First of all, I haven’t read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, the source material of the film by the same name. Having no exposure to the author’s own words, I can’t comment very much on her personal journey as all I have to speak on is her narrative as presented by the movie.

With that said, there is one thing that immediately strikes me upon watching the movie: Elizabeth Gilbert is selfish, an utterly self-absorbed and completely selfish woman.

At least that’s how director Ryan Murphy paints her. Whether by design or not (and I can’t imagine that Murphy did this on purpose), the movie does Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) no justice in portraying her divorce. The divorce was seemingly precipitated by…well, nothing more than an abstract sentiment that she is “stuck”. Her decision to dissolve the marriage was largely unjustified, seemingly one settled upon willy nilly. Why does she divorce her husband Steven (Billy Crudup)? Because he wanted to go back to school? The movie hints at the notion that it had to do with his inability to settle down into a single pursuit. Ironically, Elizabeth is the one feeling stuck in a rut. As a man who highly values the seemingly impossible ideal of lifelong monogamy, I was rooting for Steven. I felt his indignation at her unilateral decision, and I entirely sympathized with him when he said that his newfound single passion was to dedicate himself to their marriage. He showed loyalty and dedication where Elizabeth showed nothing but selfishness.

In a scene that perhaps was an attempt to explain why Elizabeth would want to divorce her husband, she yells out that Steven doesn’t listen. “You don’t listen!” is not really much of a good reason to end a marriage though, especially when your husband quite earnestly expresses his genuine desire to make the marriage work. Presumably, Elizabeth was thinking of the time that they were driving back from that party. Steven was having a life-changing thought then. He was thinking of doing something greater with his life, something more than making crepes and wedding cakes for people. It would seem then that Elizabeth is the one who is rather self-absorbed. She complains that her husband is not listening, but the truth is that she is the one who isn’t listening to her partner. While Steven was thinking of furthering his education, Elizabeth balks at what she perceives to be his instability. It’s a bit hypocritical, as she’s the one thinking about doing all this traveling. Really, it was her own sense of restlessness that serves as the impetus to the destruction of their marriage.

The only lame attempt the movie made at garnering any sympathy for Elizabeth was showing her crying and praying to God for guidance. Julia Roberts’ emotionally raw performance, played up with close-ups and dark dramatic lighting, was designed to elicit sympathy, though it’s undeserved. Having received no reply from God (and I have been there myself, so it’s not like I can’t sympathize with those moments), she callously returns to bed and tells her husband that she no longer wishes to be married to him with such an unsettling ease, as though she were telling him that she wanted to have Chinese for dinner.

With only a short scene as a buffer, Elizabeth is next seen watching an awful play in which she finds herself pining for a hot young stud on the stage. With the grace of a teenaged boy fumbling to unclasp his first bra, the movie hits us over the head with an expositional line delivered by the play’s actress: “…the only way I can recover is becoming infatuated with someone else.”

Now, at this point, we really have no clue how long it’s been since Elizabeth made her unilateral decision to divorce her husband (seemingly without giving him much of a fighting chance). But without any scenes of sympathy, we’re shown that she’s already getting the hots for this young buck. We haven’t seen her all torn up about destroying Steve’s life and making a mockery of the vows that they made to each other, vows that Steven admirably argues that he takes very importantly during the divorce lawyer scene. All we see is that she moves on from her five-year marriage with relative ease. How are we supposed to feel sorry for her when, at this point, all we’ve seen is thatshedecides to divorce her husband without discussing it and decides to shack up with some hot young failing actor?

In any case, she moves on from the marriage and jumps into a relationship with David (James Franco), the aforementioned hot young thing. David’s seduction started on the stage, but it becomes fully realized when they meet after his performance. Elizabeth cleverly attributes the shameful walk-outs to herself, saying, “I’m not everyone’s cup of tea,” to which David replies, “I doubt that.” I don’t usually blaspheme, but Jesus H. Christ, how do they write that stuff? David’s so-called charm is only made bearable by James Franco’s boyish good looks. Whether or not the real-life David actually said those words, it was just entirely nauseous to see an accomplished and well-traveled woman fall for the pretty-boy act. If this is what counts for charm, well, I’d easily be a prolific Casanova. The rest of the romance is portrayed just as unwieldily as the way it began.

