Eat Pray Love: Movie Review

Eat Pray Love: Movie Review

Review by Stacey Tuttle

 I admit it; I read the book and I loved it.  Not because I agreed with much of anything that it said, but because I loved the way in which it was said.  I’m sure it’s something of the writer in me.  And it was probably inevitable that I would feel something had been lost in the translation to screen as the very thing I loved the most, the words, would be less necessary when visuals would replace description.  However much anyone may approve or disapprove of the change in medium, the fact is that such a change does affect the impact of various components.  Shepherd Project Ministries has already posted online a list of quotes from the book which are discussion-worthy, a chapter by chapter summary (for those who don’t have time to read it word for word but still want a pretty good idea) and an interview with Dr. Craig Smith discussing some of the theological assertions in the book.  But I would like to draw attention to a few things which particularly stood out to me as I watched it in this incarnation.

First off, I would like to draw attention to the religious aspects.  While Liz does still travel to the Ashram and does still meditate and her spirit does still meet up with her ex’s spirit for a moment of reconciliation, the potency of her religious beliefs are greatly minimized in the film.  We do not hear Liz’s constant wrestling with her questions about God.  We don’t hear her sermonizing regarding her beliefs that all religions are at their core the same.  There aren’t the endless little references which indicate that even conservative Christians follow her Guru and were there to meditate with her, etc.  And the scene where she gets that reconciliation and forgiveness with her ex-husband is ambiguous in the film.  Whereas in the book she is very clear that the experience is an out-of-body spiritual experience where her soul literally communed with another over space and time, the movie leaves viewers to make their own conclusions about that experience (and if I had not read the book, I would have come to an innocuous conclusion about a day dream or something along those lines). 

The good news is that the movie is not as theologically loaded and misleading as the book.  The bad news is that viewers who love the movie are likely to then blindly read the book and potentially be deceived by Liz’s false doctrines.  Another concern is that parents and authority figures may find the movie harmless enough to assume the book is equally so, freeing their charges to read it unguided.  It’s not that I think the book should be banned.  I actually think it does a great job of revealing the prevailing theology of our culture and our great longing for experience of God.  It’s just that I think it needs to be read carefully, prayerfully and quite possibly with guidance.  We cannot take the responsibility to guard our minds from hollow and deceptive philosophies seriously enough (Col 2:8). 

There were two statements in the movie to which I want to draw particular attention.  They both sound so good, but I think are deceptive perversions of the truth.  One came from Felipe.  “Balance is not letting anyone love you less than you love yourself,” he tells Liz.  Maybe this sounds like good advice in a culture like ours which insists that people should claim their rights.    Maybe it sounds like good advice to someone who feels their spouse doesn’t love them (or doesn’t love them enough).  However, in Liz’s case she never faulted Stephen with not loving her, and even if she had, it is still awful advice.  Lots of people will love you less than you love yourself.  Lots of people will not truly see you.  Lots of people will love you with a love which changes as you change and as they change.  We are human.  Our capacity to love is changing and hopefully growing and expanding as we mature.  To demand that everyone around us love us in a way that is equal to our own love for ourselves is to surround ourselves with a very limited populace.    It’s to demand of others that which we aren’t capable of giving – a perfect love.  It’s absurd.  To the extent that the love we’re talking about is a conscious, intentional thing, no infant has the capacity to love its mother, but that mother is not freed from loving her infant because the love it returns is unequal.  Furthermore, it is to limit the good we can do in the world.  Imagine if Mother Theresa had said she would love only those who loved her fully in return.  All of her acts of selfless service and love would be lost. 

The ridiculousness of this statement can be seen from any standpoint of common sense and general human courtesy.  But for the Christian, I hope it would be immediately more evident.  Christ said that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God (Matt 22:37).  The interesting thing is that as you grow in your love for God and your understanding of His love for you, being or feeling loved by mankind becomes increasingly irrelevant.  You are loved by someone who loves you as you love yourself – well, actually much better and truer than you love yourself.  And you are loved by someone whose love is so significant that all other loves pale in comparison.

