Last night I watched the film Eat.Pray.Love. I know, I know I’m a bit late to the table on this one (the film came out in 2010, the book, 2006). As I mentioned in my recent Little Loves post, I was looking for something relatively frivolous which would take me on a vicarious trip to some exotic places (heaven knows it ain’t going to happen in real life any time soon). Essentially I think I Googled something like “films set in exotic locations” and possibly threw in the word “romance” to make sure I didn’t end up mistakenly watching Bridge Over the River Kwai or some other equally non-frivolous cinematic offering.
What I got was not a piece of fiction, but a memoir. The memoir of writer Liz Gilbert to be precise – a woman who, at the age of 34 decided she wasn’t really happy with her nice life in New York, her husband, two houses and successful writing career, and instead opted for divorce, a brief fling with a younger man and then a round the world journey of discovery to seek out enjoyment (Eat) in Italy, devotion (Pray) in India and then finally, enlightenment (Love) in Bali, Indonesia.
This is a bit of a cliché but I actually laughed, cried and by the end felt something a bit more than “oh what a pleasant film” – just occasionally a story will do that to me – send me into research mode after the credits have rolled, wanting to know more about the circumstances behind the journey, what the protagonist is really like in real life, and how things panned out for her.
I then read a lot of negative reviews which criticise Gilbert for funding the entire journey by pitching it as an idea to a publisher and using a huge advance payment to make it happen. She is also criticised for being a white, middle classed, priveleged first worlder who never really scraped the surface of any of the realities of the countries she visited.
I actually found myself wondering what made her feel so unsettled in what should have been such a happy existence and this put me in mind of Gretchen Rubin and the Happiness Project. Rubin, of course, freely admits that she is priveleged and has lots to be grateful and thankful for and puts her project in this context, pointing out that happiness is not something which anyone simply achieves and then maintains for the rest of their life. Happiness can be fleeting, it is one of life’s highs but no-one’s life is one long high.
The great thing about having money and using it the way Gilbert did, is that she proves it is possible to evolve and learn lessons from past mistakes. Is she a happier person now than she was in her early 30s? I don’t suppose her attitude or outlook has changed, but she has projected herself into a place where the environment she lives in is much more favourable to achieving a happy and balanced life.
The other difference of course, between Gilbert and Rubin is that Gilbert is not a parent, and by all accounts never wanted to be one either. That, for me, is where the inspiration ends because to go on a physical and spiritual journey the way she did – its just not possible with children in tow. And, as Rubin reveals, the day you give birth to your children is not the day you arrive at your terminal destination – a place named ‘Happiness’ – it is just the beginning of another complicated, beautiful, frustrating, wonderful, demanding journey, but a journey where the actual scenery remains the same day in, day out, and that can feel limiting.
Or maybe what this film reminded me of is that I once had a vague notion of ‘one day’ becoming a travel writer – one of those jobs which always strikes me as a ‘dream career’ – and yet I never had enough confidence in my abilities as a writer, my abilities to self-promote or my abilty to survive alone in a strange place and somehow craft a story from thin air.
Maybe what Liz Gilbert reminds me of, despite all of her privelege and money, is that sometimes, you’ve just got to take a leap of faith in whatever shape and from whatever platform.