I took myself to see "Eat, Pray, Love" last night, following the cinema's directions through the back roads of Redding into Bethel. The roads were long, tree-bordered tunnels with few street signs and no lights, and I had a moment of something like panic when I realized I had no idea how I'd find my way home in the dark.
"We'll jump off that bridge when we come to it," I thought—the best bit of received wisdom come my way since "people who kill themselves never get to find out what happens next."
I read "Eat, Pray, Love" a few summers ago, at the height of its popularity, when my grandfather finished his copy. I remember wanting to be one of those sophisticated folks who dismissed the whole thing as hokey and contrived and bourgeois. But Liz Gilbert has an intelligent, engaging, honest writing voice, and if memory serves she spent some time in parts of Connecticut I know well, and we could all use a little wish fulfillment reading now and then. So I did like the book, though I probably never brought it with me in public.
The film adaptation was a disappointment. It did have some of the things I hoped for: Italian food porn, a few moments in India that rang true to my experience, a diverse cast (standouts included Hadi Subiyanto as an adorable Balinese medicine man and the young Indian girl forced into marriage), a radiant Julia Roberts. But the whole thing felt forced and far too long.
The dialogue was full of melodramatic, faux-spiritual cliches. It was as though the actors were not playing three-dimensional characters interacting in a meaningful way, just types with scripted bits to get across before their chess piece was knocked off the board. Roberts' Liz wafted around the globe with seemingly bottomless money and an inability to get over herself. Americans work too hard, she was told. Forgive yourself. Empty your mind and "the universe will rush in." I'm sorry, but these aren't epiphanies.
Granted, my impressions could have been colored by the fact that I kept flashing back to a recent pre-practice tidbit from my yoga teacher. She's reading Guruji, a new book by students of the late K. Pattabhi Jois. In the chapter by David Swenson (whom I took a workshop with in Westerly!!), she said he recounts grappling with disillusionment by joining an extreme monastic sect that lived apart, practiced celibacy, etc. All he found there was that the same pettiness, angst and hierarchies replicated themselves in that environment. Removing yourself from life to seek enlightenment, she said, is not better or easier, just different. Put another way, the Sutras say something like "it's not the world, it's how you're looking at it."
That said, on my way home I took the plunge into the darkness, attempting to retrace my route through the woods. Turns out I was paying close enough attention on the way that I was able to find my way back and even appreciate the drama created by the illusion that the tree-bordered roads were infinite. Oh, the profundity.