Greetings from Kalispell Montana, about 30 miles from the Glacier National Park. It is nice to be close to nature. Last night, we stopped in the (overrated) resort town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where we watched Eat, Pray, Love.
I’ve been wanting to watch the movie because it has an interesting premise of taking time off to find one’s bearing. Since I am in the process of finding what I want to do professionally for the rest of my life that would make me happy, I hoped to find some inspiration and a useful example.
The movie is based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling book of the same name. I haven’t read the book. It is a memoir of Elizabeth’s recovery from a difficult divorce and her search for happiness across Italy, India and Indonesia over the course of a year. Whatever interest I had in reading the book disappeared after watching the movie.
I had an allergic reaction to the movie.
Here are my reasons why I think the movie is infuriating:
1. Fetishization of cultures: whether it is the close-up shot of the pasta so delicious to induce orgasm or the wizened toothless medicine man so wise to predict the future, the stylization of the things that conventional people think are exotic is the backdrop of how the Elizabeth Gilbert character was able to center herself. Are you serious?
2. Unsympathetic main character: call me judgmental, but I just can’t sympathize with the main character. Elizabeth Gilbert as portrayed by the movie is an uncommunicative selfish self-pitying serial monogamist whose journey of finding herself turns into self-obsession and navel gazing.
3. Facile explanation of self discovery: how did she learn to love her ballooning body caused by gluttonous eating? Buying a bigger sized pair of jeans doesn’t mean a healthy body image. How did she learn to forgive herself and stop blaming herself for failed relationships? An imaginative dialogue with the ex-husband is equivalent to deus ex machina for a scifi movie — completely unsatisfying for a drama about finding one’s bearing in life. Most glaring example of lazy facile-ness is: how did she learn to open her heart to love again? Just because a toothless medicine man who couldn’t even remember her the second time he met her told her to open her heart? That was enough to send her sailing off in the sunset with her Brazilian lover?
The above reasons are bad enough to make the movie a waste of 133 minutes, but I was going to give the book a benefit of the doubt — maybe the book shows the real Elizabeth Gilbert as someone adoring (though based on the plot, I find it hard to believe); maybe the book is authentic enough to explain the process of self discovery in more believable terms. However, I then learned this:
4. Elizabeth Gilbert had already secured from her publisher a $200,000 advance to cover her travel expenses in return for the memoir. I don’t have any problem of the author getting paid in advance to write a travel book. However, because the very concept of the book is a chronicle about living in the moment to search for one’s self and happiness, I feel that whatever authenticity that should’ve been in the journey is now tainted by stylization and the urge to put the best foot forward.
Looking back at what I had just wrote, I realize that I have been ranting. But the need to blog about this movie is strong, perhaps because it has touched a nerve in me.
People’s favorable opinion of the movie and underlying premise bothers me. The process of finding one’s self is a lot of things, but it is not rhetoric, not facile, not glamorous, not pedantic. It is bewildering and sometimes ugly. The process involves identifying, recognizing, wrestling with the motives and motivations and the underlying emotions and rationalizations and ultimately accepting or subjugating them. Being honest with one’s self is difficult, yet necessary.
I feel that the movie sugar coated the process under the guise of authenticity. It cheapens the process and makes people believe that self discovery is easy and pleasurable.
The reason I am writing this blog entry is to put a stake on the ground to remind myself to be authentic and not shortcut the process.