Confession. I am not generally in the business of writing movie reviews, especially for films that have yet to be released and which I probably will not see. And maybe this post will confirm that I should not quit my day job. So, for more professional opinions of Eat Pray Love, check out The New York Times or USA Today. But if you’re interested in what a single, 30-something, Catholic female theologian might have to say on the matter, read on.
Before you do so, let me make a second confession. I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir two summers ago (and have been re-reading it this week to confirm the sinking suspicion I have). Gilbert’s recollection of her obstinate determination to unite her desire to love herself and her desire to love God (and the intrinsic connection between the two) really spoke to me. The fact that one of my mother’s dearest friends gave me a set of japa malas, the meditation beads around which Gilbert builds her story, suggests that in many ways, her tale of her struggle for self-care is, to some extent, every woman’s story. In fact, I count many of her words and phrases among the wisdom of the great mystics of the Christian tradition who have nourished me in my own spiritual journey—from Teresa of Avila to Henri Nouwen. I know that I am drawn to these persons willingness to risk truly knowing themselves, and more importantly, to know themselves as deeply loved by God, in order to be liberated from a variety of constraints and to experience the kind of happiness that comes with truly loving others. The Greeks called this eudaimonia or flourishing. Christ called it the Kingdom of God.
Can the desire for this kind of flourishing be mass-marketed? I’m not so sure, but all of the new-product development connected to the film seems to suggest that Gilbert and Sony are willing to give it a try. Either with the red-carpet smile of Julia Roberts (who pulls the rug out from under the everywoman tone of the book) or an exclusive “Eat Pray Love” collection on the Home Shopping Network featuring products from Italy, India and Indonesia, or with a new fragrance and scented candle line offered by Fresh. Even as a scholar who writes about the importance of the senses and embodiment for moral reasoning, this seems a bit much. All of this purchasable enlightenment flies in the face of what Gilbert identifies as American women’s biggest obstacles to uniting our desire for the beautiful and good with our desire for God. “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort,” she says about a notion she calls “Diligent Joy”: “You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.”
So I think the movie might not just be a disappointment. It is potentially dangerous. It will exploit the common desire among women for the diligent joy which Gilbert so beautifully names with products that falsely promise such contentment. And it will confuse the liberating wisdom she gained through dligent spiritual practices with the oppressive practices of the market. I say eat, pray and love. And leave the market out of it.