I finally saw Eat Pray Love, the travel it-movie of the year based on the best-selling memoir from Elizabeth Gilbert, last weekend. For the few people out there who aren’t familiar with the plot, Gilbert spends a year recovering from a failed marriage and relationship by eating pasta in Italy, meditating at an ashram in India and finally finding new love in Bali, Indonesia.
I didn’t care for the Gilbert’s book, primarily because I disliked the narrator. Self-indulgent and whiny, she reminded me of the type of woman who might go to the museum with you, but spend all her time craning her head for cute boys. Someone who would leave you stranded without a ride home because she sneaked off with the guy who bought her a drink. Someone who tells you all about their drama over too many glasses of chardonnay but never asks you a single question. Definitely not a person who I’d want to to take on a trip.
I thought I’d like the movie better, if only because Julia Roberts always seems like someone who would be fun to have dinner with. Plus I figured I wouldn’t be able to resist the money shots from the different countries, as most of the movie was shot on location.
But I knew I wasn’t going to like it when the opening lines told us that Gilbert, a traveling writer, has gone all over the world – and found that people she met mostly talked about their relationships, despite their culture. Really? She must be hanging out with the wrong people. In my travels, I meet men and women alike who talk with passion about their businesses and their hobbies, their friends and children, books they’ve read and places they’ve seen. And sometimes, their relationships, of course. But it’s usually not the sole topic of conversation.
The other thing that struck me is that while Gilbert’s character has often been held up as being brave for leaving home and traveling solo, her trip was really one of the least ballsy choices that she could have made. Think about it: she already was a well-traveled writer, used to be sent on assignment to different countries. She had been to Indonesia on her own before, the movie points out, and those of us familiar with her story know that she left with a book contract about her upcoming adventures under her belt. During times of stress, her instincts led more toward flight than fight.
For someone with this personality type, taking off isn’t the hardest thing to do. Staying put is. Watching Julia Roberts flit from one guy to another, I thought that marriage counseling would have been the far more courageous act for her than a round-the-world plane ticket.
Now that’s not to say that the people who have found inspiration in Gilbert’s tale have been hoodwinked. For many people, setting off on an extended trip by yourself is a challenging prospect, one that will both inspire and madden and force you to grow. Travel can provide valuable life lessons. But so can commitment. Or being a long-term caregiver or a parent or a community activist or, really, having any type of career that you love.
The times when you find yourself really making a stretch are the ones where you purposefully make hard choices and live with the consequences. And the movie made it seem that Gilbert was following her default defense mechanism instead of confronting her real issues.
I’m interested in knowing what you think of Eat, Pray, Love, either the movie or the book. Did you relate to Gilbert and her quest, or not?