My Life in Ruins
Georgia has a lot on her mind.
Back in some distant past, the history Ph.D. accepted a job in Greece so she could work among the ancient ruins she loved. She thought it would be fun—an adventure.
Alas, her position was cut, and being unemployed wasn't really the sort of adventure she was looking for, especially since it forces her to get a gig as a tour guide until her next university appointment.
"Oh, yeah," she says. "I've hit rock bottom."
Georgia, as a tour guide, isn't that peachy. Turns out, the tourists are more interested in ice cream and shopping than the difference between Doric and Ionic columns, and they find Georgia's history lectures pretty dry. To make matters worse, a rival guide named Nico is determined to make Georgia quit.
Yes, it seems as if Georgia's love affair with Greece is suffering from a case of irreconcilable differences. In fact, she's growing to hate the place, what with its disinterested tourists, broken air-conditioning and dysfunctional elevators. And in return, it seems the entire nation of Greece can't figure out why Georgia won't just loosen up a bit.
But just as Georgia mails her letter of resignation back to home base, things start looking up. Irv, an older tourist, begins tutoring her on the finer points of having fun. A mysterious stranger begins leaving daisies on her bus seat. And some of her patrons seem to be, well, for lack of a better phrase, enjoying themselves.
Kefi is a Greek word that, loosely translated, means spirit, or passion, or joy. It's the sort of thing that causes folks in the Mediterranean world to sometimes smash their plates after a particularly good meal.
While such unbridled passion should (oxymoronically) be bridled a bit (we'll get to that later), there's certainly a lot to be said for embracing life in all its unpredictable glory. Take Georgia's tour bus driver, Poupi Cacas, for instance: While some might believe driving a bus couldn't be the most fulfilling career in the world, Poupi sees it as a front-row seat to the country's incredible beauty. "Scenery," he tells Georgia, "is frozen music."
For his part, Irv also has a great sense of kefi. He tells Georgia that he loved his old job as an ice cream taster (onscreen, ice cream is a symbol for the sweetness of life), and though he admits fighting with his wife every day until she died, they loved each other with unencumbered passion. "Twenty-eight years, I woke up every day, smiling," he says.
Irv dishes out wisdom to the other tourists, too. When a divorcée asks why her husband cheated on her, Irv says that "some men cheat themselves out of living a life with the woman they love." When a couple confesses to him that they hope to start a family but the husband is a bit nervous about it, Irv says, "Being a parent is the best thing in the world," and that the man will be a wonderful father. When another squabbling couple asks why their teenage daughter is so grouchy, Irv suggests that "parents sometimes forget they're an example."
A bunch of folks—even on their vacation—go to visit Irv in the hospital.
Most of the movie takes place in the remains of ancient temples, and religion, naturally, serves as an important thematic backdrop. We hear references to many Greek gods, including Apollo and Athena, and Georgia tells her tourists that the soil of the ancient ruins of Delphi has special powers. When they visit a Christian (Byzantine) church, one of the tourists crosses herself. A pair of tourists marvel at how old a mini-golf course must be (they believe everything's old in Greece) and wonder whether Jesus might've putted on that very same course.
All of Irv's "Dear Abby" behavior takes place in Delphi, where oracles were said to have doled out advice from the gods. Irv, in his role as relational guru, consciously apes those oracles of old, crouching behind the same stone they used.
Irv is, in fact, presented as something of a mystical figure throughout, and his "divine" powers become a running joke. He pretends to be "God" and blesses a tourist who can get around only with the help of a walker. Next thing we know, the tourist is wandering around without any aid. When the weather report calls for rain, Irv counteracts it with a funny little song and, lo and behold, the weather the next day is nice and sunny. He even "heals" the tour bus's air-conditioning unit—though in reality, he helped steal a working one from the rival bus the previous night. He becomes such a revered figure that some on the bus—only half joking—begin to wonder if he is God: When he denies that status (saying that if he were, he would've had a bowel movement more recently), they suggest he's just "a" god of the Grecian variety. Irv jokingly accepts, declaring himself Zeus.
At its core, this story is about Georgia and Poupi, who end up falling for each other. Georgia makes comments about her sex life (or lack of one). And most everyone believes that a bit of sex would help her outlook. She ends up thinking so, too, and we eventually see her with Poupi, apparently naked, wrapped in sheets on the floor. Georgia asks Poupi whether he's ever slept with a tour guide before. He says this makes his third time: The first was on "the boat" two hours ago with her, the second on the elevator shortly thereafter, again with her.
