Disclaimer: This is a review of Eat, Pray, Love the film, not the book.
I genuinely can’t remember when I first saw Eat, Pray, Love. The book came out in 2007 when I was a 7th grader and then the movie came out in 2010 when I was in 10th grade–both years of my life during which I did not have the penchant for traveling that I later developed. Further, this book/movie followed a 34-year-old woman regarding topics I had no deep connection to: broken relationships, sense of belonging, life’s purpose–you know, the things you contemplate as an adult. As both a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old, my only concern was the VMAs, going to the mall, and when Beyoncé’s next album was going to drop.
What I do know is when I did eventually watch this, I fell in love (pun intended). I am pretty sure it was after my senior trip to Rome in 2012 because that’s her first destination. I routinely watch this film whenever I am feeling in a mindset of restlessness and when I just need to see The Pasta Scene (more on that later), but when I thought to write a review on it, I discovered this film premiered 10 years ago as of August. So, how does it hold up in 2020?
I will reiterate that this is a review of the film–I have limited knowledge of the real Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert and the type of person she is and I haven’t read the book. I also won’t be going over the synopsis of the film, so please read up on that if you have never seen it.
As I got older, I found that more people have made fun of this film. On the surface, it does seem very…first-world problems. A white woman in her 30s living in New York City is unhappy with her life and decides to travel the world. Can’t relate. Very privileged, right? And we will analyze this, but the overarching themes are extremely relatable to not just people in their 30s, but even people in their 20s. As someone in their 20s, I am constantly searching for life’s purpose; feeling like I’m following the societal factory mill of committing to a job I will do for 40+ years of my life, finding a husband, then having kids; and finally, also wondering, “When’s the last time I marveled at something?” Prioritizing traveling the world and ‘seizing the day’ is more a trait of my generation, and that’s evident by the existence of this blog and my YouTube channel. Liz, on the other hand, received immediate backlash and concern from her friends, especially since she had just filed for divorce and started dating a 20-something yogi. It very much gave ~mid-life crisis vibes~ though 34 is far from mid-life. The combination of having the funds to do it and Ketut’s prophecy a year earlier, however, was the catalyst she needed to remind herself, “This is my life and I’m going to live it how I want.” In this review, I will analyze each of the categories: eat, pray, and love.
EAT (Rome, Italy)
Dare I say EATaly? Okay, I’ll stop. I would classify Liz’s time in Rome as self-indulgent, but not at all in a bad way. This is the part of the film where I think skeptics wrote it off before giving it a chance. In these four months, Liz spends her time learning Italian, enjoying great food, meeting new people, and just learning to enjoy herself. Also known as the things we working adults wish we could run off and do without worrying about bills and life’s other demands. But when Liz ends one of her first nights of tutoring with Giovanni, he says, “You must be very polite with yourself when you are learning something new.” I don’t know if this was supposed to stick with the audience or if I took it personally because I’ve been so petrified with practicing my Spanish, but I believe Liz applied this philosophy to her time in Rome.
From this point, we get: The Pasta Scene in which she basically has an uninterrupted love affair with her plate of spaghetti (a dish I don’t even like!) with no friends or distractions; the moment where she flexes her Italian language skills by ordering food for her table of friends; her dolce far niente scene in the house with the new lingerie she bought (and formally breaking up with David–THANK GOD); and finally, the speech she gives to Sofi about letting go of the guilt of being yet another calorie-counting woman and just enjoying pizza in Naples (trust me, it is that good). After coming from living in a contrived box in New York, she learns in these four months to be polite with herself in learning these new habits. She learns ‘the art of doing nothing.’ In my review of Emily in Paris, I wrote about the exchange Emily has with Luc where he directly addresses Americans not knowing how to enjoy life and it’s the same theme here. We also see her regaining confidence that all but drowned in Delia’s bathtub before she left New York.
For my American readers–ever wonder why your friends (*cough* me *cough*) constantly talk about being abroad years and years later? It’s because there is something indescribable about having a period of your time where you live life without the pressures of needing to feel productive, needing to network, plan for the future, etc. And you’ll never know what that’s like until you do it.
PRAY (Haryana, India)
Liz’s four months at the ashram were the shortest part of the film, but to me, the most important. With the help of Richard from Texas, this is where I believe Liz learned selflessness in contrast to her self-indulgence during her time in Rome. The frustration is extremely evident from day one just from culture shock, but she even says to Richard, “I came from Rome feeling so good about myself,” and then so lost at the ashram. This was the root of her inability to open up during this practice. She thought because she learned how to let go and enjoy her life, her problems were solved, but Richard helps her see that she is quite literally standing in her own way. Her focus on ‘self’ did not make room for forgiveness or devotion.
