How would you feel if you could live the life you've always dreamed of? A great house. A devoted spouse. Adoring and well-behaved children. Interesting friends. Fun activities. A successful career.
You'd be deliriously joyful, right? Grateful? Maybe a little relieved?
In Liz Gilbert's case, she already has many of these things but is crying-on-the-floor-every-night miserable. Nothing she has carefully constructed her life to be meets her expectations. And now she feels as if she's trapped in her New York City dream house. Stuck with her committed husband. Floundering among all the color-inside-the-lines clichés she feels her life has become.
She used to marvel. Now she broods. She doesn't even think she has a pulse anymore. Her once voracious appetite for life now nibbles on the endless everydayness of the world she once dreamed of.
Her solution? To bolt.
Based on the real-life Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir, Eat Pray Love is one woman's year-long attempt to find unparalleled food and spiritual self-actualization. First, she finds a lover, David. Then she divorces her husband, Stephen—even though he begs her to work on the relationship with him. Then she leaves David, too, and goes to stay with her friend Delia. Eventually Liz jets around the planet to Italy, India and Indonesia to experience life as she thinks it should be lived—with adventure, gourmet goodies, reckless abandon, personal enlightenment and freedom.
In Italy she crams carbs until her new spare tire must be maneuvered into her skinny jeans. At an ashram in India she meets a whiskered Texan named Richard and learns how to "forgive herself" and let go of regret. And in Bali a medicine man named Ketut, a healer woman named Wayan and a sensitive Brazilian lover named Felipe finally lead her to what she believes is peace.
Stephen correctly calls Liz a quitter when she, for no reason beyond her own nebulous dissatisfaction and angst, wants out of their marriage. He says he loves her, takes his till-death vows very seriously and longs to work on their relationship.
Likewise, Delia is committed to her own marriage and encourages Liz to stay in hers. She tells Liz that she's acting like a college kid by shirking responsibility and wanting to escape a perfectly wonderful life. Everyone faces doubts and difficulties, she tells Liz, but not everyone runs—they work things out.
Despite Liz's desertion tactics (and sometimes because of them), the fundamental value of family is well portrayed in this film. Someone goes so far as to say family is the only permanent thing in life.
The movie also highlights the importance of friendships as Liz develops meaningful relationships. And though she's cosmically confused, Liz does seek something spiritually bigger than she—and her attempts, though misguided, are heartfelt. She also organizes an international effort to raise funds to build Wayan and her young daughter a home. As a surprise for Ketut, Liz has some of his prized papers bound into a book.
Filipe is a loving father who isn't afraid to express emotion in front of his children. When his 19-year-old son goes back to college after spring break, Filipe cries as the teen leaves—and the boy recognizes his father's tenderness and affection with great appreciation.
In a touching late-night scene Liz prays to God for what is, apparently, the first time. Her prayer is candid, desperate and utterly vulnerable as she begs Him for a sign and guidance. She then believes she hears God telling her to go back to bed.
During an American Thanksgiving meal in Italy, Liz and her friends thank God for His many blessings. Numerous other people talk about their prayers or are seen praying. Liz tells a joke about praying to a saint.
With Hinduism and Buddhism both seated in India, the country is one of the most spiritually minded places on earth. After visiting a European cathedral or two, Liz's Asian subcontinent travels take her to an ashram headed by David's guru, who also owns a retreat center in New York City. There in India, Liz chants and learns meditation before a shrine erected for the guru. Thereafter, she spends a great deal of time practicing her newfound mysticism, trying to fill the void she feels in her soul.
A young Indian girl says she would rather be with her god than a man. Later she is married in a traditional Hindu ceremony. Several Hindu gods are named or painted on walls, and many other spiritual icons are shown. Hindu scriptures are mentioned. Hindus wear prayer necklaces and adorn themselves with tilaks on their foreheads. (Liz too wears a tilak.)
