Eat, pray, love. Then sell out to the forces of materialism

Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling book is opening on the big screen. But has its message been lost?

Born near Atlanta, Georgia, in the buckle of America's Bible belt, and raised by a Catholic mother and a Baptist father, Julia Roberts last week announced that she'd undergone an extraordinary religious conversion. With the supreme self-confidence that only very major Hollywood stars can truly muster, the 42-year-old actress declared: "I'm definitely a practising Hindu."

Roberts has been visiting temples to "chant, pray and celebrate" with her husband, Danny Moder, and their three small children. "Hinduism is something that I'm very intrigued by and very interested in," she said, adding that in her next life she would prefer to be someone "quiet and supporting", rather than returning as yet another celebrity. In publicly sharing her new-found, and slightly unconvincing, grasp of spirituality, Roberts was at least keeping in character.

In a hugely hyped new film, which hits America's cinemas today, she will assume the role of Elizabeth Gilbert, the yoga-loving, yoghurt-knitting author of the best-selling memoir: Eat, Pray, Love.

The book has graced the bedside tables of seven million readers – the majority of them women – around the world, and has been a constant presence in the top 10 lists since its publication in 2006. It follows the 32-year-old Gilbert's efforts to escape the tyranny of her urban existence, after finding herself unhappily married and suffering a sort of early mid-life crisis.

It tells how she splits up with her husband, leaves Manhattan – where she's been working as a freelance writer – and sets off on a globe-trotting journey of self-discovery. In Italy, Gilbert learns how to "eat", enjoying fine wine, ice cream, pizza, and embracing her ever-expanding waistline. In India, she decides to "pray" and locks herself away in an ashram for months.

The "love" bit comes in Bali, where in the final chapter of her "search for everything", she falls for a Brazilian-born, Australian factory owner called Felipe, who is played in the film by a swarthy Javier Bardem. Felipe eventually returns to the US with her, where they get married and, we must presume, live happily ever after.

Inspired by the book's cult following, and no doubt impressed by the huge success of female-skewing films such as Sex and the City, Sony has thrown an estimated $80m (£50m) at making the movie, a huge sum by the standards of so-called chick-flicks. Tens of millions more are being spent on the title's high-profile marketing campaign.

It was directed by Ryan Murphy, the man behind the television phenomenon Glee, and boasts a hugely extravagant ensemble cast of A-listers. In addition to Roberts and Bardem, the film-makers have signed pay cheques to Billy Crudup, Viola Davis, James Franco, and the Glee star Mike O'Malley.

Yet in recent days, as Eat, Pray, Love's star-studded PR machine has begun furiously selling their movie to an expectant world – it will hit cinemas in at least 20 countries – the first cynical whispers of what may soon become an angry backlash have started to be heard. Fans of the novel, which is after all based on the premise that to achieve happiness one must break free from the shackles of 21st-century consumer culture – have been upset, and faintly gobsmacked, at the film studio's efforts to use the supposedly anti-capitalist movie's release to endorse several ranges of stupendously tacky merchandise.

One typical deal involves Fresh, a US cosmetics manufacturer, which has been sold a licence to flog a range of perfumes based on the film's locations. Informing us that "fragrance is a big part of my own spiritual journey", the firm's founder claims they will actually "transport you to a specific destination" in the movie.

Confused? Don't be: the marketing blurb adds, for example, that the $32 "eat" fragrance was inspired by the delicate aroma of a Tuscan pasta restaurant. It contains "notes of bright Italian lemon and basil balanced with creamy textures reminiscent of cannoli and tiramisus topped off with sparkling prosecco and limoncello".

Just as preposterous, and extravagantly priced, is a range of jewellery and trinkets being sold by a firm called Dogeared, which hopes to sell lonely or fulfilment-seeking fans of Gilbert's book "something to wear, connect with, and take with you as your own story unfolds". It includes luggage tags, notebooks, and a "109-wishes prayer turquoise bead necklace with green onyx", which costs $152 and allegedly provides the wearer with "a beautiful reminder to live in love and gratitude".

