Somewhere around minute 109 in the133-minute runtime of “Eat Pray Love,” I turned to my date and asked, “Wanna leave?”
He nodded, so we did.
I’ve only walked out of one other movie in my life. The first one I left because it wasn’t what I expected. This one I left because it was exactly what I had expected — and I guess my stamina for that sort of thing is exhausted after an hour and a half.
“That sort of thing” is this watching people search — and search, and search, and search. And when they think they’ve found “it,” their new fixation is just as vapid as the last.
This is the second time I’ve let down Elizabeth Gilbert, the author behind the 2007 memoir upon which the film is based. My borrowed copy of Eat, Pray, Love sat near my bed for so long that I felt guilty about it and returned it to a friend, who was already done with its sequel Committed.
Film critics have gone on about the weaknesses of “Eat, Pray, Love,” many of whom have little problem with Julia Roberts’ acting but are underwhelmed by the storyline, which they chalk up to “women with first world problems.” She — Liz Gilbert — divorces a loving husband, shacks up with a much younger guy who doesn’t get her, and proceeds to leave the support of friends to gallivant around Italy, India and Bali.
And it is there — half way across the world from her New York home — where she learns to eat, pray and love.
Except pray, writes Alyssa Rosenberg at TheAtlantic.com. Early in the movie, when Liz realizes that she doesn’t want to be married anymore, she gets down on her knees and prays a very awkward prayer, proving to viewers that she truly lacks experience in this area. However, as Rosenberg observes, she doesn’t really learn to pray later, either. Yes, she spends time at a guru’s ashram in India, and she develops some inner peace. But prayer? Actual communication with God?
“. . . it’s not clear that she ever really connects in prayer there, and by the end of the movie, she’s basically decided that God resides within her, and is expressed in her living joyfully and openly. . . . And the two major actions she takes, calling on her friends to give money to help fund a house for a Balinese woman struggling to maintain custody of her daughter, and letting herself love again, aren’t clearly grounded in her religious conclusions. They are essentially secular manifestations of goodness, decency, and self-confidence.”
The Catholic News Service’s John Mulderig makes a similar point. “Liz engages in interminable navel-gazing and confuses psychobabble in the mouths of her chosen mentors for wisdom,” he writes. “The result is a dramatically sputtering, spiritually barren slog to the final credits.”
Take her time in Rome, Mulderig writes. “Though she seemingly hits every restaurant in town, she gives the churches a pass, the implication being that she knows better than to look to Catholicism for insight.”
Essentially, even though Liz thinks she finds fulfillment, she doesn’t. As Catholics, we know that only God can fulfill the deepest desires of the heart. Liz was on the right track in that she knew to look for God, but all she wound up with was self-esteem.
In Psalm 145:16, David writes to God: “You open wide your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” And, indeed, until we look to God, we’ll find ourselves searching, and searching and searching, and creating ever-more off-kilter substitutions with which to define that search.