Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love: Does Travel Equal Courage?

by Chris on August 28, 2010

Thoughts on Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love: Is travel really a courageous act when your natural defense mechanism seems to be running away?

Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts, Italy

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?

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Kat August 29, 2010 at 2:01 am

Well put. I was so irritated by the book that it’s highly unlikely that I’d see the movie…. You’re exactly right, she took the road, that was in her case, “more traveled.” And for her, predictable. Yawn.

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Julia August 29, 2010 at 12:37 pm

After the first 20 pages of the book, I thought, this woman needs counseling — the next 300 pages only made me more convinced. You are totally on target with your comment about courageous choices. I saw nothing to admire in the book and won’t be seeing the movie.

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Heather in Ruka August 29, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I’ve neither read the book nor seen the movie but I have met people like the woman you describe whilst travelling, the needy, whiney one that everyone avoids an no one wants to sit next to on long bus journeys.

This is the second bad movie review I’ve read today (not of the same movie) and I’m considering myself pretty lucky to have saved those 4 hours of my life that they would otherwise have taken up. Cheers :D

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Michele in Playa August 30, 2010 at 10:09 am

Well, I couldn’t make it through the book, for all of the reasons mentioned above but I am hoping to enjoy the movie. Fingers crossed.

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nancie (Ladyexpat) August 30, 2010 at 10:39 pm

The movie won’t be in Korean theaters until the end of September.

Like you, as much as I tried, I didn’t like the book that much.
Her entire adventure didn’t seem quite real to me. The fact that she found love at the end… how convenient.

I will probably see the movie, but not expecting much.

I much prefer the book by Rita Goldman….Female Nomad. That book is just so real and down to earth.

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Chris August 31, 2010 at 5:56 pm

I wasn’t very interested in the small amount I’ve heard about the movie, which is microscopic to say the least, as it seemed much more of a classic “chick flick” then a movie about travel that I’d enjoy. Your review further reinforces my thoughts of not seeing it. I’ll save myself the expense and disappointment by staying home.

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Kirsten September 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I wonder if I should even comment at all. The EPL storm has been interesting for me to ride. Here’s my 2 cents (knowing full well as I write this, that’s all it is – one more opinion)…

I was going through a rather brutal divorce at the time that I read Liz’s book. Slightly dissimilar to her experience, my marriage ended because my husband no longer wanted to be married to me or work on our issues. My spouse demanded out (already had someone else lined up) and I simply didn’t have the strength to continue fighting someone I’d already been fighting for years. So when I read EPL from my sparse and lonely rental home ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS RUN AWAY LIKE SHE DID. I understood very well her choice to run. I did also see it that way, as so many have since reading the book or seeing the movie. The difference between Liz and I is that I didn’t have the luxury of running, as she did.

Whereas many people see her choice in a bad light, I can understand it. I don’t fault her humanity. We are all imperfect and sometimes, running is the only way we can live to see another day where hopefully then we will make the choice to stay and confront life head on or help others or contribute something that makes the world a better place for others (and not just ourselves). Running may seem cowardly. But for some who are not as strong, maybe it is the only way to survive and see another day. I don’t know. Because I didn’t get to run. But I do know, I found myself wishing I could have.

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Chris September 2, 2010 at 11:46 pm

These have all been great responses. Thanks for sharing, everyone! And Kirsten, I can see your point with wanting to run away in such a situation. It’s a good one to think about, as we all weigh our reactions to the movie and book.

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Laura Bly September 3, 2010 at 10:20 am

Terrific post and comments, Chris! I never made it past the first chapter of EPL, but appreciated the movie for its geographical and physical eye candy ;-) I agree with your view that Gilbert took the easy way out by choosing gelato and chanting (even if she did have to tackle a brief stretch of the “real” India to get there) over searing questions from a therapist. But, as Kirsten pointed out, we are all imperfect…and who’s to say which path is right?

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May September 4, 2010 at 6:04 pm

i don’t really understand why anyone is critisizing Elizabeth’s way of choosing to recover!! we have all turned to machines dedicating our time to work and children and life that we have forgotten to give time for ourselves to relax and find inner peace. I haven’t seen the movie, i have read the book though and hadn’t most ppl had a similar story it wouldnt turn out to be a bestseller and she wouldn’t have been chosen as one of the influencing people!! who are u guys to say that she is a coward?or that she “ran away”? since when does trying to find ur inner self count as running away? on the contrary this means she is up to face her problems!! and one more thing, i think she is totally the type of ppl u can take on trips coz she knows how to appreciate little stuff!! my God she described eating pizza as having a love affair!! and she’s got sense of humor!! i admit that at the beginning when i was reading the book i got depressed because of her and this only shows what a great writer she is for being able to convey much feelings to the reader but the woman turned out to be super fun!! EPL is one of my favourite books!!!

