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FIRST-PERSON: Seeking God in Hollywood, coming up short

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)–What’s not to like about the movie “Eat Pray Love”? As it turns out, quite a lot. The PG-13 rating nevertheless will attract a fair number of moviegoers, and the movie is drawing crowds, finishing fourth at the box office the last weekend of August.

Julia Roberts takes the lead in her 40th movie, cast as a heroine for those who have been taken by the surprises of life, unsure of where to turn for help.

The character of Liz Gilbert walks away from soured relationships in hopes of finally getting it right. It is a quest anyone could imagine if money were no object as she sets out to feed her soul in Italy, assume the posture of New Age prayer at an ashram in India, and play at love after studying with a medicine man in Bali.

Gilbert seeks God’s blessing for her life-altering journey, admitting her unfamiliarity with his ways.

“I’ve always been a big fan of your work,” she ekes out, struggling to find the right words to express her desire.

Captivated by her earnest plea, movie audiences naturally will echo, “Aren’t we all?”

With confession out of the way, it’s time to sit back and get comfortable with ridding our souls of any person or place that stands in the way of finding peace (even if it means casting off one’s spouse to find one’s self). It’s a path with which the 42-year-old Roberts is familiar, having converted to Hinduism after growing up with a Catholic mother and Baptist father. According to an interview in People magazine, the entire Roberts-Moder family goes to temple together “to chant and pray and celebrate.”

Playing just across the hall is another story of a life tormented far longer than the 30-something Gilbert’s. In “Get Low,” (PG-13) Robert Duvall portrays a 1930s hermit confined to a prison of his own making after his life is altered forever by one deed gone bad.

Felix Bush emerges from his solitude of Caleb County, Tenn., ready to take on the world by staging a funeral party at which all grievances against him will be aired. To the surprise and delight of the funeral home director, played by Bill Murray, Bush is willing to hand over a wad of cash to redeem his reputation and salve his own soul.

While Gilbert gains a sense of balance from the Yoda-like healer named Ketut, Bush is thrown off-kilter by not one, but two reverends. Neither compromises by offering an easy path to salvation.

It doesn’t work that way, the first parson declares, forcing Bush to go a great distance to find a minister who will give him the desired eulogy. “After you left here did you do the right thing?” asks the second minister.

“I felt that I did the right thing,” Bush responds, offering the same humanistic solution on which Gilbert depends.

Neither tale is hard to believe as both stories are drawn from real-life events.

The story of Gilbert is taken straight from the best-selling autobiographical memoir and has found such favor with readers as to multiply the pilgrimages to Ketut’s hut where visitors offer a monetary gift for similar readings. Duvall’s character is inspired by the true story of a reclusive Tennessean named Felix “Bush” Breazeale who attracted more than 8,000 people to his funeral while he was still alive. Seekers will find it difficult to locate the mythical Caleb County, but most every moviegoer will recognize the landscape of an ancestor who eventually got low.

The son of a Christian Science mother and a Methodist father, Duvall has been in four marriages, most recently to an Argentinean who ranks Get Low at the top of the 80-plus films starring her husband. Asked by television host Mike Huckabee if he consciously seeks to communicate a message through a film, Duvall said no. “If there’s a message there, let it happen,” said the 79-year-old actor who first starred in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“I think it’s tied with religion,” he said more specifically of his newest movie’s theme. Recalling that his character questioned why he needed to ask Jesus for forgiveness when he “‘never did nothing to him,'” Duvall added, “You can still believe in Jesus and say that.”

Eat Pray Love and Get Low both provide cryptic staccato titles while addressing the most serious issues of life. Viewers of each will either find what they want to find in each movie or, hopefully, look a little deeper.

The Psalmist offers a clearer message than these two films, often in single syllables, in the fifth chapter:
“Give ear to my words, O Lord,
Consider my meditation,
Give heed to the voice of my cry,
My King and my God,
For to You I will pray.
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord;
In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up.”
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news director of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter