or international politics.
“The truth is that many of us are barely holding on to the modest lives we’ve struggled to create, improving ourselves on a daily basis, minus the staggering premiums, with every day we get up, go to work, and take care of ourselves and our families,” the essay continues.
“Priv-lit is not a viable answer to the concerns of most women’s lives, and acting as though it is leads nowhere good. It’s high time we demanded that truer narratives become visible—and, dare we say it, marketable.”