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8.22.2010

eat pray love: orientalism on the big screen (again)


This NPR piece pretty much echoes exactly what bothers me about Eat Pray Love -- yet another narrative about a privileged Westerner "in search of self" in the mystical, mysterious East: Eat, Pray, Love, Leave: Orientalism Still Big Onscreen.
In Eat Pray Love, Bali serves as Elizabeth Gilbert's hallowed sanctuary. It's an enchanted land where she finds emotional healing. But if her journey may in fact have been life-changing, the film version of the story she told in her best-selling book is filled with stereotypes about the East. Ketut, the Balinese medicine man she seeks out for wisdom and fortune-telling? You want to believe in their friendship, but his character is a caricature. At one point, she even jokingly refers to him as Yoda.

Eat Pray Love is just one of the recent movies to romanticize travel along the Silk Road. This year, movies about women awakening to their true passions while traveling to the Middle East include Cairo Time and Sex and the City 2.

The trope isn't limited to recent movies, or to stories about 40-something female travelers. There are epic dramas, explosive thrillers and lighthearted comedies, old and new, that don't teach you anything new about Asia or the Middle East. They rely instead on the stereotype that the East is someplace timeless, otherworldly, incomprehensible, waiting to be discovered by Westerners in search of self.
It's just another entry in the wide spectrum of Orientalist flicks that have populated the cineplex this summer, from Sex and the City 2 to Prince of Persia. And it doesn't seem to be a trend that's slowing anytime soon.