Sunday, November 21, 2010
film review: eat, pray, love
Battling away today on a “theological” film review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, reminded me that I have failed to post my November film review, of the movie Eat, Pray, Love, (for Touchstone New Zealand Methodist magazine.) It has probably my most provocative opening sentence in a while.
“Indulgent, wealthy, tourism porn” would be a more accurate title for this movie. The film is based on the bestselling book by Elizabeth Gilbert. She secured a substantial publisher’s advance in order to undertake a year of travel in search of spiritual experience. The result is a memoir which spent 182 weeks as a New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller.
But it makes the shift from page to screen, from interior monologue to visual narrative, a particular challenge for director and screen writer, Ryan Murphy.
Two moments of disbelief illustrate the difficulties. First, the opening scenes, in which Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) leaves her marriage. With few visual clues, and with little attention to character development, it comes across as a moment of indulgence, an act of self-absorption at the expense of another.
A second moment occurs as the movie ends. Liz re-finds love, complete with a proposal: “We could spend half the year in Bali and the other half in New York.” Once again, I found myself in disbelief, unable to connect with a vision of life limited to a wealthy few lucky enough to live life by pitching award winning travelogues.
I wanted to like it. I wanted to celebrate the potential inherent in a female mid-life crisis. I wanted to celebrate the spiritual search possible in the practices of eating, praying, contemplating.
I hoped I could find common ground with the history of Celtic spirituality and their notion of penitentials. This was an approach to spirituality which sought to link a belief in reconciliation with specific acts of reconciliation. It suggested repeated acts, rather than a one off event, as a pathway to spiritual healing.
In other words, for the Irish, one way to be healed of a broken marriage could be to eat – to engage in acts of eating as a way to be reconciled with the goodness in all of God’s creation. Or to pray – to retreat to a monastery in order to be reconciled with oneself.
Yet the spiritual search depicted in “Eat, Pray, Love” felt more American Hollywood than Celtic helpful. In a world of teeming poverty, a year consuming pizza in Italy, meditating in India and appreciating romantic sunsets over Bali beach, came over as the indulgence of a wealthy few.
Around the star power that is Julia Roberts orbit a talented cast, including Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins, James Franco, Viola Davis and Javier Bardem. A standout is straight talking Richard Jenkins and his earthy sound-bitten wisdom.
The cinematogrophy by Robert Richardson is stunning. But the gorgeous sunsets rely on cameras carefully positioned to careful editing out the impact of Italy’s GFC, India’s teeming poverty or the news that tourists to Bali are now being blamed for a water shortage that is contributing to a possible drought.*
These are visual images that distort reality, through a lens that is simply so Hollywood.
(* According to here, while Balinese people need 100 litres of water/day, golf courses built for tourists currently consume 3 million/day.)