Eat your prey, love, before it eats you
I’m not going to say that Eat, Pray, Love is a bad movie, since you’ve already got all the other critics on the internet for that. But I feel like calling the movie “priv-lit” is more of an excuse to stop thinking about what it represents than any kind of good faith effort to understand why it’s compelling. From my perspective, it certainly is true that this is a movie which is pretty dismissive of economic realities which don’t stop defining the way white people travel the world just because you wish they could. The opening gesture of the movie, after all, was a ridiculous monologue about how Cambodian refugees are really just dealing with the same kind of love-life issues as you are — and thus we’re all the same — and to the extent that frames the movie, it’s kind of weak sauce. Much of the movie is like that, which is why most of it wasn’t that interesting or surprising. It mostly is the movie you thought it was.
Still. There’s a kind of ad hominem-ism about calling Elizabeth Gilbert “selfish” that doesn’t sit right with me. Of course she’s selfish. The entire point of the entire movie is that she’s spent her whole life living through the guys she’s with and she needs time to cultivate and nurture her own garden or something. And you know what? Selfishness is not a dirty word. We are all, in moments of crisis, extremely selfish. She was in a moment of crisis and she needed to dig herself out. It makes sense to me that she would, and learning to be by oneself is not really such a terrible thing for a human being in the world — should one have the opportunity — to do with oneself. A movie that engaged honestly with how we are selfish — the difference between a healthy self-cultivation (by way, perhaps, of a deepened understanding of where you are in the universe and through whom) and an unhealthy self-absorption is by no means a bad thing for the universe to possess more of.
Is this that movie? I’m unconvinced it is. It seems to me that it’s exactly as confused as a movie about a confused person with micromanagement issues trying to micromanage an exploratory journey of the soul and who then — when the spiritual enlightenment she’s planned for October 24th doesn’t come along as scheduled — tries to turn the surprising things that happened to her into a coherent narrative is likely to be: quite confused. I don’t get what her issue with her husband was; I don’t get much of what drove her at all, there or elsewhere. I don’t know what it was she was supposed to have learned. I don’t really understand if her journey was supposed to be as solitary as it seemed or if she was supposed to have learned from the experience of new places. The whole movie left me not only unsure about what her motivations and journey were supposed to have been — and how they changed — but actually unsure if I was supposed to be unsure. It may simply be that what we just saw was a reflection of what happens when you try to turn life into narrative, but retain enough messy reality to endlessly defer the kind of narrative satisfaction we expect from a good story. A lot of the corners even from Gilbert’s book were — I’m told — sanded down, but enough uncertainty and dissonance makes it through to make me think that what seems like narrative confusion is really just a reflection of life’s tendency not to add up.