The Eat, Pray, Love Trailer: An exercise in first-world problems

July 26, 2010 § 6 Comments

by ELENA

I keep seeing the trailer for Eat, Pray, Love on television. I also keep on seeing promotions for an upcoming Vanguard documentary on how overpopulation is causing a lack of sanitation in countries such as India. The Eat, Pray, Love trailer is giddy: Look at this businesswoman! She is burnt out at work! She can’t remember what she ate for lunch! She goes to Italy! India! and Bali! She eats carbs! She talks with her hands! She stops wearing pants! Ohh look– elephants! And cute naked guys! Come see this movie!

The teaser for the documentary is grim. The host throws up, and says that crossing a polluted river is “unbearable.”

As hard to watch as the Vanguard documentary looks, I’d rather watch that than Eat, Pray, Love. I haven’t read the book that the movie is based on, but the trailer turns me off in so many ways. It should be called First World Problems. As unhappy as Julia Roberts’ character seems, she’s pretty damn lucky to be working somewhere where she can just jet off for a year of soul searching in “exotic” locations. And of all of the problems that women face in the workplace (harassment, healthcare benefits, the glass ceiling), not remembering what lunch was is very far down on that list. I’m not saying that feeling burned out, overwhelmed, and not enjoying things like a good meal, or learning to meditate are petty things. But the whole “women goes on a journey to find herself” trope isn’t new. And is rather irritating, in my opinion.

As controversial as Slumdog Millionaire was (especially when it came to provisions made for the young Indian actors featured in the film), it unflinchingly showed the many Indians that live in poverty. According to the trailer, Roberts’ character finds meditation to be so hard, and gets to pet an elephant. Even Italy, a first-world country, has plenty of problems (many of which stem from Silvio Berlusconi being a complete douche canoe), and isn’t all pretty architecture, cute men, wine and OMFG CARBS.

I would find this story much more compelling if this woman’s quest for enlightenment didn’t use “exotic” third-world countries as a quaint backdrop. After all, for the millions who can’t take a year-long trip to find enlightenment, learning to enjoy food, find peace, and fall in love take place in wherever they live. And unfortunately, things like being able to make and enjoy a satisfying meal, or take time to meditate are not possible because they can’t afford/don’t have access to fresh foods and have to work around the clock to pay for basic bills.

Now, if I got to travel to Italy, India, and Bali, I would go, because travel can be an enjoyable experience. But I would also spend time trying to understand what living in those locations was really like, as much as I could. I had to watch the documentary Life and Debt during my freshman year of college, and it changed the way that I looked at tourism to “exotic” locations, because frequently, tourism is the only industry in countries that have been negatively affected by colonization, and crippling loan agreements made with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

People don’t like to think about millions of people unable to have access to toilets. This is why the Vanguard documentary is airing on a small cable channel, and Eat, Pray, Love is a big-budget movie. But I would be more willing to spend money on a movie that did feature travel to countries like India, if there was a greater reason to film there rather than a search for an “exotic” location, with “exotic” (aka not white) people wearing “exotic” clothing.

§ 6 Responses to The Eat, Pray, Love Trailer: An exercise in first-world problems

  • jaded16 says:

    That’s just it, isn’t it? Package, exoticise and commercialise a place/people till all is left of them are lofty stereotypes. This is the reason I get asked on my blog whether I ride to college on an elephant or I’ve ever seen a fully functional ‘Western’ toilet.

  • B says:

    Also saddening that in today’s world of movie making a good deal of screenwriters and such are turning to unoriginal ideas by taking stories from already published sources and making sequel after sequel after sequel. It’d be nice if the documentaries that weren’t just another ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ or ‘Supersize Me’ got a little more publicity if it can have such a profound affect on someone.

  • R says:

    The woman was actually depressed and if you read the book being unhappy is putting it lightly. She chose to go to India to go to an Ashram and learn about meditating. She goes to Bali because a medicine man told her to go there. She did not chose these places because they were “exotic.” Obviously, if you based your opinion on a three minute trailor you would be able to nitpick and find every bad thing the movie has to offer. And so what if her problems and work and love, who are you to judge the importance of someone’s problems. Who are you to say that living in a third world country is worse than being emotionally depressed? I’m not saying that either is worse. I’m saying that problems and problems and it is completely unfair of you to say one is more important than the other. Also, the problems facing India and Bali are not completely ignored. I understand that it is important to learn about these issues, but sometimes, maybe even for a year, people need to focus on themselves. Sometimes, people can’t be so world conscious. And maybe you should see the movie because in the book her reasons for traveling certainly weren’t to see “exotic” clothing or “exotic” people.

    • mirandanyc says:

      I mean, your point is fair enough. Except that Elena’s post isn’t about the book or the movie — it is specifically about the trailer (it’s right up there in the title!). The marketers of this film have made deliberate choices about how to portray the character’s journey in the three-or-so minutes that a trailer gives them, and those choices are pretty much saturated with privilege. The movie might be a progressive and aggressive analysis of the protagonist’s privilege, for all we know — but that does not come across in the trailer.

    • Elena says:

      And if that did come off in the trailer, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. And I’d actually want to see the movie.

      Trailers are what “sell” the main idea of the movie to customers. Whoever edited it specifically wanted potential viewers to see it as an escapist journey to countries they may not otherwise see.

      The only thing we see about pre-travel Julia Roberts is that she hasn’t been able to “marvel” at things, and can’t remember what she had for lunch. Which does not come across as a battle with clinical depression, which I’ve had to deal with, and have had to watch friends deal with.

      And not everyone can travel abroad for a year as a way to treat their clinical depression. My father has seasonal affective disorder, but if he told his boss that he wanted to take a leave of abscence in order to travel to sunnier countries, he would be out of a job, and doesn’t have the savings to take that trip.

      I still think that a movie in which the main character had to learn how to appreciate food and meditation and balance the demands of everyday life in the US would be a far better, more thought-provoking film.

  • R says:

    Ok, I understand your point and that it is specifically about the trailer.

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