By Jeff Goins, Editor
I went to see Eat, Pray, Love last weekend with my wife, and much to my surprise, I didn’t hate it. I bought this New York Times bestseller for her just before our taking a trip to New York City for Labor Day last year, so it only seemed appropriate to take her to the film when it hit the big screen.
We’ve started an informal tradition of buying each other books before traveling. I bought her Wonderful Tonight, the story of Patti Boyd’s love triangle with Eric Clapton and George Harrison, before going on our honeymoon. She bought me a Star Wars book before a trip to Costa Rica last spring (yes, I love Star Wars — don’t judge).
I’m not sure why we do this, except that because maybe we both believe in the transformational power of travel. Travel has always been a part of our life and relationship. It has the power to change a life, to give your mind and soul time and space to consider huge decisions, and to give you an uncanny clarity and perspective.
That’s why I gave this memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert to my wife for our trip. And that’s probably why, despite all the negative reviews the film received, I went to the film version of Eat, Pray, Love recently with my wife.
I’m not sure what the critics’ and reviewers beef was, because I thought the movie was pretty good. No, it wasn’t amazing, but for what it was, it was a good movie. Unlike my last trip to see the latest addition to the Twilight saga, I had no ticket buyer’s remorse.
The film version of Eat, Pray, Love (much like the book version) is a travel memoir. It’s about real life and real events full of real, sometimes occasionally boring, characters. This film stars Julia Roberts as the verbose and cynical protagonist (an actor choice that most agree was entirely appropriate for Ms. Gilbert) and consists of a slow-moving, but nevertheless intentional, storyline. If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, it is, essentially, the following: Liz Gilbert, a writer in New York, feels restless in her early 30’s, divorces her husband, takes off for a year and rediscovers her passion for life — in the form of food and spirituality.
Like I said, I liked the movie for what it was. Sometimes, the characters were less than admirable, acting on questionable motives (Gilbert herself admits that she ended her marriage for selfish reasons), but the story itself was fascinating. Granted, I did not share the spiritual/moral worldview represented in the film, but I admired how important prayer was for Liz, and I could relate to finding one’s faith through a journey.
A traveler myself, I identified with Gilbert’s wanderlust — a disillusionment with the “fast-food” mentality of America and a yearning to be connected with the ancient world.
As Gilbert trekked through Rome, I thought of my own trip to Italy years ago, recalling how the sun really does hit the buildings beautifully in the afternoon (for those of you who thought that Phil Connors in Groundhog Day was bluffing, he’s not). When she ended up in India, I remembered stories that missionary friends have shared about that amazing and curious land. When she retreated to Bali, all I could think of was where my next vacation needs to be planned (well, the one after Ireland).
While some reviewers and critics complained that the film was bland and boring (even Ebert wasn’t too fond of it), I found it to be enthralling — chock full of exotic scenery and a slow but compelling unfolding of the main character’s inner healing. Gilbert lets go of her compulsion to control everything, imbibing all kinds of food and drink, fully seizing each day as an opportunity to do something new and exciting, while allowing her soul to rest. She learns how to pray and meditate, struggling with the discipline of silence but learning to create space in her spiritual life. And ultimately, she learns how to love and be loved — something we can all agree is important.
All of this happens, not surprisingly to me, as she travels. I’ve believed for quite some time that there is something transformational that happens to a person while traveling that cannot happen in any other context. So, while the details of Gilbert’s journey may not be the best example for young women to follow, the importance of discovering an authentic faith in the context of a journey is something that I hope more young Americans embrace, especially as they find themselves restless and disillusioned with the trappings of success and adulthood.
Jeff graduated from Illinois College, a small liberal arts school, with a degree in Spanish and Religion. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife Ashley. He works for Adventures in Missions, edits this silly little magazine, and loves to do new things. Check out his blog: Pilgrimage of the Heart.