self-awareness

“Eat, Pray, Love” and the Company of Men

The central character in the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love,” is a thirty-something woman who breaks up with her husband and goes on a global journey in order to rediscover her passion for living.

She travels to Italy and has an orgiastic love affair with pasta and pizza while bonding with what we can only assume is a typical community of Italians who love their food and wine and lead rich, full extended-family lives with their significant others.

On the more spiritual side, she connects with a shaman and eventually does a retreat at an ashram in India.

On the final leg of her self-awareness voyage, she ends up on the island of Bali and finds the love-of-her-life, a Brazilian expatriate.

The message in all of these wanderings is that no woman can be complete without a man. The movie is replete with men who seem to hover around the central character like stray animals looking for a place to crash—a husband who can’t decide what he wants to be when he grows up; a young new-age, sexually pliant actor whose cuteness would make any adult woman’s teeth ache; an Italian teacher looking more like a forlorn Gucci model, five-o’clock-shadow-and-all; a disgruntled Texan and father-figure who exposes his vulnerability to the central character by telling her his story of coming home drunk and almost running over his child; and, finally, an emotionally wounded widower now ready and willing to settle down into a happily-ever-after relationship (the movie makes it quite clear that both he and the central character have gone through their own baptisms of fire—he, as a widower, and she, as a rite-of-passage world traveler sufficiently enriched by pasta and a short-lived stay in an ashram).

I realize that the central character in “Eat, Pray, Love” has no grand pretensions to make her mark on the world. Her psychological cosmos is quite small in spite of traveling to Italy, India, and Bali to reignite her passion for living.

However, the self-awareness journey she takes feels more like a mix of a bourgeois global tour and a prom-queen’s fast-forward speed-dating exercise.

And the film is quite blatant in its didactic message that men, all men, are essential ingredients to her journey—a dreamy, irresponsible husband; a care-taking divorcé; a parody-of-himself shaman; a hunky Italian teacher; and a widower who has had his own life’s tragedies. As the old song goes, “It’s raining men” all the time in her life, and I mean all the time.

Some of the men may be in the shadows as she tries to reorient herself to being single, but Hollywood is not about to let the ghosts of male availability out of the central character’s reach, even though she is supposed to be on a self-awareness journey without any intimate entanglements.

The company of men, in itself, doesn’t necessarily have to be a deterrent to her journey. However, the constant potential they have to either have an intimate relationship with her or to be a permanent codependent caretaker for her spiritual and grown-up needs tends to diminish her own strength as a character in the movie.

Her final surrender to Mr Right, the Brazilian expatriate, is not so much an agonizing acquiescence after a hard-fought soul-searching battle to find herself; it is more an adolescent girl’s surrender to the guy who just happens to be at the end of the queue, the default guy after Hollywood ran out of available male options.

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Trust

I remember the day. It was fifteen years ago. I was standing outside my father’s apartment. We were engaged in a conversation about Mary, my stepmother, who had just been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

My dad made a vain attempt at telling me that he wasn’t bothered by my stepmother’s inability to travel. I didn’t believe him. Continue reading

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