Even if you’re not a political conservative National Review is worth subscribing to for Ross Douthat’s movie reviews alone. They are invariably insightful and often entertaining. And unlike some Christian reviewers, who tend to find commendable spiritual lessons in even the worst films, he’s willing to tell it like it is.
For example, his latest review is on the film adaption of Elizabeth Gilbert’s runaway bestselling Oprah-endorsed memoir. Douthat writes, “Eat Pray Love . . . is one of the most self-consciously spiritual movies you’ll see this year. . . .” But then he adds, “. . . and also one of the most appalling.”
This is after he compares the film to Sex and the City 2:
For all its overstuffed awfulness, Sex and the City 2 was too vacuous, too gross, too upfront in its sleaziness and materialism to really convey what’s wrong with 21st-century American culture. It lacked the unique twist that Americans give to decadence, the pretentious spin that can make our coarseness that much more offensive and unbearable. For all its sins, at least Sex and the City 2 knew that it was trashy. It didn’t claim to be religious.
Douthat recognizes that Eat Pray Love is self-consciously theological: “this is the rare Hollywood production where the theological message is as important as the plotting. . . . Beneath the glossy surface, there’s the outline of a contemporary Pilgrim’s Progress, in which a scattered, baffled modern woman finds happiness by figuring out what God desires from her, and acting accordingly.”
After describing what God wants from the heroine—basically, break up with her husband for selfish reasons, shack up with a handsome young man then dump him, travel the world where she learns to meditate and forgive herself, then fall in love with a new guy—Douthat writes:
If everything “God” wants sounds suspiciously like what a willful, capricious, self-indulgent Western woman with too much time and money on her hands might want . . . well, then you’ve unlocked the theological message of the movie.
To quote the main character in the film: “God dwells with me, as me.”
In response, Douthat quotes G.K. Chesteron’s Orthodoxy (p. 81):
Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. . . . That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within.
Douthat is operating within space constraints, and the quote in the review ends there, but here is how Chesterton continues:
Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.