At this time of year so many people decide that this is it – this is the year where they make a change in their lives. Few people carry through on it like Elizabeth Gilbert, however, as she spent a year travelling the world after a painful divorce.
Her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, has become a hit, inspiring people around the world with its messages of enlightenment through simple pleasures. However, it also attracted a lot of criticism for what some readers felt was a privileged romp through various other cultures, picking and choosing their customs as tools for ‘enlightening’ a Western woman.
In 2010, Ryan Murphy (best known for Glee and American Horror Story) directed a film adaptation of the memoir starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem, just called Eat Pray Love (DVD LOBBY 791.43). While a lot of the criticisms of the book are true of the film, it is a lovely watch on a rainy winter’s day in January, as Elizabeth Gilbert (Roberts) realises she’s missing something important from her life and sets out on her adventure.
Eat Pray Love is beautifully filmed, and you feel drawn into the cosy world of Gilbert’s Italian friends in a rural villa, or the sun-drenched details of the ashram in India. Beware, though – as the title suggests, this film will make you hungry, as Gilbert’s lesson in slowing down and truly appreciating food is shown through loving shots of fresh cheese, fruit and proper Italian spaghetti.
Gilbert starts in Italy and eats, learns to gesticulate as she speaks Italian, and appreciates being alone for the first time in years. When she goes to India, she finds it hard to be still and meditate, as she is so used to filling her time with tasks and thoughts, but finds that when she stops for a moment in the middle of a busy life, she is able to meet life’s challenges with more humour and joy. When she travels to Indonesia, finally, she meets a Brazilian businessman with an unusual approach to life, in vast contrast to the kind of people she’s used to. Felipe is emotional and never hides it, and while I found his outbursts a little amusing, it’s clear that this kind of lust for life is something Gilbert appreciates and needs.
One of the criticisms levelled at the book is that it promotes enlightenment where the barrier is financial – the lessons Gilbert learns are based around the places she visits, and very few people have the freedom to travel as widely as she does. However, as a charming escape that can encourage hope and enthusiasm for life, love, and food, Eat Pray Love is a fantastic choice for a January watch.
If you liked this…
Elizabeth Gilbert has since given excellent TED Talks on ‘Your elusive creature genius’ and ‘Success, failure, and the drive to keep creating’, following the publication of her much less successful second memoir.
The Alchemist (BOOK ZONE 823.91) is a fictional story with a similar message: what you want is inside you, but sometimes it takes a journey to find it. Whether you agree with the idea or not, The Alchemist is a similarly beautiful meditation that will take you out of your life for a while and might even help you understand things about your experience. Read our review here.
Watch The Way (DVD LOBBY 791.43), written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen. When his son dies while walking a pilgrimage route in the Pyrenees, Thomas Avery (Martin Sheen) walks the same route with his son’s ashes and learns a lot about grief, family and life along the way. While this is more sombre than Eat Pray Love, Avery starts as a bad-tempered man wrapped up in his grief, but the misfit friends he meets along the way slowly begin to show him the power of friendship.
Read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (BOOK ZONE 828.91), which was published in 1974 but was one of the early non-fiction books to deal with personal enlightenment in a novel form. Pirsig describes a motorcycle journey with his son and two friends across America and the discussions they have about philosophy and the meaning of life. This is a bit heavier than any of the others mentioned, as Pirsig describes the nervous breakdown and resulting electro-convulsive therapy in his past, but part of the point of the book is to reconcile that traumatic past with the present and show that he emerges from it. A classic of self-enlightenment literature.
For a light-hearted and hilarious story about a woman who makes a big change in her life, try Shirley Valentine (DVD LOBBY 822.91), written by Willy Russell and directed by Lewis Gilbert. Shirley (Pauline Collins) is a home maker in 80’s Liverpool, with a husband who doesn’t appreciate her. She spends her time talking to the wall in her kitchen, but one day she decides to travel to Greece, and rediscovers who she truly is.
Charlton, Erik (2009) Elizabeth Gilbert at TED [Photograph]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Gilbert#/media/File:Elizabeth_Gilbert_at_TED.jpg (Accessed: 07/01/16)