Ketut reads people's palms, tells their fortunes and gives spiritual advice. He gives Liz a drawing of a godlike creature. He claims that spiritual and emotional balance is the point where heaven and earth meet.
Richard tells Liz that if she could only open her mind the universe and God would rush into it, freeing her. He also tells her to "send some light and love to others." Maybe these flimsy doctrines help to explain the outlandishness of Liz's ultimate spiritual conclusion: God dwells in her as her. (If this doesn't make sense in text, it's because it doesn't make much sense in the film either.)
Couples kiss passionately and caress. Liz and Felipe live together and talk about spending much of their time having sex—an activity that happens off camera. Women wear low-cut and/or short, tight clothing, and Liz is seen in a negligee and bikini. We also see her underwear when she's trying on jeans. Men go bare-chested and one man strips naked. (The camera shows his chest, back and buttocks close-up as he invites Liz to go skinny-dipping.) Liz is shown in a bathtub, her private parts obscured only by murky water.
It's said that everyone must have a love affair in Bali. Wayan teases Liz about not having had sex in a long time—and then teases again when Liz and Felipe hook up and Liz develops a bladder infection from what Wayan says is too much sex. Richard mentions the fact that he cheated on his wife repeatedly. Several crude, sexually oriented jokes are made. Slang stands in for sexual body parts. There's talk of lesbianism, affairs and cheating.
Felipe and Liz meet when he accidentally hits her with his vehicle, knocking her off her bicycle. She tumbles over a stone fence, hitting her head and badly cutting her leg. We see the wound close-up as a healer dresses it.
Wayan briefly tells Liz about her abusive husband's violence.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Liz and her friends in Italy drink wine with most meals—and sometimes drink too much. So it isn't surprising when Liz holds up a carafe of vino and jokingly calls it "therapy." Several other jokes are made about alcohol, including a man saying he'll grab a beer and his infant. Liz and a potential date do shots at a party and get very drunk.
Richard is a recovering alcoholic and drug abuser. He tells Liz that he was so drunk and high one night he almost drove over his little son. Eventually he lost his job, friends, finances and family to his addictions. Liz jokes about always needing a Xanax.
I'm pretty certain Ms. Gilbert doesn't see any irony in the fact that all the countries she chose to visit begin with the letter I. But to me that letter seems fitting. Her neatly camouflaged self-absorption makes up much of Eat Pray Love. And I could never truly understand her reason for feeling utterly despondent—apart from the fact that she was usually looking for her own personal fulfillment and no one else's.
Exploring one's dreams and spirituality are good things when they're pursued with less selfish motives. But Liz is rarely selfless, even though real-life Elizabeth and director Ryan Murphy would have us feel sorry for her. After all, despite her desperate unhappiness, she still has the gutsy gumption to overcome her despair and seek the life she's always longed for—again. Regrettably, she does this even if it means ignoring wedding vows and hurting others along the way. In this film, it seems that pursuing your own happiness and "completion" is tantamount to godliness.
Perhaps what's saddest about Eat Pray Love, however, is the fact that Liz genuinely asks all the right questions (What am I here to accomplish? Who is God? How do I know Him?) but quiets them with all the wrong, mostly self-seeking and muddled answers.
Like so many before her, Liz has turned her back on a godly religious conviction and morality, and sought a less challenging spiritual system instead. A system that requires only vaguely sending "light and love" to others rather than buckling down and fighting for a covenant relationship's survival and growth when things are emotionally difficult. A system that encourages sweetly masked self-indulgence over real self-sacrifice, and salvation without real repentance. Instead of God and His majesty, Ms. Gilbert wants cheap grace to help her get through her needlessly miserable days.
Now, it's reported, many other middle-aged women are reading her memoir and following in her footsteps—even to Italy, India and Indonesia—for their own angst-ridden, navel-gazing journeys away from "unsatisfying" lives that most people around the world only dream of having. This movie will only inspire more of them.