This post was supposed to be a movie review. But, dear crunk feminists, after repeated attempts to convince myself to bite the bullet and watch the film, (I have a long-standing and abiding love for Julia Roberts and a newer, but equally abiding, love for Javier Bardem) I cannot do it. I have two central reasons why:
- My most fundamental objection is not to the glorified cultural appropriation (I do object to it, see number 2), but rather, to the glamorization of a breakdown. The glamorization of what it feels like to see your own life fall apart before your own eyes just isn’t beautiful. In those moments, there aren’t fully-funded jaunty trips around the world, there’s just you (and for most folks, depression, fear and financial instability). If you’re as lucky as I am, your friends are there. Having been though a rather difficult year (don’t even get me started on Saturn’s Return, y’all) I understand what it feels like to flounder and to try desperately to try and regain footing when it feels like the ground is shifting under your feet. In fact, a friend gave me a copy of Eat, Pray, Love at just such a moment in my life. The book was helpful, in some important ways. Elizabeth Gilbert’s voice is sincere, her writing is good, and though I had some real difficulty relating to some parts of her journey, others certainly mirrored my own. Here’s the real crux: this movie is a Julia Roberts showcase in which Julia and her smile, eat (without getting fat), pray (and wind up actually finding God) and love (Javier Bardem!), all through a soft focus lens. My own journey is filled with breakthroughs, yes, but also with searing struggles and failures. I can’t watch a movie that makes me feel like my own breakdown(s) are not glamorous enough. I eat: I gain weight. I pray: I sometimes feel like there’s nothing out there. I love: with varying degrees of success. Just like everyone else I know, my process is not beautiful all the time and it’s definitely not linear. And lord knows, it’s not in soft focus. (P.S. Could we get Mira Nair to direct a similar story? Perhaps the story of a charming, desi-born, American activist? Just saying…) To watch a movie that would make me feel like I could and should have beautiful experience of love and loss, won’t help me. It’ll just make me feel worse and inadequate. Not a ‘feel-good’ movie if you leave feeling defeated. Too much of a risk for me, to be honest.
- The un-interrogated cultural appropriation. Many others have written about this very well. I’ll just add my personal rationale: I don’t see the world and it’s people and quaint, third-world polytheisms and charming brown folk as singular beacons for MY OWN life. I just don’t look at the world that way, it’s a complicated place. As someone born in the “third-world”/global-south, it’s impossible for me to ignore those nuances. Italy, India and Bali are complicated places, and to close your eyes (quite literally, in some instances) to those complexities for the sake of your own needs, smacks of just the kind of privilege and unexamined appropriation that I find disgusting. There’s no excuse for it. I refuse to make any. If you can use Google to locate an ashram in a charming Indian village, then you can log on to the BBC News homepage or Times of India and learn some real facts about the people and places that you’re using to make up “your experience.”
[As an aside, I will say that I absolutely love this talk that Elizabeth Gilbert gave at TED, on the myth of “artistic genius.” I have shared it with many artist-writer-creative friends of mine. Watch it, it’s wonderful.]
So there it is, friends. I hope you can forgive me for not reviewing the film. I did indeed read the book, and found some gems in it. But given that is has been a long and hard summer, I just couldn’t do it. If you have seen it, please leave your thoughts in the comments. If you have not, please say why. Otherwise, we’ll wait till it’s on Netflix and see if we’re feeling braver, right?