Last month, Columbia Pictures released Eat Pray Love, the filmic version of the bestseller by the chatty memoirist Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia. The movies has currently been receiving “mixed” reviews, sometimes because of the decision to truncate the title and dispense with punctuation entirely, and sometimes because of other stuff, like the directorial decisions of Ryan Murphy (“Glee”), the script’s lack of momentum, the performance of America’s sweetheart Julia Roberts (Ocean’s Twelve), the performance of Spain’s sweetheart Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) or the absence of audience sympathy for the characters on screen. And for some, it’s kind of like Marmite: You either love it or you hate it.
While no one at The Contrarian offices has admitted to watching seen the film, we also can’t deny that Eat, Pray, Love — or alternatively, Eat Pray Love — has had some impact on the zeitgeist. We were deputized to get to the bottom of “what the fuck” was “up” with this “phenomenon” and we decided that we would read the book then compare Gilbert’s thoughts to someone else The Voice of America.
Today, that Voice belongs to Bemidji, Minnesota’s Fredrik Olafson, a lumberjack and father of two, and one Elizabeth Nelson Bracy (bio below). We asked them to read Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia, as both had indicated a desire for a “good beach read*” during these final days of summer.
Consider, first, the remarks of Elizabeth Nelson Bracy of Northport, LI, gainfully unemployed researcher and writer:
In 2003, Elizabeth Gilbert decided to take a year off from her life amidst the literary bourgeois of New York City in order to “find herself.” Her formula for achieving this aim involved tooling around Italy, India and Indonesia (the “Three Is,” in her shorthand).
What prompted this ornate odyssey? Ms. Gilbert’s wanderlust was fueled by personal upheaval (a leveling depression brought on the dissolution of her marriage, a subsequent heartbreak from a “love-of-her-life”-type boyfriend) and made feasible through the unusual auspices afforded to an individual of her privileged social standing: a medicine man’s prophetic vision, a book deal from Viking publishing, a round trip ticket, and an expense account.
In the narrative, Gilbert provides the reader an insider’s perspective on her experiences in the three Is, ranging from the richly detailed to the overly informative. Tantalizing descriptions of Neapolitan pizzas and a vivid chronicling of the clockwork routines of Ashram living are edifying; a straightforward account of a urinary tract infection gained following gluttonous sex with a Brazilian expatriate merely chills the senses.
Remarkably, despite the ersatz exoticism nothing about Ms. Gilbert’s predicament or her experiences feels particularly unique, and this fact most likely accounts for the runaway popularity of her melodramatic escapist fantasy. No doubt countless individuals of Ms. Gilbert’s age range and much sought after consumer demographic have encountered similar emotional tumult. Most of these presumably lacked the sheer imagination for redressement through indulgence, which Ms. Gilbert has rendered here.
All of which accrues to what is most striking about Eat, Pray, Love: the author’s peculiarly aggressive sense of entitlement. “When I wasn’t feeling suicidal about my divorce,” She writes, “or suicidal about my drama with David, I was actually feeling kind of delighted about all the compartments of time and space that were appearing in my days, during which I could ask myself the radical new question: “What do you want to do, Liz?”
Fed up to the teeth with a life of earthly pleasures that 99.9 percent of the world cannot even conceive of, Ms. Gilbert has unironically stopped to ponder why it is she can’t have every single thing she wants at every moment. What bizarre alchemy is this? The total absence of self-insight is astonishing.
As the narrative progresses and Ms. Gilbert’s continually nourishes her heartsick narcissism, the entire rationale for her journey feels incrementally more self-serving and trite. It is also difficult to shake the sense that there is something subtly but disturbingly reactionary going on here. Countless old saws about what comprises a woman’s happiness — food, pampering, men — are given a heavy working over. Meanwhile the very notion of the moneyed classes of this nation invading the third world in search of “fulfillment” provides nagging echoes of exploitation and empire building.
For all of Ms. Gilbert’s suicidal torment and constant discussion of how she deserves every good thing coming to her, you would think she had just endured forty years of hard labor in the salt mine. Which, coincidentally, is what it’s like to read Eat Pray Love. I think I deserve a vacation too…
Analysis: Mrs. Nelson Bracy is a Marxist.
Next, the remarks of Fredrik Olafson:
Chapter 35: “I couldn’t hold out. None of my pants, after four months in Italy, fit anymore… I am aware that soon I will be in India, where the pounds will just melt away, but still- I cannot walk in these pants anymore. I can’t stand it.”
Who hasn’t felt this way? I will never forget the first time I was cross cut by the circular saw of personal depression: it was around the time of the spotted owl controversy of the early 1990s. I had just been fell bunched by my special someone after she caught me “constructing the tressle” over lakefront way. I told the whistle punk to blow for me if he seen her coming, but he fell sleep on the job, and she made me do the high climb until I got up near top branch and then she pulled me down with the chocker setter and dragged me into the yarder. And the she broke it off with me. It was a very low time. Did I let my waistline go for a while after that? Yeah, I guess I did. I couldn’t stand to wear any of my pants either.
So I was very touched by Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey of individual discovery “Eat Pray Love.” When she was in her early 30’s, she was married, successful, and totally unconstrained by environmental regulation. In short, she had at all. And yet she was still unfulfilled. I know how this feels. I know bout the chasm inside that is so deep and yawning that no amount of hooch will fill it. It’s like you keep tearing away at that sorrow but you can’t find the roots, so you got to get a specialized machine geared for stump grinding and then go six to eight inches below grade. But sometimes even that’s not enough and you have to use a mattock to dig and chop your way under the rootball until the taproot is just totally exposed. I know that kind of sorrow. I do.
When it all came down for Elizabeth Gilbert — when her special someone and she parted ways — she took a year off and just traveled. First she went to Rome and grazed like a bull calf until she got her fill, and then she went to India and practiced meditation and general monastic living alongside other soul-searchers an ashram outside Mumbai, and then she went to Bali found a man named Felipe, and they had what she calls a “belly to belly success story,” whatever that means. I went belly to belly once with Big Don Morgenfield in a barrelhouse grappler.
While I mostly enjoyed the massive highs and crushing lows of Liz Gilbert’s much needed journey of self-preservation and spiritual enlightenment, there was one part that stuck in my craw:
Chapter 68: “I took off at a run, galloping away from the path and down into the meadow… my sandals on the dewy grass made this sound: shippa-shipa-shippa-shipa, and that was the only sound in the whole valley. I was so exultant that I ran straight to the eucalyptus trees in the middle of the park, and I threw my arms around one of those trees, which was still warm from the day’s heat, and I kissed it with such passion. I mean, I kissed that tree with all my heart…”
Anyway, the point is that Elizabeth Gilbert finally just did what SHE wanted to do. If she wanted to eat a pizza she ate a pizza. If she wanted to some special touching from a special someone, she indulged her passions. If she wanted to chop down an owl tree, she CHOPPED IT DOWN. Sometimes I wish I had gone on a trip after I lost my special someone. I probably wouldn’t have gone to Bali though. Probably I woulda gone to Crown City, up by Fingers Lake…
Analysis: Mr. Olafson possibly did not read the assigned book, as assigned.
Conclusion: If you love all of America’s (and Spain’s) most beloved celebrities, you should see this movie.
Rating: 2 smileys, 4 hot peppers.
*Both readers received $25 gift cards to Applebee’s for their participation in the Contrarian “I READ A BOOK!” Reading Project.