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.)

Posted by steve at 06:20 PM


  1. Doesn’t every image distort reality?

    Comment by Ingrid — November 22, 2010 @ 6:45 am

  2. Some images enhance reality – Col 1:15 – Christ as the image of invisible God; the student standing in front of tank at Tianamen square.

    What did you think of the movie?


    Comment by steve — November 22, 2010 @ 8:09 am

  3. Since God is spirit, image in this case means spiritual likeness. I was thinking more in terms of any man made visual representation, copy, foto, painting of anything given….A foto of a young man standing in front of a tank can mean lots of different things to different people, if they don’t have any background information, and even if they do it might evoke different thoughts.

    Comment by Ingrid — November 22, 2010 @ 9:46 am

  4. hmmm.

    Yet God is also flesh, in the wonder of the Incarnation, and that fully human body that ascends back to heaven.

    And are not words as equally open to multiple interpretations as images?

    And what did you think of the film?


    Comment by steve — November 22, 2010 @ 9:54 am

  5. My advice for Julia would be: Have some Pinacolada (but not too much) Sleep (a lot) Watch out for another disaster and when you have recovered Fast and Pray

    Comment by Ingrid — November 22, 2010 @ 9:57 am

  6. Nice Ingrid 🙂


    Comment by steve — November 22, 2010 @ 10:07 am

  7. I guess you mean the Pinacolada?

    Comment by Ingrid — November 22, 2010 @ 10:46 am

  8. Looks like you really want to know what I think of the film. I have not watched the whole film. But the trailer and other excerpts I’ve seen have been enough to let me know that I’m not missing much by not watching it.

    Comment by Ingrid — November 22, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

  9. You wanted to celebrate “the potential in a female mid-life crisis”? That almost sounds sadistic. When that female has been cheated on, lied to and dumped there is not a whole lot to celebrate until recovery has taken place and that can take years…..Re: Healing through eating might be a good idea for Julia Roberts, but in most cases the effect will be weight gain, which only would compound the misery.

    Comment by Ingrid — November 22, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

  10. I want to say I loved this movie like crazy, but then I’d read the book so that put it in its proper context.

    Comment by Sharyn — November 22, 2010 @ 1:31 pm

  11. Just looked at the trailer again. Did get things wrong. Thought he left her. But it seems the other way round. Either way, it’s an act of selfishness not to be recommended.

    Comment by Ingrid — November 22, 2010 @ 1:36 pm

  12. Ingrid, I’m confused.

    You wrote “the potential in a female mid-life crisis”? That almost sounds sadistic. Are you talking about the film (which you haven’t seen). Or the book? Or what?

    Sharyn, there is a consensus that the book was great, and I tried to cover that in the 2nd para. I had not read the book but in the film there is very little reason given as to why she walks out on the marriage. Watching as a guy, I felt empathy for him. If that’s not what was communicated in the book, then it’s an even worse film, in that it either misconstrues the book or needs a spoiler “buy the book before you watch me” 🙂

    What do you think of the way it portrayed the Western relationship to Asian cultures, including poverty and lack of development?


    Comment by steve — November 22, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

  13. That’s my talent. Confuse everything, everybody and myself. Sorry. I was talking about your words in your 6th paragraph….I wrote, repeating your words: “Celebrating the potential in this crisis,( which I understood at the time to be a case of a female having been left by her husband) sounds almost sadistic.” The emphasis was on the word celebrating. I just felt that in a situation like that, (i. e. being left by your spouse) there is not a whole lot to celebrate. But as I said, I misunderstood the plot, and the fact that she is the one who walked away, makes my above remark redundant…(I haven’t read the book)

    Comment by Ingrid — November 22, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

  14. Thanks Ingrid, that makes more sense. Appreciate the explanation


    Comment by steve — November 22, 2010 @ 4:12 pm

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