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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

wtf: Catholic press complaining that ‘Eat Pray Love’ isn’t Catholic Churchy enough

Julia Roberts communes with,
shockingly, not the Virgin Mary

With Eat Pray Love finally opening in the U.K. — though with an opening-weekend take of only £1.2 million, it did considerably poorly compared to the North American opening last month of $23 million — it’s time to bitch about something I’ve been saving up for a month. I thought I might feel less angry about this given time, but I don’t.

When EPL opened in North America in August, the Catholic press was pretty darned peeved over it. Why? Julia Roberts’ Liz Gilbert — and the film itself, as a consequence — gives less than zero thought to Jesus in her quest for spiritual enlightenment. How dare she — as John Mulderig at Catholic News Service fumes — “negat[e], or at least ignor[e], the spiritual resources of Christianity”?

On the first stage of her journey, Liz develops a circle of laid-back friends who teach her how to enjoy life while scarfing down quantities of pasta, pizza and artichokes. Though she seemingly hits every restaurant in town, she gives the churches a pass, the implication being that she knows better than to look to Catholicism for insight.

Doesn’t Gilbert know that everyone is inherently Catholic, and therefore obligated to turn to Catholicism in their moment of need? The nerve of the woman, to presume to know better than to look to Catholicism for insight? Even if, as the movie shows us, she’s a New Yorker, where she would have already had considerable exposure to Catholicism? How can she not find spiritual solace in endless babymaking or — the only other option available to truly Catholic women — endless celibacy?

I doubt Mulderig appreciates the irony of his disdain for Gilbert’s spiritual exploration in India:

So it’s off to the subcontinent and the religious establishment run by David’s female guru. (The unhealthy atmosphere of semi-idolatrous worship with which this guide is surrounded — first sensed as David and Liz sat in front of a small altar David had erected to her in his apartment — is reinforced by Liz’s dialogue with the ashram personnel.)

There’s no idolatry or altars in Catholicism, of course.

Harry Forbes at America: The National Catholic Weekly, by contrast, merely sniffs with a hint of contempt at the film’s resolute lack of kowtowing to Catholicism:

[T]he narrative charts Gilbert’s spiritual journey, albeit in a non-Christian context…

But Steven Greydanus at the National Catholic Register is utterly perplexed:

Her strange incuriosity regarding Italy’s spiritual heritage is all the odder in light of her spiritual aspirations during her time in India. (The book at least mentions Liz going to Mass at some point; I’m speaking here of the film.) Can you imagine a story about a spiritually curious person spending several months in Israel or Egypt or Tibet and completely ignoring local religious life?

How odd for people to not be thinking of Catholicism all the time!

The thing that rankles here is the assumption on the part of these Catholic critics that naturally, absolutely any movie about spiritual exploration must give due consideration to Catholicism if it happens, in its story, to wander anywhere near a Catholic church.

Not everyone is Catholic, or wants to be, and no one owes Catholicism anything. Are Catholic moviegoers — as the audience for these reviews — so uncertain in their faith that they cannot deal with a movie that acknowledges that?

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