In time, Elizabeth becomes frustrated with this new relationship as well and up and decides to lose herself in exotic locations to do some soul searching, abandoning yet another relationship due to her restlessness. Finally, after half an hour of agonizing backstory, we begin Elizabeth’s journey across the world. And to be honest, the journey is an underwhelming one. She arrives in Italy and the first thing she does is complain that there isn’t enough water to bathe in. Her travels are mired with such petty complaints, underscoring her privileged self-centeredness. The rest of the movie does very little to impart a sense of spiritual awakening in Elizabeth’s journey, if such an awakening even happened.

While the book and the movie may seem to some people as a champion of women’s liberation and an inspirational tale of female freedom, it is really nothing more than a self-absorbed tale of immaturity and irresponsibility. There is an early scene in which Elizabeth holds up a garment of baby’s clothing to herself and asks, “Does this come in my size?” It’s a befitting question: Elizabeth is self-indulgent, selfish, and restless. Not a far cry from a baby, is she?

Some may say that my judgment of Elizabeth is harsh and inherently rooted in a male bias against female freedom. But honestly, I’d shake my head in disapproval just as emphatically if it was a man instead of a woman who hopped in bed with a younger woman immediately during his ongoing divorce. I’d have just as much contempt for a man as for a woman if he decided to divorce his wife without so much as a discussion. And I’d spit just as hard at the feet of a man who restlessly leaves two relationships just to travel the world to “find oneself,” whatever that means.

In sum, the movie really paints Elizabeth Gilbert in a very unflattering light. She leaves a five-year marriage on a whim and immediately takes on a new young lover; and being unable to find satisfaction in that new relationship, decides to travel the world to find spiritual peace and balance. It’s not a tale that one can readily relate to on a truly meaningful level, because – as some critics have mentioned – not everybody can leave everything at the drop of a hat to go on an international soul search.

No, it’s a tale of self-indulgence, selfishness. Not only is it unflattering, the movie is entirely incapable of conveying the emotions that were intended. From the awful attempt to convey charm and romance to the spiritual revelation that Elizabeth found in her travels, it is probably better if the movie didn’t exist. At least then, if we would bother to read the book, we might find it in ourselves to project some sympathy for Ms. Gilbert. The movie is clumsy with the story and fails to express any sense of transcendence or the magic of spiritual self-discovery. Whether that is because the book itself was full of manure (in which case, I cannot blame Ryan Murphy or the screenwriters as you can only work with what you’ve got), I don’t know, but it certainly isn’t worth the acclaim it got. Really though, the true travesty is that Elizabeth Gilbert got rich off this poor excuse for a story when there are other far more worthy written works, with the money serving only to fuel her narcissism.

Interested? Own or Rent The Movie Here

  • kimba

     I have read the book, and I agree whole heartedly with your assessment.  As a working mother of three, and married for 10 years, I kept hoping I would start to feel some compassion for this woman and the decisions she makes.  I wanted to connect on some level.  But she basically did leave her marriage on a whim, and she did jump right into a passionate relationship.  This woman is extremely self-absorbed.  Narcissistic to a point.  Yes, we would all love to just forget our responsibilities and do whatever we want to do, whatever "feels good" at the moment…but can you image what type of world we would live in if we did?  And the bottom line is, she's missing out on a lot of love and commitment by being so selfish – she'll never know what that undying, unconditional love for a child feels like.  What's even more disappointing to me though, is how many people loved her book and applauded her decisions.  Pathetic.

    • Hi Kimba,
      I know I'm terribly late with this comment, but I just want to say thank you for writing in.  I also wanted to thank you for reminding me that there are still people who believe in dedication and simple common sense.  I hope you have more people like you in your life…I find that such people are in short supply nowadays.

      • Sarah

        You all are full of crap. 1. You cannot make a judgement of a BOOK based on a movie. 2. You have never been in the horrible place she was in or you would get it. What's selfish is a man who expected his wife to support every childish dream he had while she worked to pay for it. THAT is selfish. Get a grip.

        • wistfulwriter

          I am afraid to inform you that, as a human being, we are all full of excrement, yourself included. With that said, I haven't made any judgments about the book: my commentary was about the movie.

          With that in mind, the movie does not portray the husband as someone who is expecting his wife to support him while he chases "every childish dream he had." According to the movie, if I remember correctly, he wants to leave his job as a baker (or something like that ) in order to pursue a more meaningful career like teaching. The movie does not antagonize Steve; rather, it makes him sympathetic. Who can argue against the education of young people? We don't get the sense that he is forcing her to financially support him because it's not like he is unemployed and refusing to work.