We see her struggle with meditation and devotion–the two main components of being part of the ashram. I have heard that to this day, meditation has not worked for her as it doesn’t for many people, and she says her mind wanders and she starts thinking about decorating. This is a residual effect of the comfort (and privilege) she has back home, knowing that once this year is over, she can continue with wherever she left off in New York. Meanwhile, many people come to ashrams (and turn to religion in general) after experiencing a life-altering blow to their reality. It’s not to say divorce isn’t life-altering, of course, but in Liz’s story, she had the tools to turn her new chapter–that she initiated–into a positive. If we go to Richard, he needed to find a place to focus on releasing the guilt, pain, and suffering of losing his family to his addiction. Liz then claims she cannot connect with the Guru Gita because the concept of devoting oneself wholly to this goddess is foreign to her; once again, Richard who speaks in bumper stickers reminds her that love is love and to the Guru Gita, it’s all the same.
Liz humbles herself not only after hearing Richard’s story, but also with the mantra that has stuck with me to this day (and Ariana Grande included as a lyric in her new album <3): Send them love and light every time you think of them and then drop it. The only guilt Liz is carrying is confronting her divorce. Sure, she is sad over things ending with David, but only because it was a constant reminder that she never dealt with her own shit with her divorce. Liz finally learns to stop putting herself so much in the equation and to drop the baggage. Just as Richard told her, once she made room from all that obsession she carried about her men back home, love rushed in. She starts turning her devotions to 17-year-old Tulsi who is facing an arranged marriage so that Tulsi will be happy. We briefly see Liz become more involved in the ashram and devoted to the community as Richard leaves. Though there wasn’t a definitive end to this time in India like her Thanksgiving dinner with friends in Italy, I think that also demonstrated to us as an audience that Liz was going through a transformation. Even the Thanksgiving dinner–hosting and being constantly surrounded by friends–was a comfort she enjoyed back home. Where she ended her journey in India, she leaves more in tune with herself, but not so consumed by herself. She became devoted to her original goals.
LOVE (Bali, Indonesia)
Believe it or not, I don’t have much to write here about this part of the film because she just falls in love. Of course it’s great for her though! The only conflict is that she’s spent eight months undoing this idea that she needs a man or can’t exist without a partner and here is this Brazilian man offering her the world. The pivotal moment of their relationship for me is when he accuses her of being scared and running away from something that’s great, and she boldly (and rightfully) exclaims that she doesn’t have to love him to prove she loves herself. This is when we get the balance that Liz struggled with: the balance of self. Something that humans have never gotten right, especially women, is this idea that you have to lose yourself to be in a relationship with someone else. Was Liz scared? Absolutely. Was she likely more interested in being in control than really being opposed to a week away with this man? Very likely. But if the last eight months taught her anything, it was that she has learned when she has consistently crossed that line between compromise and sacrifice and she simply was not ready for love just yet.
Obviously, Ketut gave her and Felipe the same message in his home that we should not be afraid of love. You can be the most balanced, routine person in the world, but you should never block yourself from receiving love. Love, whatever that looks like to you, does something good for the soul. It’s unclear how much time lapses between her walking away from Felipe on the beach and her surprising him at the dock instead of taking her flight home to New York, but they both took a leap of faith. To my knowledge, she was with this man in real life for about 10 years after that. ❤
I will admit that my mental state through 2020 has been heavily (almost dangerously) rooted in escapism and nostalgia, and this film indulges that to the nth degree. But the reasons I watch and love this film have not changed since the first time I saw it. It is clear, as I have stated many times on this blog and in videos, that the ability to travel–much less make it a priority–is a privilege. Liz’s travel experiences are inherently different as a financially stable white woman, and also how different traveling was almost 15 years ago. The film version of her experiences are what people can only dream of having because it costs nothing to dream. I mean, even having friends that could donate $18,000 for a stranger in Bali is not normal. You have to live a certain life to 1. know people with money like that, and 2. feel comfortable enough to ask people to do this instead of buying gifts that you expect to receive on your birthday. However, if you are in a position to do something like travel for even just a month of your life and you were looking for a sign to do it post-COVID, watch this film. But what have we learned outside of the beauty of travel itself? Being polite with yourself, forgiving yourself/letting go of baggage, and letting love in will have immense effects on your life. Even if you cannot go off to faraway lands, you can achieve all three of these things anywhere in the world at any time. In conclusion, I think this film holds up 10 years later.
Have you seen Eat, Pray, Love? Do you agree with these central themes? Let me know in the comments!