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Nour September 7, 2010 at 11:13 am

I totally agree with you may :D For someone to judge a book, he must at least be willing to finish it, and not stop reading at the first chapter or so. People may love liz and they may hate her,but they can’t over-look the fact that she has influenced a whole-lot! She made us laugh and boosted our positive energy! Liz wrote about her experience, about a rough patch in her life, why wouldn’t she whine? She was relating true facts,so if whining went on at a particular point in her life,then she’ll write about that!we can whine every now and then, it’s only natural;however,not all of us realize how to get over it and be grateful. She was smart enough not to make it annoying.
One of my favorites too!
xoxo

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FabulousTerrah September 4, 2010 at 6:28 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed this post and couldn’t help but to giggle like a little school girl. Thanks for the boost. Your new blog crush ~ T

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Amanda September 7, 2010 at 2:25 am

I love what you had to say on EPL. Really well said. And, I guess when you look at it the way you did, Gilbert really wasn’t doing anything all that different or out of her comfort zone. The only thing “different” was her marital status.

I haven’t read the book, but I did go see the movie because the trailers were appealing. I was pretty underwhelmed by the movie, however. It just didn’t have any passion behind it.

If you want to check out my review, see here:

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Dan McGuire September 11, 2010 at 9:09 pm

I spent several months back in 1997 with Ketut Liyer, the “medicine man” of EPL. I’m making a documentary about the experience – which bears little relation to the experience of Gilbert. Visit http://www.balihealer.com for more info.

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Gray September 15, 2010 at 10:26 pm

OMG, can I relate to your second paragraph. I’ve known so many women like that, and I don’t really care for the type. And I think you raise a good point that it was a bit easier for her to travel since she had a book deal going into it (many people take off on such journeys with no predictable future income to fall back on). I think traveling can be a good way to move past a failed relationship, but not if you’re just dwelling on the relationship the whole time you’re away. That sort of defeats the purpose.

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Caroline September 17, 2010 at 7:46 pm

I am a fan of EPL.. I found that people either loved the book or hated it and likewise people either loved the movie or hated it. Those who loved it found that her story spoke to them. She expressed in words the thoughts and feelings many of us have had. Like Kirsten, the book/movie came at a time that I can relate to it. Ending a marriage is the least simple choice to make …and yes for those who can’t imagine it can make you depressed, whiney, sad, and in need of counseling. And though people felt she ran away, I disagree. If you have ever had the misfortune of feeling completely depleted, emotionally, spiritually, physically, you will relate to her desire to want to stop feeling that way. And to stop feeling that way you have to do something…and so what if her ‘something’ happen to invlove traveling for a year. While I can’t leave for a weekend right now, I was glad to be able to imagine that I too am strong enough to take the same journey for myself, right here from my own home.

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Brooke September 21, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Relieved to find your post here! I agree and do not particularly like the “quest”, even if only for the opinion that it was completely over-hyped. I’m glad that people do relate to it, enjoy reading it, and recommending it to others – oh wait, not that part. oh no. This book took off, and it was passed around as if it was a cure, for an apparently big deficit of something amidst us. I want someone to write a bigger, better blockbuster to sort that all out. The kind Meryl Streep would star in.

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Kim September 29, 2010 at 3:11 am

I loved eat pray love, I get it, so much so I would love to be able to email Elizabeth and tell her what her book did for me!!!!

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Aletha October 26, 2010 at 8:17 pm

How can you say “Gilbert really wasn’t doing anything all that different or out of her comfort zone”? For the first time in about fifteen years, she was going it alone instead of going from one guy to another. She grappled intensely with loneliness and depression because of it. The narcotic allure of lust and affection affects us all to varying degrees, and the “chemical withdrawals” can be intense, yet Elizabeth finally decided to face herself rather than disappear into someone else – for once. You may be underestimating the value of her journey into aloneness because your own life lessons may have been different. And the movie hardly captures it at all. But if anyone understands how destructive it can be to be in a relationship that doesn’t allow you to be the best “you” you can be, where significant parts of yourself are suppressed or denied full expression, I think they may have more empathy for her journeying out of that destructiveness. But this of course brings up our convictions around the permanence of marriage, which is something I’m not interested in debating here. All I’m arguing here is that her comfort zone – “being in a relationship for the last 15 years” – was pretty well annihilated through her year-long trip, rather than reinforced.

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James November 13, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Movie was great. I think she did a great thing for herself. You are probably stuck in mediocrity if you don’t think living while your alive is what this chic was all about. People that nay say others for having an adventure are always too scared to do it themselves so they down on people who do to help them with the self realization that they are doing nothing with their lives. Eat that cheese with your wine!

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