3 Stars - Thought Provoking
A spiritual quest is always a fascinating journey. Most of us realize that there is more to life than our temporary existence in this world, and when we feel the emptiness of daily routines it is natural for us to long for more. The question then is: where do we turn? Who has the answers? Are there guides? Is there wisdom? Based on the memoirs of Liz Gilbertson, Ryan Murphy creates a story of where Liz turned for the answers to these important questions.
A middle-aged woman, Liz (Julia Roberts) is no longer in love with her husband. Believing that she can never find happiness with him, and longing to travel the world since childhood, Liz asks God for guidance. After a brief affair with an actor (James Franco) who introduces her to his practice of meditation with a guru, their relationship also grows empty and she then sets out for a three destination journey around the world.
The first destination is Italy where she spends four months in Rome. It is here that Liz meets friends who become like her family with whom she shares the feast of food and friendship. This is often where we find the first level of fulfillment of our souls: Family and friends in shared life.
The second destination is India where Liz spends several months in an Ashram under the unlikely tutelage of a Texan named Richard (Richard Jenkins). Himself a troubled soul, he lacks the spiritual insight the guru might have been able to provide, but the guru is at her Ashram in New York. This is perhaps the most troubling portion of the film as prayer is equated with meditation, and forgiveness is something a person gives themselves because they have “god within them.” Meditation is not prayer since it is an emptying of the mind rather than an inward conversation with the Divine and forgiveness is something far more than just a decision to forgive one’s self.
The third and final destination is Bali, where Liz places herself under a medicine man, Ketut Liyer (Hadi Subyianto), who had read her palm and prophesied about her life in a way that she took as prescriptive a year earlier. But it is here that Liz takes Ketut’s advice and accepts love from a Brazilian named Felipe (Javier Bardem). His love confronts Liz with her inability to trust or love and eventually wins both.
Although the solutions Liz explored are terribly lacking, the journey she takes is nevertheless an important one. The conclusion she makes that there are spiritual laws similar in importance to the laws of nature is in agreement with virtually all religions, including Christianity. That we are not left to simply discover those laws on our own is why seeking the guidance of others is such an important aspect of our spiritual quests. That she came to understand and practice the law of loving others as well as self was almost accidental because she took such indirect routes to find this insight rather than Jesus’ own words and life example. This film is not a spiritual road map for seekers but one woman’s story of her own quest, which brings viewers to look at their own journeys.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. It is the nature of our spiritual journeys that we turn to the familiar religions of our own culture. The fact that Liz didn’t know how to pray nor did she have a pastor to assist in her quest means that she didn’t have a religious background. In your quest, who have you turned to for assistance?
2. When Liz meets the medicine man who tells her that she is going to be married twice, one for a short time and one for a long time, she then goes home and divorces her husband. Do you believe the prophecy simply reflected that choice or was part of the cause? Would you make decisions in your own life based on a palm-reader’s assertions? Why or why not?
3. The film could also be called “Family, Religion and Marriage”. If it had this title, do you think Liz’s quest would have been different? Why do you answer as you do?