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Eat, Pray and Love: the book against the film

14.2.2011

Rivers of ink have been spent on Elisabeth Gilbert’s best seller Eat, Pray and Love.

I’m now writing something myself , in occasion of the release of the film’s DVD:  let’s see if I can add something new, avoiding being too pleonastic.

The book has been controversial from day one. Apparently most people, curiously predominantly women, have heavily criticised the author, Elisabeth Gilbert, since, according to them, she left her affection husband “in the cold” to find herself. Now, of course there are, as always, two sides of the story, and we know only Elisabeth’s, but if you carefully read the book you’ll see that her husband wasn’t that affectionate, after all. In fact, in her book she explains in detail that they got married very young after having started dating when they were even younger. He never truly believed that she didn’t want to start a “proper family”, that she didn’t want to have children since, come on!, all women are mothers deep inside, aren’t they? This is why they have been created, to bring their men’s babies into the world! And if a woman prefers to travel and to write and have new experiences instead of getting pregnant, it’s just because she is still too young and confused, it’s a temporary “phase” she’s going thorough which will pass once she’s in her thirties.

“My husband and I”, she writes. “had built our entire life around the common expectation that, after passing the doddering age of thirties, I would want to settle downs and have children”. But she didn’t. Instead: “… As my twenties had come to a close, that deadline of THIRTY had loomed over me like a death sentence and I discovered that I did not want to be pregnant”. In fact, she discovers what she already knew deep inside and she’s clueless about what to do next, passing dozen of nights hiding in her bathroom, crying her eyes out, while her beloved husband sleeps soundly in their bed, apparently wholly unaware of what’s going on. And at this point one could wonder: was his wife as good at pretending as an Oscar-winning actress? Or, perhaps, more likely, he simply pretended not to know, to be able to carry on with his life and get what he wanted, which was a traditional, large family stuck in the suburbs? I suppose we’ll never know. What we know is that, when Elisabeth finally finds the strength and the courage to leave him and opt for what she thinks will be a civil divorce, he doesn’t react with the noble chivalry his wife had naively expected: “It was my most sincere belief when I left my husband that we could settle our practical affairs in a few hours with a calculator, some common sense and a bit of goodwill towards the person we’d once loved”. Gilbert realizes how wrong she was when her “good and devoted husband” starts making absurd requests , mostly aimed at squeezing tons of money out of her. Nevertheless, she doesn’t even try to negotiate, accepting everything, granting him even a percentage on royalties earned on books she hasn’t even written yet, in the vain attempt to have the papers signed and be free again. Well, just to tell you what a noble her husband was: it will take two years and even more money, to make him finally sign the divorce papers and let her go. Two years.

In the meantime, she has a disastrous relationship with David, an actor passionate about India and yoga. Again, in the film perhaps isn’t very clear, but she doesn’t cheat on her husband, as many puritan detractors have suggested: she starts dating David only once she has left her spouse and he had moved to their Manhattan flat. The relationship with David is very unhealthy, she explains in details in her book, since she was in great distress because of the divorce and couldn’t think straight; she also needed constant care and attentions, being on the verge of depression, cares and attentions Davis wasn’t able to give her, having his own particular problems to deal with. She anyway say great things about him and has very good memories of him, not blaming him for anything: they simply weren’t strong enough to stay with each other. It’s when she accept her fragility that she decides to start her journey in the “three Is” as she calls them: Italy, India and Indonesia. Many readers have highlighted that she can afford to go and “find herself” only because she has just signed a profitable book deal to write a book about her journey around the world and that she should stop moaning continuously, since there are plenty of people in the same situation who are stuck with bills and lousy job and can afford to go about, “looking for their path”. I’m afraid I agree with these people, I too think Gilbert was damn lucky to have the chance to do what she did. And I also think she should have moaned so much, while she was enjoying her life in such beautiful places. Nevertheless, let’s not forget that, during her trip, she was dealing with a very severe depression which she has started treating with antidepressants after an attempt of suicide, so I think we could forget her narcissisms, also reminding that, contrary to the majority of her fellow citizens, she’s very against the overuse of antidepressants in the USA (another point for her!) and that she clearly underline she’s taking medications as a last resort to survive.

As for the rest of the book, is witty and interesting; having lived in Italy for a good chunk of my life I can honestly say she depicts very well Italians and their unique, independent way of thinking.

There is then a very profound exploring of herself and her purposes when she goes to India , where she starts analysing herself, her reactions, what she wants and, above all, why she wants it, which is a whole new approach to life for her. Again, in the book everything is carefully explained, so carefully that, from time to time the reader wants to shout: “All right, I get it, who cares? Let’s carry on, please!”, so you don’t miss a small bit of Gilbert’s spiritual development, no gaps are left, no questions are left unanswered.

Unfortunately, for obvious reasons of time, the movie misses all that. The director, Ryan Murphy, brings only the most banal sentiments to the surface, leaving everything else behind. Julia Roberts is more radiant and beautiful than ever against breathtaking locations including all of Rome’s landmarks and colourful, sun-nourished eastern landscapes. The rest of the cast is more than spectacular with a surprisingly clumsy and shy Javier Bardem playing Gilbert’s new lover, and Richard Jenkins brilliantly playing the part of Richard, Elisabeth’s grumbling prayer pal in India. 90% of the original manuscript gets missed and in the end, the film is far less affecting or thought-provoking than the book. Nevertheless, is a fairly good product, but those looking for some hidden spiritual meaning be warned! – Eat Pray Love doesn’t go that deep.

Director: Ryan Murphy

Writers: Ryan Murphy (screenplay), Jennifer Salt (screenplay), and 1 more credit »

Stars:Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem and Richard Jenkins

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