Eat Pray Love is a movie for idiots, about an idiot. It is about a woman with no tangible complaints in life who creates a best-selling mid-life crisis for herself. But Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Roberts can't fool me. Despite their obvious effort, they cannot create a character worth spending 140 minutes with. The reason they fail on a credible artistic level is the same reason that the book upon which the film was based was so successful: the Elizabeth Gilbert depicted in the film is a brainless invertebrate with no consideration for anyone but herself. Her lack of qualities is, I'm sure, exactly what droves of self-medicating pseudo-intellectuals found so appealing about her story of unromantic love, gluttonous consumption, and phony spiritual experiences. But my experience was different.
That's probably because I don't identify with a person who has a rewarding career, a house in New York City, and a vibrant social life - but desperately needs to give it all up. I don't identify with a person whose chief struggle in life is a sudden need to travel around the world, visit exotic places, and grapple with languages and global cuisine. I don't identify with the soulless idiocy that might drive a person to consider this type of situation a "crisis," nor do I empathize with those who make poor life choices and then simply walk away from them. I don't identify with a life of unappreciated privilege or the type of ignorance that romanticizes foreign locales - especially those where the standard of life is significantly lower than ours - as places of unmitigated wonder and mystical possibility. I don't identify with these things because they are all signs of delusion, signs of a personality with no self-knowledge or comprehension of life's endless variety. I don't identify with these ways of looking at things because they comprise some of the chief defects of our society, defects that are coddled by an economy whose foundation rests upon its ability to convince people to use anything and everything including books, pills, sports, religion, entertainment, and even our own friends and family as mere medication. It's impossible to deny the importance of each of these things in a rich, well-rounded life, but people like Gilbert are searching for answers, desperately, in all the wrong places. They seek external "explanations" for things that only happen internally. The unwarranted dependence upon "solutions" that come from outside our own brains and experiences is the ill itself, not a path to happiness.
Eat Pray Love is not just philosophically misguided, but it bears the fervent incuriosity of the recent convert - the unquestioning conviction that it is depicting a genuine revelation-in-progress, when what it actually portrays is a woman who is so self-involved, so utterly unaware of the ways in which her actions affect others, and so deeply deluded by the kind of provincial ignorance that only affects certain New Yorkers, that she actually believes her behavior is selfless instead of selfish. In this way, the film communicates a message that is the exact inverse of what it thinks it's delivering. Director and co-scripter Ryan Murphy takes Gilbert at her word, translating the best-selling book to film as if it were gospel, never once questioning Gilbert's motives for going on this "journey," let alone writing a book about it that just happens to be an agglomeration of several highly trendy best-selling topics in one sugary narrative. Murphy shows a technical facility that goes hand-in-glove with the story's aggressively romanticized search for pleasure: the entire film is suffused with golden light, regardless of location, even in the scenes shot in New York. The photography is pleasing, but it's also manipulative, just like the rest of the movie, which tries so hard to convince us that Gilbert was experiencing a crisis that could only be resolved by grotesque indulgence in luxury.
Julia Roberts doesn't improve matters,
displaying her boundless capacity for making sheer lunacy appear attractive,
at least for a second. But Roberts has nothing behind her eyes
other than an interest in making certain facial expressions over and
over again, movie after movie, particularly that smile that says, "I
get everything I want. Too bad no one else does!" Her
performance in this movie embodies no one other than an over-indulged
celebrity - which, perhaps, may be the case with the post-Eat Pray
Love Gilbert. She certainly got what she wanted. It's
not every day that a journey into self-discovery ends with a huge-selling
book and a movie deal. What a lucky coincidence for her.
Image and Sound
Anyone interested in trying to pinpoint
what is wrong with contemporary American culture would do well to watch
Eat Pray Love. It is a portrait of a woman who completely
lacks self-knowledge, to the extent that she finds herself driven to
abandon a life of privilege and seek answers from places and people
who have no investment in her, and about which she knows even less than
herself. Roberts is the perfect star to play such a mentally crippled
personality, but it doesn't make the film any easier to watch.
If you hate yourself, rent it. Otherwise, Skip It.