  • Sean

    Just saw the movie. I really agree with you. She was becoming a big shot writer and he was becoming nothing, so she left him. Hipster snobbery and blind ambition. I found her a really unlikable protagonist.

  • WomanWithAHeart

    Dear Wistful Writer,

    I was watching a re-run of the Oprah Show after Oprah’s Supersoul Sunday.  
    I was horrified to see that Oprah was honoring this woman (Elizabeth Gilbert) as some type of spiritual guru.  I was shocked.  I saw the film and I completely agree with the wistful writer about this portrayal of the author.  I felt bad for her husband.  (I am happy that he eventually found someone good for him.)  

    It makes me very sad that the message is that modern professional women are supposed to aspire to be like this rich, spoiled little girl who is definitely not a fully-formed emotional adult.  This is holding up the wrong image to young women.  Perhaps it does do a community service by making young men aware that “women” (I use the term loosely — girl is probably more apt) like this exist and that they should know that in order to avoid them.  I would hate if my brothers ran across and married a female like that.

    Thank you for validating that I am not alone in my opinion.  Everyone is welcome to their own journey but shouldn’t we try not to destroy others in the process?

    Thank you,
    (For what it is worth, I am a working woman professional PhD-level scientist.)

  • Thank you K, for sharing your opinion. It’s great to have an educated woman’s view on the matter.

  • adm

    Single I assume?

  • PanaitCiprian

    Ok, after reading what other people said based on the book apparently she left because she did not want babies (although she originaly agreed to) and wanted to live her life as a teenager. Abput living on a whim yes and no. Most likely it was some time since he did not met her desires. He probably did not have enough time (with work and all) to pamper her as the big child she is and probably did not fuck her as a teenager every day (you know since people that actually have a demanding job get tired). Her decision to have a divorce was solely based on the fact that he found a young stud she wanted to fuck. That is it. Nothing more. About the journey of self discovery this is bs. It was a job. She was paid to write a book , nothing more. Also i do not find any mention on how much she got after the divorce. If she did not get anything more than what was on her name then maybe is best for the hysband to get rid of such a cunt. As you and others mentions there is no journey of self discovery is a journey of hedonistic self indulgence. That is it. About spirituality, since she went to a tourist ashram I do not know what to say. If she had witnessed one of the ritual sacrifices the hindu religion is full of (and the main reason I hate it) maybe I would have taken into consideration her experience. She did not experience what India is really like. There are small areas in India that are very rich full of ashram for tourists. That is what she saw. She did not see the poor, the sick and the nedy, she did not saw the crowded places full of misery, she did not saw the terror of indian gurus. She saw only a facade. And then went and found someone else, someone beautiful, rich and well hung that can satisfy her for a while.

  • PanaitCiprian Hi. Thanks for writing in, and sorry for the long delay in publishing the comment, it was being held for approval and I didn’t know about it.

  • So many people seem to see Liz Gilbert as some kind of beacon of spiritual enlightenment, and at one point I decided to look into it, and tried to read Eat, Love, Pray for myself. I couldn’t make it past the first five pages because of the overwhelming selfishness that seemed to basically drip from every word. It was literally that bad. I haven’t really shared this experience with many others, though, because I’ve partly felt that my analysis might have been just a bit subjective (maybe a bit more explanation: I tried reading the book as a way of looking for clues that might help me to reconcile with my wife, who had recently given up on our marriage and moved out. It was one of her favorite books at the time.) This review has been reassuring to me, though. The movie actually sounds like it conveys precisely the tone that Elizabeth writes in. I don’t think she realizes she’s so self-absorbed. I think that she is honestly just that deceived. I mean, honestly, that’s what we call it when someone thinks that they are spiritual, but their motives are actually selfish. It’s tragic, too, because a lot of women look to her for inspiration.

  • OhPlease

    I’m female and I agree completely with everything wistfulwriter says here. I’m horrified that Liz Gilbert is seen as a spiritual icon when, like others here have said, she’s narcissistic and selfish. Definitely not someone to use as inspiration. And now she’s divorced the man she met in her Eat, Pray, Love journey. Spiritual people don’t treat other humans as something to use, then toss aside.

  • Andre Nickell

    @adm What do you mean by “Single I assume”?

  • Johnny

    Very good article