Based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s autobiographical book, the 2010 Eat Pray Love movie has become one of the top films people talk about when looking for travel inspiration. But what is it all about really?
[WARNING: Spoilers Ahead]
Eat Pray Love tells the story of Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) who is unhappy in her life as a successful New York writer who is loved by all. Unable to find her “inner balance,” she abandons it all to travel the world for a year and find herself (and to eat, and pray, and love along the way).
First up, we get “EAT,” as Liz dutifully wolfs her way through lots of delicious food in Rome, and in doing so learns to enjoy life with the help of another tourist (Tuva Novotny), and an Italian language coach (Luca Argentero). The camera lingers lovingly on heaping plates of pasta and pizza, enough to make everyone ravenous. Just try not to laugh at the scene where reed-thin Roberts and the equally slender Novotny struggle to get into their ‘large’ jeans while agreeing to continue enjoying pizza, even if they do get muffin tops in the process.
The film’s second stop is at an unnamed Indian ashram, where we get the “PRAY” portion of the Eat Pray Love movie. Here, Liz meets ‘Richard from Texas’ (Richard Jenkins) who (after some resistance of course) helps her overcome her struggles with meditation, and shows her how to forgive herself – though for what remains a bit unclear. Perhaps all the pasta she ate in Italy? However, most aspects of the time in India are reduced to stereotypes and cliches, from the girl who doesn’t want an arranged marriage, to not touching the bottle of ‘Thums Up’.
The third section, “LOVE,” takes Liz to Bali, where we meet the toothless guru Ketut. He helps Liz find a balance between the loving life from Italy and the spirituality from India. But really, it’s about her falling in love with the irresistible Brazilian divorcee Felipe (Javier Bardem). Because learning to love yourself is great, but it’s just as good to find the perfect man. As Liz literally sails off into the sunset at the end, you might just find yourself feeling a little empty (no matter how much pasta you’ve caved in and eaten after the sequence in Rome).
Also Read: Top 11 Offbeat Things to do in Bali
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly About the Eat Pray Love Movie
This film is shameless (and unapologetic) wish fulfilment, romance mixed with travel, disguised as the story of an upper-middle-class American woman on a spiritual quest.
While there is obviously nothing wrong with a woman being unhappy in what seems to be a perfect life, or in wanting to ‘find herself,’ the film completely refuses to address the privilege involved in Liz Gilbert’s story. How many of us would love to throw everything away and travel the globe but can’t because of responsibilities and finances? I’m willing to bet its quite a lot.
It doesn’t help that the film perpetuates the stereotype of the “Spiritual East” where westerners come to find enlightenment, nor that the journey of finding oneself ends with finding a man.
Despite all these deliberate cliches, the film has quite a lot going for it. Roberts plays the role of Elizabeth Gilbert beautifully, turning on that photogenic, 1000-watt smile of hers just enough times to convince us to root for her, even after you’ve found yourself wanting to hit the screen at her whining about finding herself but not actually trying. Perhaps her most relatable moment is when she tries and fails to avoid distractions while meditating.
It is also truly beautiful to look at. With the scenic locales of green rice fields and majestic ruins, it’s easy to forget all its flaws and just enjoy the vibrant destinations. The rich cinematography creates a sort of idyllic sheen over both the sets and the characters. However, this, combined with the unhurried pace of the film creates a somewhat unrealistic view of travel. It also loses something by glossing over the struggles that most solo women travellers actually face.
Whatever else the film does for you it’s sure to make you want to jump on a plane to Italy, India, or Bali. (Or maybe just make you want to order an extra large pizza).