Full disclosure: I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love, and I haven’t seen the movie either. I was becoming vaguely interested in it because of the religious angle, and I thought I might check out the book (no pun intended . . . well, maybe just a little) for that reason. I like yoga and meditation and honest spiritual reflection, all of which seem like key ingredients in Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir. It seems like this would be a bandwagon I’d just be dying to hop on.
But I’m not exactly jumping.
And when you think about it, it’s not too hard to understand why I can’t get myself too worked up about Liz Gilbert’s spiritual struggles as depicted in the movie. In a time of recession, when money is a nightmare-inducing stressor for far too many families, it’s hard to feel much more than resentment for somebody who goes into her travel agent’s office and plans a year’s vacation just because she wants to marvel at something.
Hey, lady, I’d marvel at finding a job somewhere other than Burger King. Don’t you realize how good you’ve got it? (Hint: If you can afford to plan a year-long vacation in exotic locales, you’ve got it pretty good. There must be more than a little cash coming in to bankroll that kind of self-exploration.)
Caitlin Kelly, a fellow WordPress blogger, complains of the sexism lurking behind bad reviews in a post called “‘Eat, Pray, Love’: Why A Woman Seeking Solo Joy Pisses Everyone Off”. According to her analysis, the sour grapes are all about society’s reaction to a free-spirited woman who decides she doesn’t need a man or a baby to be happy. If men have the freedom to explore the world, she argues, then so should women. And she’s right. If that’s our Lizzie’s path, more power to her.
But, speaking for myself, I’m not pissed off about “a woman seeking solo joy”, as Kelly insists. I’m pissed off because if I want to seek joy, solo or otherwise, I’m limited by my (dwindling, anemic) bank account. If joy isn’t within short driving distance of where I live, I’m not going to find it. Not everyone can jet to Italy, India, and Indonesia for a year-long voyage of self-discovery. And maybe something’s been lost in translation from book to movie, but based on the reviews I’ve read, it seems like the movie doesn’t have much to say about self-discovery for women who can’t afford the kind of big-scale travel Liz Gilbert takes on in Eat, Pray, Love.
Lee Ferguson of CBC.ca diagnoses the movie’s main money-making strategy: “It pays lip service to female empowerment, while using more calculated means — James Franco! Food porn! Exotic locales! — to lure hungry women viewers into multiplex seats.” Andrea Gronvall of the Chicago Reader goes one step further: “only hard-core fans of Oprah’s BFF will be able to stomach this navel-gazing tripe, which posits ‘me-first’ consumerism as the road to happiness.” In other words, what started off looking like an encouraging movie about finding empowerment and knowing thyself rapidly becomes a pie-in-the-sky fantasy.
No wonder it’s not finding the warm reception it undoubtedly expected. Seeing Julia Roberts’ character fly to Italy to have a relationship with her pizza just reminds me that I can’t even responsibly order in Little Caesar’s. And in fact, I should probably be feeling guilty that I bought this movie ticket in the first place, and God help me if I splurged on a Coke and popcorn.
There are those who will argue that it’s not fair for me to comment if I haven’t seen the movie. They’re probably right. I’m relying primarily on the opinions of others, but also on the way I feel when that trailer comes on TV. I see that “go for it!” attitude splashed all over the screen and wonder, would I be enlightened if I had no commitments and no obligations and the financial wherewithal to catch the next plane to Dharamsala? Somehow bailing out on everybody who might possibly rely on your presence doesn’t seem like a reliable path to self-discovery.
But more than that, I resent the implication that finding myself could be just one credit card swipe away . . . and that it doesn’t belong to the people who can’t afford to pay for it.
Enlightenment should be for everybody.