In Sweet Company

Sleeping Beauty

He’ s Coming!
I have to lie down
And pretend I’ve been sleeping
These years.


I saw the movie Sunday hoping we’d finally have a film that opened an authentic window — maybe even a door — on a woman’s spiritual life. Though Elizabeth Gilbert is no saint, and I offer my thanks to Ingrid Bergman and Leelee Sobieski for their inspired Joans of Arc, it’s about time we had a film about women’s spirituality that doesn’t end with the protagonist being stoned, imprisoned or burned at the stake. I left the theater feeling that Gilbert’s journey, that women’s spirituality, had been trivialized, reduced to a beautifully filmed travelogue about a solemn woman whose undoing was superficial and whose doing up hinged on sensory delights.

Regrettably, all the things that made the book a hoot to read are absent or reconfigured in the film. The real Elizabeth Gilbert is funny. She displays integrity and courage. She visits India, visits her guru — not her boyfriend’s guru as the film portrays — because she wants to connect more deeply with God and integrate her spirituality into her everydayness. Her struggles in meditation occur because mastering “the monkey mind” is a challenge for everyone who meditates, not because she favors interior design over interior prayer. Her insights about her marriage unfold over time, not because a young woman she befriends bites the dust and marries the wrong guy.

When I interviewed Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis …

… for my book, IN SWEET COMPANY, she talked freely about the dearth of roles about women who are spiritually evolving. “That anyone would even write something like that, something worth doing, would be a miracle! So I constantly play women who are damaged and out of touch.” With Eat Pray Love — a book that’s sold 5 million copies worldwide, we had our eyes on the prize — a sensitive text, a built-in audience, a Julia Roberts on board in a time when women’s spirituality is undergoing an extraordinary renaissance. Hollywood then removes any trace of authentic spirituality from the film and reduces Gilbert’s story to a sad tale about a codependent woman who is “damaged and out of touch” — until she takes a holiday, eats pizza, and finds true love. Then they come out with a line of Eat Pray Love jewelry, fragrances, and bed linens. Give me a break!

The Hollywood version of the heroic journey has historically been a guy thing: An unshaven, hunky but inherently capable guy zips up a leather jacket or dons a tuxedo and braves an intemperate / barren / war torn landscape or casino with a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of scotch to weather the storm. A woman’s heroism is a different kind of rugged, a different landscape. (See my earlier blogs.) Caring and relationships are but two of the instruments that motivate and support a woman’s transformation. Any woman whose been there will tell you this.

We all need heroes, people we can look to who can show us how to navigate the chaos in our lives with integrity and calm, who awaken us to the opportunities for heroism in our own lives. That’s one of the reasons I wrote IN SWEET COMPANY. The development of competence is a gradual thing, a cumulative effort — a trajectory that, over time, grows the individual and society. This film is superficial; it does not spur this deeper emergence — unless seeing it helps viewers commit to a spiritual manifesto that rises above what Hollywood thinks real women are all about.

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