(first written as a Note on Facebook)
And so it came to pass that my friend Diane and I went to catch the screening of “Eat Pray Love” last night. We had wanted to watch it ages ago — perhaps subliminally hoping that little epiphanies would come to us unmarried girls, presently navigating through the murky thicket of love and relationships while learning to read maps, getting lost in a jumble of straats and huises, and deciphering the bewildering babel of tongues through which the people around us speak.
But no. No epiphanies here. Sorry, Julia Roberts.
And our central objection to the movie is this: 99% of the population of the world cannot afford to hie off and travel around the world on a blizzard of self-entitlement, just because she woke up one day feeling sorry for herself. Boo-hoo. And why does she feel sorry for herself? Because she has a big wooden chest under her bed with cut-out travel articles of places she could not yet visit, and because her husband has suddenly decided (*gasp*) that he wants to finish his Master’s degree. But instead of diving head-first into the issues of her marriage and communicating with her spouse, she dives head-first into the arms of a struggling off-Broadway, new-agey type actor with and bullies her way into a divorce and out of answering her husband’s valid questions.
Finding that love does not magically appear genie-like from under the haze of incense sticks or after tantric sex, she ups and leaves (again), to eat pray love in three different places around the world. In the meantime, the rest of us plod through our own life-issues and come to grips with the not-so-pretty realities of human relationships, and keep our jobs or go to school.
Because, well, honey, that’s how the world works. You don’t abscond from your problems like a spoiled, whining brat. You face them and deal with them and beat them down to the ground before they beat you first. You don’t take out your platinum credit card and book the first direct flight to Rome, where you hope to regain equilibrium by stuffing your face with pizza.
It’s the whole first-world smugness that incensed us so much, the vulgarity of using excessive consumption to solve problems that in all probability, were caused by excessive consumption (having too much, and therefore finding it difficult to attain satisfaction), and the fact that there was absolutely no effort in this movie to see through non-Western eyes. She goes to India and the film zeroes in on the gut-wrenching poverty, with a sidebar commentary on women’s rights and forced marriages. She goes to Bali, learns from a Medicine Man with funny English. Of course she falls in love with a Brazilian expat who would move heaven and heart for her. (Because apparently, there is no such thing as relationship karma when you look like Julia Roberts). But then again, maybe there is karma — and she paid for her karmic debts by fulfilling her “White Chick’s Burden” and making her rich friends write a check to buy a poor woman a house. $18,000 just like that.
Note to the director from the global south: please don’t exoticize us, our issues, our poverty. Poverty tourism is keeping peoples poor.
Ok, so maybe you think I’m as bad as the movie is, going on a whining binge about how the whole movie is so far removed from the tableau of real life (my real life). But the difference is, after I finish writing this, I’m actually going to do my readings and finish my assignments, so that I finish my Master’s degree in good time, and go back to my country to a job that keeps me whole, happy and free — give or take a few dysfunctions.