Two women—who bare copious amounts of cleavage—flirt with passengers, then (together) hook up with Irv (who admits he'll need a bit of pharmaceutical help to satisfy them). We also see the pair briefly (pardon the pun) in their underwear. A tourist couple, obsessed with starting a family, run to private areas whenever the woman senses she's ovulating.
Irv isn't the only one who mimics the oracles of Delphi. Georgia does it too—though her impression of said prophetesses is of the risqué variety: After Irv tells her that "sex sells," she decides to spice up her lecture on Delphi by describing the oracles themselves—virgins who wore diaphanous garments or, some historians believe, nothing at all. They'd reputedly channel the spirit of Zeus and go into a bit of a frenzy, which Georgia interprets as an almost orgasmic experience. "Zeus, take my body!" she groans in front of her rapt bus passengers. "Fill me with your wisdom!" Poupi is so distracted by her antics that he crashes the bus.
There are scattered references to critical body parts. And sex serves as fodder for a few jokes. One of them revolves around Georgia wanting to date a 16-year-old. Another is an extended gag revolving around gay sex. And still another involves talk about fondling naked statues. Speaking of such au natural works of art, various pieces show up onscreen, ranging from a miniature Venus de Milo to amateurish frescos of ancient Olympians. We even catch a glimpse of a postcard that appears to sport a depiction of a naked man in a state of arousal.
We see lots of women in bikinis. Men frolic in a fountain without their shirts. "It's like the Fourth of July at Elton John's house," one tourist says.
A tourist tackles Nico; both of them end up in a hotel pool. We later see the rival tour guide with a bloodied lip.
Crude or Profane Language
A spattering of mild profanities, including "a--" and "h---." God's name is misused a half-dozen times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Booze abounds on this cross-country tour. Georgia gets positively soused while on a "date" with one of her passengers. Later, she shares a bottle of wine with Poupi, gulping her first glass in one swallow. Other characters are shown drinking wine, beer and hard liquor. One couple from Australia are never shown without drinks sprouting from their hands. (Only one of them seems to ever become impaired by it.)
Irv takes a cigar on the bus with him, but takes it out of his mouth when he's told he can't smoke inside. He's later given a pair of American-made cigars, which again he doesn't light. A hotel clerk smokes a cigarette.
Other Negative Elements
One of Georgia's tourists is an expert shoplifter and pickpocket, stealing everything from souvenir trinkets (which she hands out to her fellow tourists) to Georgia's cell phone. While Georgia doesn't approve, she does aid and abet this aged klepto at one point, asking Poupi to drive away before a shopkeeper can have the tourist arrested. Later, Georgia helps Poupi and a handful of tourists steal an air-conditioning unit from the rival tour bus.
Poupi's name is designed to illicit laughs from audiences—as is that of his 16-year-old nephew, Doudi Cacas. We see a man sitting on a toilet.
So we've almost finished our tour of My Life in Ruins. We've seen the good (which exists mostly in the first half of the film), the bad (sexual situations and jokes) and the ugly (the idea that Georgia becomes a better and more interesting person/tour guide when she sleazes herself up a bit).
But before you exit the bus, let me leave you with one farewell thought:
Earlier I spoke to you about the concept of kefi—that passion for life Greeks embrace better than (the movie suggests) anyone else in the world. I, myself, have never thrown a dinner plate into the fireplace or danced the kalamatianos or, frankly, even eaten a real gyro. So perhaps I'm not the best person to speak to the issue of kefi. But it seems to me that, while a passion for life is a wonderful, fantastic thing, we shouldn't suggest that it's somehow superior to rational, sober reflection.
Rationality and responsibility is not great fodder for film. It's hard to craft a compelling story about a tattooed vagabond who decides to become an accountant. But here's the deal: While Georgia and all her vacationing friends are knocking about Greece without a care in the world, they came to the country to soak in Greece's history and architectural wonders—attractions that never would've come about had not people, thousands of years ago, worked really, really hard to create something of lasting importance.
And that took a whole lot of rationality and responsibility.
God, I think, does want us to enjoy life. To me, the fact that we laugh and sing at all is as persuasive an argument for the existence of God as any you'll find. So I can buy into the concept of kefi—that maybe it's OK to break the infrequent dinner plate. But we've got to be prepared to pick up the pieces afterwards. And that's a concept this film does indeed ruin.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Nia Vardalos as Georgia; Richard Dreyfuss as Irv; Alexis Georgoulis as Poupi; Alistair McGowan as Nico
June 5, 2009
October 6, 2009