Julie and I recently went to see “Eat, Pray, Love” based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir of self-discovery. Our interest was more than entertainment as Gilbert’s story has helped increase interest in travel to Italy, India, and Bali. As Imprint has tours to two of those destinations, we were curious to see if the movie would significantly add to the mystique and desirability of travel there. I must confess to being somewhat underwhelmed by EPL. I would be hard-pressed to disagree with reviews of the movie, which were decidedly lukewarm. As seems always to be the case, the movie does not stack up to the book. The performances seemed lackluster and the storyline not nearly as engaging as that of the book. But what I was really looking for was the compelling imagery that is ubiquitous in Bali and India. Those destinations are the most visually stunning and diverse of any I’ve visited. I had hoped this movie might be one of those in which the setting becomes one of the story’s stars. In this I was truly disappointed. With few exceptions the movie did little to portray the richness of either location.
But EPL is not a bad movie, just one that failed to live up to admittedly high expectations. And it does contain fleeting moments that embody the sense of place in India and Bali. For India, there is really only one brief scene, Gilbert’s arrival in India. The movie does a good job of portraying the intensity, chaos, crowdedness, and “in-your-face” aspect of one’s first moments in India. The beggars at Gilbert’s taxi window are a reality of the Indian experience. Unfortunately, it is only these pejorative elements moviegoers will see. Absent are the colors, majesty, history, architectural grandeur, sensory stimulation, and mysticism (the ashram scenes do little to illuminate this facet) that imbue every waking moment of an India visit. The only glimpse of sumptuous India is the wedding scene with the spectacular wedding dress and sensuous feel and bright colors of the celebration.
Bali fares better with lovely glimpses of emerald rice terraces, verdant flora, and dramatic coastal and beach locations. One also gets some views of the local architecture, colorful clothing, and signature mountains. In particular we enjoyed the lovely shots of hiking within the caldera of Mt. Batur. Some subtle touches were nice. Like the farmer “herding” ducks in the opening sequence and the vibrant market scenes. Perhaps the most interesting feature portrayed was cultural: the palm reader Ketut. The actor does a marvelous job conveying the genuine, contented, light-hearted, and smiling Balinese people. But again, a majority of the most alluring aspects of the Balinese landscape were absent. There were no examples of the most spectacular vistas, beautiful temple architecture, archeological monuments, or the captivating Balinese dance dramas.
In summary, EPL as an inspirational travelogue gets a thumbs down from this reviewer. But for those of you who have been to Bali it will be fun to revisit the sense of place and culture. For those of you considering going to Bali, it will show you some of Bali’s more subtle features. All told, EPL is worth a DVD rental for a quiet evening of vicarious travel – but won’t even scratch the surface of the story that is India or Bali.