After finally seeing Eat, Pray, Love for the first time, I have something to say. Is it almost a decade too late to have a relevant opinion on this movie? Absolutely. But it popped up on Netflix, it annoyed me, and by the rules of the Internet, any half-formed thought has a right to become a think piece that shows up on your aunt’s Facebook feed.
As I committed the cardinal sin of watching a film adaptation of a book I haven’t read, I won’t be critiquing Elizabeth Gilbert here. From what I can tell, she wrote a memoir about a moving time in her life, which seems fair. Again, I don’t know. What I do know, thanks to the Harry Potter franchise, is that you can’t judge a book by its movie.
Of course, I’m not the first to dislike Eat Pray Love. In case you’re not familiar, Julia Roberts’s character has a couple struggles over a year she spends travelling from Italy to India to Bali, fleeing from a divorce and the rebound relationship that came after it, but, of course, she returns from her travels transformed. She’s got a new love, and a new life. Maybe there was more nuance in the memoir, but the movie makes it seem like all you need to fix a disappointing life is to quit your job and spend all your money country-hopping.
The culture! The challenge! The international romance! Nothing will remain the same!
And yet, after two years of living in France, and a couple stints country-hopping, I am here to tell you that many things do indeed remain the same. It’s just a question of different scenery.
For instance, as a teenager I’d spend a lonely night in my hometown doing some sewing. It gave me something to do, not to think about the fact that it was Saturday night and none of my friends were available. Now that I live in Paris, I might spend an empty weekend taking a walk, or doing some writing on a terrace, which would seem terribly romantic to 14-year-old me. In both scenarios, however, should I fail to distract myself from the depths of boredom or dread, it ends the same way: a bit of mild binge-eating the nearest bland carb, then going to sleep feeling over-stuffed and guilty.
I still get lonely. I still worry about my career. I still dress in over sized clothing to hide a body I’m insecure about. Whatever anxieties or flaws you have as a human are going to stick around whether you’re facing them in your living room or on the Great Wall of China. It’s a cliché, but wherever you go, there you are.
Travelers that go out into the world and come back with a new appreciation for other cultures are expanding upon a degree of open-mindedness that they already possess. It’s lovely! More power to them. However, visiting other countries doesn’t turn closed-minded people into Mother Theresa, no matter how many examples we can find in quirky travel films.
Recently I ended up among well-traveled folks from 3 different countries, and they still found it in themselves to toss racist jokes around the dinner table. They’d seen more of the world than I may ever experience, and yet–Vous avez endentu la blague sur le français, le japonais, et l’africain? No thanks. This was right after the man who’d lived in Algeria told me all about the “harm” that Algerian immigrants were bringing to France.
Basically, if you are, say, a woman à la Eat, Pray Love, leaving your problems in NYC to sweat through a meditation retreat in India might not be what solves them for you. I mean, it might. But so could calling your mother for once, which will cost way less than $200,000–incidentally, the book advance Elizabeth Gilbert received to spend that year finding herself.
If you want to travel, go for it. I do, which is why I write for this site, and I suspect why you read this site, too. My point is that it’s not a cure-all.
If you want to improve yourself, don’t expect a new location to do all the work.
And for Heaven’s sake, stop claiming travel fixes bigotry, or racism, or narrow-mindedness. It doesn’t. It could be a step in the right direction, but those issues go deeper than a plane ticket.
You’ll have to unpack your own baggage, literal and metaphorical, whether that’s with the help of your therapist, your meds, or, if you’re absolutely sure, a guru on a mountaintop.
Just, don’t put it all on the guru. Or on the mountaintop.
Thoughts? Did travel change your whole life? Is Eat Pray Love even relevant anymore? Let me know down below.