I come late to comment on this because it wasn’t released in Spain until the end of September, and yesterday was the first time I had chance to see it.
To be honest, I wrote about it after reading the book some months back, but then, everyone seemed to be talking about it, and I got bored and deleted it. I bought it because it was recommended to me by a very close friend. I’d read all the hype, and, as usual, it had put me off buying it rather than making me want to read it, but when Maria enjoyed it, I took that as a recommendation because so often our tastes are the same. I bought it because it was a journal of an interior journey, but ended up putting it on the shelf with my travel books. And therein, for me, lies the problem with the book/film, and I understand why it attracts such extreme opinions – where does it belong?
As a spiritual journey, it’s interesting, but neither the book nor the film made me sympathize with Elizabeth Gilbert. I know it’s a true story, so she can’t pretend to have been/be something she wasn’t, but she isn’t an ” inspiring” heroine. She hasn’t overcome incredible odds to achieve anything. She wasn’t abused. She had an interesting and rewarding job. She was comfortably off. So she made a mistake in her first marriage……big deal. Ah, maybe that’s the secret to the success of this book? She’s an ordinary woman, who made a mistake and then took a rather glamorous way of getting over it? Yep, I know she had the book deal sewn up before she went, but of course she wasn’t to know just how popular it would become. Her style is almost blog-like, natural, chatty, which makes her more “ordinary” too. Not only that, but having dissed the book as being uninspiring, I must say I found her quite inspiring in this TED Lecture!
As a travel narrative I don’t feel as if it works too well, either. Both in the book and the film I enjoyed the first part of her journey most – Rome. I’ve tried hard to analyze whether that’s because I know Rome a bit, but haven’t yet been to India or Bali, but I don’t think so. I think it’s because Rome was a character in that part of the book in a way which neither Bali nor India were.
I love Rome. I love Italian food. So I can’t even try to be objective, but I don’t think that’s the problem. I am endlessly curious about other countries and cultures, and both Bali and India are high up on my bucket list, and in my world that curiosity would trump the familiarity of Rome.
When I was reading the book I did begin to warm to her as a person more in the India section. I began to understand a bit more where she was coming from, but not in the movie, for me that was the worst bit. Hurried and lacking in the depth of the book……..and – yeah, WHAT was that bit with the elephant all about???
And Bali? Well, a bit of a glimpse of the richness of the countryside and a love story, but then, that’s the impression I had of her time there from the book, too. She didn’t engineer the love story. It happened. Feminists have criticized the story as breaking down there, because she came to rely on a man, she drew her strength from love, but WTF – it really happened, and she clearly isn’t a wilting violet, so I don’t see that as valid criticism.
What I came to realize is that there will be as many different perceptions of the story as there are different life experiences. As a European I’ve been crossing borders since I was 15 (and today we do that from birth), whilst I adore travelling there is a sense in which it isn’t that big a deal. Gilbert, of course, was American (and was accustomed to travel too), but there are millions of American women for whom this journey would be a much bigger deal than it would be for a European. Typically, Americans don’t cross borders that much in their travel. Given the stunning variety of landscape they have at home I can understand why, but travel is about more than changing the landscape, it’s about experiencing other cultures too, more than we can do in a two-week vacation, in the first week of which it is necessary just to take time to wind down from the stress of work, commuting etc However, the idea of travelling, especially alone, and especially long-term is really beginning to capture the imagination of Americans (not only women, of course!). The thing which made me realize this was this movement, Meet, Plan, Go, which was created by a group of well-known travel bloggers. Americans, typically, work longer hours and take less vacations than Europeans, and maybe taking some time out like this would not only aid understanding of other cultures and points of view, but would also reduce reliance on artificial ways of keeping down stress levels. At the end of the day, that’s all Gilbert suffered from at the beginning, stress, just fairly ordinary stress. She was very lucky to be able to turn her gap year into a small fortune, but there are countless benefits for everyone in claiming back oneself.
Back to the movie. I thought Julia Roberts was a good choice, especially after seeing Gilbert talk and move about in that TED video. Javier Bardem – drooling! Like all movies, if you compare it to the book it doesn’t match up. So much has to be left out of a movie, characters amalgamated or changed, and that’s always disappointing. You’re waiting for something to happen or someone to make an appearance and it doesn’t/they don’t. Everything seems to be in quick time, hurried. So if you haven’t seen this yet, and enjoyed the book, you might prefer to skip the movie. I honestly can’t imagine how it seems to anyone who hasn’t read the book. Of the group with whom I went, 3 of us had read it and 2 hadn’t, and they weren’t raving about it. I think it comes across as “just another girly film”. ……. not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the book does have more depth.