Not long ago my girlfriend asked if I would go see Eat, Pray Love with her when it came out. I said I would, knowing the premise of the movie as a result of hearing about the book from so many colleagues and clients. Admittedly I have not read the book, nor do I intend to. I made the mistake recently of saying I perceived it as a woman’s book to a client. (Although this may sound sexist, my defense is: a.) women have actually used those words to describe the book to me, and b.) it is about a woman’s journey through pain to some sort of understanding about life and enlightenment). Despite my perception I was actually pleased to see the movie to get even a diminutive grasp on what the draw was for my clients.
My review then is biased in a couple of ways: I did not read the book; I am a therapist and believe in seeking enlightenment; my review is based more on its therapeutic value than actual theatrical attributes. It is impossible for me to view the film any other way, given my motivation for seeing it and my mindset both before and during the film. As a final aside, my girlfriend has not yet finished the book (she only started it a few days ago) and so I have not been able to ascertain her opinion of the film from that perspective. She did, however, inform me that some of what she has read which was discussed in great detail in the book, was handled in a very brief monologue and it would seem the viewer is expected to glean Elizabeth’s (the main character) state of mind from that and the acting.
With all that said, the rest of the review can be summed up briefly: as a stand-alone film with the goal of helping to guide an individual through the ordinariness of life to enlightenment, the film fails. I imagine the book does a much better job of accounting the author’s struggles with life’s trouble and the meaning of her life, or of life in general. The book is a huge success (in another article I discuss Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on creativity. Interestingly, I wrote it almost a year ago to the day). Many people I know discuss how good it is and how it helped them. The movie seems to fail in this venue. Rather than the guide to enlightenment the book is, the movie likely comes across as much more shallow to the viewer unfamiliar with the book. Perhaps a movie is not the venue to attempt to convey the depth of Liz’s experience. Or perhaps it is a failing of those involved in the film (actresses, actors, director, and/or producer). In fact, the tagline for the movie is “you don’t need a man, you need a champion.” From what I have heard from readers of the book, this is not at all the meaning intended. A better tagline might have been you don’t need a man, you need to champion yourself.
On the other hand for those already on a path to enlightenment or peace, or whatever people seek in a spiritual sense, this movie may serve as a Zen bell that re-awakens them to their path. There are many small pieces of spiritual advice in the movie, a couple of which will be found in my daily quotes soon. And as with daily quotes, to the uninitiated they are just interesting sayings. Hopefully to those seeking peace and a more fulfilling and enlightened life they serve as a reminder to stay on the path and not drift too far.
I definitely left the movie feeling at peace (of course the semester is over and the grades are in). During the movie (which was packed, so moving wasn’t an option) I sat next to a woman who couldn’t leave her IPhone alone for more than 20 minutes at a time. As a result, light was shone into my right eye with regularity. She also felt the need to talk to her friend next to her in a voice I would not describe as hushed. I sat there thinking, “Wow, this woman is acting so ignorant in a movie about finding spirituality.” Of course because of the movie I was also reminded of how judgmental I was being. Regardless, I left the movie feeling pretty grounded.
So my final verdict is if you are beginning to seek peace, serenity, or the meaning of life, you would be better served by reading the book. But if you are already on the path and just want a gentle reminder and some motivation back to working on it, the movie may provide that for you. If you’ve already read the book, well, ask me in a week and I’ll let you know what my girlfriend thinks.