12 September 2010 | howard.schumann
Engaging and inspiring
Most films avoid themes about self awareness, personal growth, and transformation, settling instead for comedy and drama within accepted religious or community guidelines. This subject matter, however, is tackled head on (if somewhat superficially) in Eat Pray Love, a film by Ryan Murphy based on the best selling book by Elizabeth Gilbert. Written by the director and Jonathan Salt, Eat Pray Love starring Julia Roberts as Liz Gilbert is an entrancing travelogue, a romantic comedy, and a spiritual adventure all wrapped in one engaging package. Liz is looking for personal growth and enhanced self-awareness as summarized in Werner Erhard's discussion of transformation, "You get to look deep down and find out something profound about yourself", he said. "You come to know yourself, not what you think, not what you feel, but you come to know yourself honestly." Julia is a sure box office draw and almost an American film icon and her performance more than lives up to expectations. Liz Gilbert is a prominent New York journalist. Although married now for eight years, Liz can no longer relate to her husband's (Billy Cruddup) ambitious lifestyle. When he asks for a trip to Aruba, she asks for a divorce. Though at first unwilling, Stephen finally agrees. Shortly thereafter, Liz begins a relationship with David (James Franco), a handsome actor who has a spiritual side and is devoted to a woman guru in India. Eventually Liz is torn by what seems to be her controlling nature or perhaps it is that her personality becomes subsumed by the demands of each relationship. Looking into herself, Liz experiences her own guilt and regret.
Like others seeking transformation, she is perhaps somewhat self absorbed but is clearly a woman who longs for a more satisfying life. To this end, she decides to take a year off from her work and travels to distant places such as Italy, India, and Bali in hopes of finding herself. In Italy she meets Sofie (Tuva Novatny), a young woman from Sweden who is also looking for fulfillment. Sofie guides her to her Italian tutor (Luca Argentero) and his friend Luca Spaghetti (that's right) played by Giuseppe Gandini. Luca tells Liz that Americans work too hard and know nothing about pleasure. Taking his advice seriously, Liz savors the delights of Italian food, devouring some sumptuous-looking spaghetti and even taking a side trip to Naples to discover the wonders of Italian pizza. As she slowly senses her passion for life returning, she decides to end her affair with David via e-mail.
In gratitude for the love and support she has received from her new found friends in Italy, Liz prepares a Thanksgiving dinner before leaving for a Hindu ashram in a rural village in India. During the process of scrubbing floors as part of her service to the ashram, she meets and becomes friends with Tulsi (Rush**a Singh) a young Indian girl who is unhappy about her upcoming arranged marriage. Liz also becomes good friends with Richard (Richard Jenkins), an American from Texas, who is suffering from his own personal pain. Richard advises Liz to forgive herself and let go of the past. His counsel is to live in the present moment and, in one of the emotional highlights of the films, tells Liz about his own battle with guilt and remorse.
On the last leg of her trip in Bali, Liz discovers that the external God that she has been seeking lies within herself and that she has the power to transform her own life. Her final challenge occurs when she meets a handsome divorced Brazilian Felipe (Javier Bardem). Mirroring Anais Nin's conflict in deciding whether the risk "to remain tight in the bud is more painful than the risk it takes to blossom," she struggles with the choice of holding to her new found spiritual and personal reality or giving herself completely in a relationship.
By the end of the film, though Liz has a way still to go (like all of us), her spiritual journey has made her more self aware and has brought her closer to self acceptance and personal transformation. It turns out that her real voyage of discovery lay in Proust's phrase, "not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes." Eat Pray Love is engaging and inspiring for anyone who is seeking a deeper understanding of what makes life work.