They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Well, I would also argue that you shouldn’t judge a book by its movie, based on my recent reading of Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
First, a brief synopsis (no spoilers):
Fresh off a nasty divorce and an even nastier break-up with her rebound boyfriend, Elizabeth Gilbert decides to take a year off from her life in America and travel to Italy, where she hopes to learn about pleasure; an ashram in India, to learn about spirituality; and Indonesia, to learn about balance. Along the way, she comes to terms with the past and creates a more optimistic future, writing about her experiences in a frank and entertaining way.
The first time I watched Eat Pray Love, back when I was in the midst of a deep dark depression, I found the film to be self-indulgent and the character of Liz to be unlikeable. You can’t just fix all of your problems by traversing across the world, running away from your responsibilities, I raged as too-perfect Julia Roberts struggled to zip up her size 0 jeans after a plate of pasta in Italy. YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE, LIZ GILBERT!
The second time I watched it (yes, there was a second time; no, I don’t know why), I was a little more forgiving of the film. I was in a better place, and I appreciated her journey a little more. Even so, I figured there wasn’t much I could take away from the book, after having seen the movie. Been there, done that.
Eat Pray Love the book came my way anyway as part of a box of discards from my mom. She read about four pages and shucked it aside, writing it off as self-indulgent as well, knowing her. But I knew many people enjoyed the book, and I wanted something quick to read, so I picked it up one night – and didn’t put it down until I was finished it a few days later.
It was good. It was really good.
Elizabeth Gilbert provided fantastic insight into the destruction of her relationships and the depression that followed. Her sharing wasn’t self-indulgent – depression never is – and I found it refreshing and inspirational that a woman could leave behind a life that wasn’t working to try to carve out a better path for herself.
Her travels through Italy showed her pursuing pleasure – mainly in the form of food – with abandon, but it was her time at an ashram in India that really drew me in. Her spiritual journey through yoga was something I could relate to (though on a much smaller scale), and that part of the book showed the most how she grew and changed during her time away.
And while I love a good love story (and I know this one had a happy ending), I found myself frustrated that Liz set aside her quest for growth to fall into bed with a man in Indonesia. There, she had an opportunity to learn under a wise old medicine man, and instead, she squandered it for something as common as a lover.
The ending, of her losing herself yet again in a man, left me wondering a little if she hadn’t truly learned her lesson during her year away. Indonesia was meant to show a balance between spirituality and pleasure, but balance flew right out the window as soon as she met a man who adored her.
Perhaps the real lesson in that is that growth is an ongoing process. You don’t learn your lesson and then check it off a to-do list. Rather, you’re constantly learning, constantly growing, and the lessons you’re meant to learn will keep arising over the course of your life, keeping you constantly vigilant about the path that you’re on.