The second greatest commandment (right behind loving your God) is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).  Your neighbor is not necessarily someone who loves you.  It’s the person around you.  In fact, for some, their neighbor is their enemy.  And to be clear, lest we think that a neighbor who is an enemy lets us somehow off the hook, He commands us to love our enemies.  In fact, He points out that it is no big feat to love those who love you, even the non-Christians do that.  He calls us to something much nobler.

As a general disclaimer for those who think I took that quote out of context, I do understand that Felipe was talking about “balance” and about Liz’s tendency towards unhealthy attractions to unavailable and distant men.  And, in that context his comment may have some small merit, but my critique of this statement still stands. 

The second statement to which I would like to draw attention is the statement Liz sort of uses to justify and give merit to her year of self-centered searching.  Liz writes to her friends requesting financial help for a single mom and her daughter, Tutti, in Bali in lieu of gifts for her (Liz’s) upcoming birthday.  She tells her friends that “sometimes when you set out to help yourself, you end up helping …Tutti (which means everyone in Italian).”  It sounds so good.  We can claim our rights, set out to get what we want, take care of number one and in the end, everyone will be helped from it!  What a convenient and frankly self-serving thing to believe.  

Surely, this is some small piece of truth in this.  It wouldn’t be so deceptive if it weren’t wrapped around some shred of truth.  This is why, in an airplane, passengers are instructed in the loss of cabin pressure to put the oxygen mask on themselves before they put it on small children or dependents they are traveling with.  It is true that you are little good to others when you are, yourself, struggling or dead.  It is hard to give to others when you yourself are empty.  In fact, it was Liz’s complaint at the beginning of the movie, the impetus for her journey – she was empty, depleted, without appetite for anything.

However, though it may seem common-sensical that the right thing to do is to  take care of yourself first, Jesus says that his ways are not our ways, in fact, they are higher and better (Is 55:8-9).  And his ways confound d the wise.  They are paradoxical.  He says that to find our life, you must lose it (Matt 10:39).  I grant you, Liz seems to have found a new life after she lost her “old” one.  However, Jesus says you find life when you lose it for Him, not for yourself.  He also never says to go find yourself.  He says to come find ME.  Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and  then all these things will be added unto you” (emphasis added).  And remember the first and second great commandments?  Love God, love others.  The second greatest thing is not to love yourself as Liz might lead you to believe.

The truth is, when Liz left her marriage, she was helping herself and hurting Stephen (her husband) and the countless other friends and family members who got sucked into the vortex of that misery (as she makes clear in her book).  When she helped herself, she was not helping everyone.  In this scenario she was hurting everyone.  There are countless stories of people who “help themselves” and run over others in the process.  Putting yourself first rarely leads to anything good or altruistic for others.  What Liz missed was the order.  She got it backwards.  When she set out to help Tutti (the person), she ended up helping “tutti,” everyone—herself included. 

Questions for Discussion:

  • Are you a person who is drawn to (attracted to) romances with people who are distant and unavailable?
  • Are you tempted to only love those who can love you back? 
  • Do you find that as you grow in your love for God the love of mortals becomes less important or less desperate for you?
  • What would the world be like if people only loved those who loved them back with equal capacity all the time?  Would that even work?
  • What is your response to times when you are feeling down – do you focus on fixing yourself, or do you try to find someone else to help and serve?
  • Which statement have you found to be more true in your personal experience:
    • When I set out to help myself I end up helping others as a result.
    • When I set out to help others I find myself helped as a result.
    • What was your response to the religious undertones in the movie?  If you read the book, how did your response vary from one version to the other?

Additional Eat Pray Love Resouces:

  • Book Summary for those who want to be informed (but don’t have time to read the whole book)
  • Quotes from the book
  • Video Discussion with Dr. Craig Smith: explores critical themes and clarity on key issues