Orientalism in Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love is a movie based on the memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. It chronicles Gilbert’s post-divorce search to ‘re-find her passion, her spark, her fire for life’ as she travels from her home in Manhattan to Italy, India, and Bali for one year. While this movie was widely popular when it came out, it has also been heavily critiqued for its reliance on orientalist tropes of the ‘Far East’ as a source of spiritual healing for white people. When Liz, the main character, travels to Italy she spends a significant amount of time with locals, even making an Italian family a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. However, when she travels to India and Bali the locals are in the background while she socializes with almost exclusively expats. The locals who Liz does interact with in India and Bali are reduced to stereotypes and caricatures, only there for Liz to use as steps to her ‘enlightenment.’ In the ashram in India she makes friends with a 17 year old girl, Tulsi, whom Liz comforts after she tells her she is being forced into an arranged marriage that she does not want, giving Liz the opportunity to reflect on her own failed marriage. In Bali she visits a ‘healer,’ Ketut, who “teaches her everything he knows” in broken English with a grin on his face, showing her the path to ‘balance’ in her life. In Bali she also makes friends with a single mother who heals her physical ailments and listens to her problems, a brown woman Liz ‘saves’ by collecting donations from her friends and family for the woman (seemingly without permission). India and Bali are also portrayed as simple and otherworldly, a “paradise” for Americans to “discover” and “find themselves.” The locals in India and Bali are background characters who don’t particularly seem to be existing in the 21st century, a spectacle to look at and to create the “peaceful” atmosphere Liz so desires. Where this movie is from the point of view of a white woman, all other non-white characters are Othered, reduced, and homogenized for her consumption and personal fulfillment.