Elsewhere on America's high streets, Costplus, a budget import store beloved of people who live in suburbia but wish they didn't, now has an entire section of its outlets devoted to the film. They're selling themed sarongs, bath robes, prayer shawls, furniture, rugs, and pillows. Household ornaments include "meditation bells," Buddha statues made from stone, wood, and terracotta, and a "three-shelf Indian glass curio cabinet" ($100 / £65) to keep them all in.

The final insult, given Eat, Pray, Love's emphasis on following one's own path in life, has been the fact that several upmarket travel companies are now running package tours that will transport holidaymakers to exotic locations where they can practise yoga and vegetarianism, just like Julia Roberts.

For the princely sum of $20,000 (£12,800), a company called Micato Safaris will take you on an 18-day "inspirational India" tour, involving sessions with Reiki masters, yoga classes, and private sessions with astrologers and "gem doctors" who can allegedly cure illnesses using "the healing properties of gemstones".

The great irony, note critics, is that if a sufficient number of fans buy into these tours, they will end up destroying the very thing they have come to celebrate: the undiscovered nature of the charming locations detailed in the film and book.

One could, of course, argue that it was ever thus: film-makers have been knocking-out merchandise ever since George Lucas released his first Star Wars figurines, and in an era when box-office revenues are flat, studios need all the tie-ins and product placements they can muster in order to turn a profit. But the commercialisation of Eat, Pray, Love may nonetheless heralds the acceleration of this ugly trend. It is, after all, a movie aimed squarely at the adult market, whereas the vast majority of over-merchandised titles are designed to cash in on children.

Adding to the negative buzz surrounding the film's release is growing evidence that it is likely to be a critical bomb. Sony kept the title completely under wraps until its premiere early this week and, in a move which suggests studio executives suspect they have a turkey on their hands, forced critics to observe an embargo until today.

Yesterday the film was scoring a measly 29 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, the influential aggregation website that ranks films according to their reviews, and boasts an average "star" rating, from critics who deal in such vulgarities, of 1.5 out of five. The newspaper Variety, allowed to release its write-up early since its audience is largely industry-based, dubbed it "an exotic junk-food buffet that offers few lasting pleasures or surprises, let alone epiphanies".

Bad reviews don't always keep audiences away from films, of course, particularly when those films are aimed at women – most reviewers are male. But even if all seven million people who have purchased a copy of Eat, Pray, Love go to see it at their local multiplex, Sony will still be a long way from turning a profit.

The only woman who won't really mind the criticism is perhaps Elizabeth Gilbert. She recently admitted, to the surprise of fans, that the supposedly free-wheeling trip described in Eat, Pray, Love (yoga tuition fees and all) had actually been funded by a publisher's advance on the eventual book. It is easy to see it as a somewhat contrived spiritual odyssey designed by a bookseller eager to cash in on a wealthy demographic: middle-aged women who for some reason feel unfulfilled. In which case, one might argue that Sony's entire array of jewellery ranges, memorabilia and package holidays (not to mention Julia Roberts and fascination with Hinduism) are, in fact, strangely appropriate.

The price of self-discovery...

A pair of embroidered pillowcases

"Where will your dreams take you? Anything is possible when your head hits a pillow encased in luxurious cotton from India" ($39.99)



Eat, Pray, Love eaux de parfum

"Emotionally charged fragrances designed to be worn alone or layered together, that not only transport you to a specific destination, but also to a different state of mind" ($32 each)



Sony pocket edition eReader

"Throughout your journey of self discovery, what better way to entertain yourself than with this revolutionary library-to-go" ($229.95)



Set of 12 embroidered napkins

"The fun splash of coloured embroidery on one cornergets your attention and starts an intriguing conversation" ($14.95)



Sajen silver and quartz triplet ring

"Be true to yourself and begin your life's adventure today. Inspired by the movie Eat, Pray, Love, this bold ring... features hands holding the 'Ohm' mantra" ($159.90)

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss