After reading Barbara Nicolossi’s scathing review of “Eat, Pray, Love,” I confess I thought twice about saying anything more about it. Her credentials are far superior to mine, and her POV is pretty much right in line with what the USCCB media office had to say on the subject regarding the film’s faulty reflection of authentic Catholic spirituality.
And if I made it a practice to see only movies that reflected and affirmed my own POV, there would be little to recommend this one. Much of what both reviews had to say about the movie is true. [SPOILER ALERT]. Liz does walk away from her marriage and quickly slip into an affair. She does forsake the moral and theologial underpinnings of the faith in which she was raised with equally breath-taking speed. She spends four months in Rome . . . and summarizes the experience with “Eat” rather than “Pray,” as one might expect. (Actually, one of her co-horts associates it with “sex,” but at this point in the movie Liz has sworn off men, at least for the moment.)
In India, she seeks out the spiritual assistance of her former lover’s guru; when she arrives a the ashram she discovers this particular guru was in New York. So Liz sets to work scrubbing floors and meditating — and is guided in her quest for peace by a rough-hewn Texan with more than a few cartloads of his own baggage.
Watching the movie, I was reminded of the six years I spent in my own personal ashram — a Bible school in Bloomington, MN. Granted, it was a Christian community, but the similarities (dynamic leader, communal living, manual labor, and diversity of personalities and “back stories” that I found there) were striking. Not to mention the fact that I went there shortly after the greatest heartbreak of my life, so I was feeling particularly fragile and in need of direction.
In Bali — well, here the movie broke down for me, as her first tentative steps toward getting her act together are quickly lost as she slides into bed with the (hunky) Javier Bardem. I’m reading the book right now, and I’m hoping that he does something really dastardly and she comes to her senses and goes back to her husband for a truly happy ending. But I’m not holding my breath.
So . . . why bother? What would anyone who has a solidly Christian world-view want to see (or read) what has been denounced by some as a whole lot of narcissistic navel-gazing? What’s the point?
For me, it was a morality tale of a different kind: a warning against spiritual smugness. As I watched EPL, I wondered to myself, “How could someone so hungry for answers spend four months in the cradle of Christianity and not encounter a single soul who could — lovingly yet with an appropriate sense of urgency — show her the truth path to God? She found language lessons — what about FAITH lessons?”
Of course, by the time she reached Rome, it was going to be a much harder sell. Ideally, she should have had that kind of intervention long before . . . preferably before she married the man whose heart she shattered.
And yet, some people have to reach a truly low point before they are ready to listen. Recently at McDonalds I met a single mother with five children — never married, and well aware of what people think of her when they see her with all those kids. “I stopped going to church,” she said to me as our kids played. “When my mother died, the ushers said I didn’t belong there with all those kids. So I left.” I looked at those precious little kids — three of them under four years of age — and wondered how such a thing could happen. Why would anyone get themselves in that situation over and over, knowing that their lover would never be the father her children need? And how could any Christian look at this woman and not see a soul in desperate need of help?
Why would a woman sit at a cafe in Rome, eating pasta, for four months — and never see the inside of a chapel? Did anyone offer to take her there?
Why would another young woman walk away from the great love of her life, and go live in a commune a thousand miles away? What would have happened if a single soul had suggested she make an appointment with a pastor, to talk?
All of us are searching. We all need, and set about filling those needs in ways that — without outside intervention — tend toward the messy and self-destructive at times.
So . . . why bother? Why get up out of our own lives and respective comfort zones to lend a hand or a listening ear, knowing that it may be wasted effort?
Well, going back to my own story, I can tell you one thing for certain: Sometimes, you can make a difference.
And sometimes, if you pass up the chance to help, the trajectory of ruin and recrimination can last even longer than a lifetime. Sometimes it can become a bestseller.