Eat, Pray, Love …… Yourself Only?

I like to talk movies from time to time and I have chosen to share my thoughts on ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ which was released this past August. I haven’t read the book so my opinions are based solely on the cinematic version of the story.

To be frank, I deliberately avoided reading the book even though I was aware of the hype surrounding it. I never understood why the book seemed to be having such a profound impact on people since none of its major themes struck me as unique so I wasn’t particularly on the look-out for the movie version.  But finding myself at a loose end the opening weekend of the movie and in serious need of light entertainment, I decided to see Eat, Pray, Love. The fact that it was also Julia Robert’s first movie in a long time was definitely a strong motivating factor in that decision. So I joined a packed cinema of fellow movie goers and was quite surprised to see that there was a respectable cross-section of the public amongst them. I had expected it to be mainly females of a certain age but there was a wide variety of ages (though there was a cluster of middle aged women) and plenty of couples too. 

Overall, it was a pleasant movie and  great for a couple of hours of distraction. However, I did not find it profound, life altering or any of the other superlative adjectives that were thrown around in describing the book. If I had gone to the cinema expecting that, I would have been sorely disappointed but as it was I  came out happy because it delivered just what I needed it to.

Now to my feelings about the story: I had mixed feelings about the story and since I saw the movie, I’ve been thinking about what might have unsettled me so much but I haven’t really been able to put a finger on it. I have a couple of thoughts which I’ll lay out here.

First, I found my inability to get completely lost in the story rather strange because I largely related to Elizabeth’s character. Even in the parts where she behaved in ways that might have caused people to judge her harshly, I kind of understood where she was coming from. At the beginning when she started to have doubts about her marriage which sparked her interest in praying, I understood the feeling of fearing that you might have made a big mistake even though people around you seem to think you’ve got yourself in a great situation. This made me more sympathetic about her divorce even though I felt sorry for the poor guy left to deal with his life falling apart in that way. The scene with them in her lawyer’s office trying to divide up their assets was one of the hardest for me to watch because his pain was so palpable. 

I also understood her desire for adventure and her hope to find herself in the process. I too enjoy travelling and the kind of solo trip she made is something I would do (and in fact have done before). Somewhere along the way though,  her quest seemed to take on a completely self-centred nature which I found hard to like. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my favourite scene was one in which she had very little presence. I enjoyed the goodbye between Felipe and his son in Bali and I think it was enhanced by her ability to stand back and let them take center stage. It would have been ruined for me if she had tried to insert herself somehow into the picture but as it was, the result was very moving and was actually the only time I came close to tears while watching the movie.

Another thing I realised from watching the reactions of people around her to her plan is the unfortunate attitude we take to work and life. That a trip of this sort should be so out of the ordinary or even remarkable illustrates our sad inability to find balance in the normal course of life. To me, the idea that one has to be on the verge of mental exhaustion or breakdown in order to be able to justify taking an extended vacation is preposterous yet this was the impression I got from the movie, which wasn’t helped by the fact that she had to arrange a book deal in advance of her departure. It was as if her trip was only acceptable as long as there was some kind of work attached to it.  I feel that we overdo things on the treadmill of life and as a consequence are always caught in one extreme or the other: it’s either too much work or too much pleasure, too much self-centredness or too much devotion to others. Somehow, finding a happy medium which should be the most natural thing in the world has turned into this great mission.

Perhaps watching this film made me so uncomfortable because I never realised how blurry the line is between self-awareness and self-centeredness. I firmly believe that it’s important to make yourself a priority or you could end up running your whole life in service of other peoples’ ends but there has got to be something more to your life than just yourself. There has got to be something bigger than you; some sense of purpose and I kept hoping to see that in this film but ultimately, Elizabeth’s character felt lacking. Few of her interactions with the people she met over the course of her journey went much beyond what they could offer to make her a better person. Even, when she was doing nice things for others in Bali, it still felt like it was all about her. This feeds into my observation about the spirituality part of the story which was a letdown for me. Despite all her praying, she didn’t really seem to rise above herself. To my mind, this was a shame as I felt that a deeper exploration of this aspect of her life could have added some much needed depth to the story.

This film really got me thinking about how like Elizabeth I am (or not) in my desire to come to terms with myself and whether I may be too inwardly focused in my own life (or not). Yes, I want to be comfortable in my own skin but after seeing this movie, I am sure that I am not content with the idea of living a self-centred life.

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