Under the Tuscan Sun, based on the bestselling memoir of the same title by Frances Mayes, was written and directed by Audrey Wells. It is about a recently divorced woman who risks all by starting a new life in Italy after buying a 300-year-old villa. This character-driven drama focuses on the challenges, choices, and character qualities it takes to mend a broken heart and then keep it open to the world and the people around you. It also has a lot to show us about the spiritual power of a place to nurture and transform us.
The film runs 113 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. For our review of the film and a plot synopsis, click here.
1. Broken Hearts
"There is an old Jewish saying: 'God is closest to those with broken hearts.' For most of us this is a true statement. At times of great sadness and personal crisis we feel more tenderhearted and closer to our soulful center," Lama Surya Das writes in Awakening to the Sacred.
- What do we learn about Frances's strong and weak character traits in the opening scenes, particularly in her encounters with a disgruntled author, her lawyer, and the manager of the apartment building that specializes in short leases? Share your reactions to her best friend Patti's fears about Frances becoming a person who is an empty shell of what she once was.
- What experiences would make you agree that God is closest to those with broken hearts? How does suffering and loss make us feel more tenderhearted?
2. The Right Place
"This place where you are right now / God circled on the map for you" is a line from the poetry of Hafiz in Daniel Ladinsky's The Subject Tonight Is Love.
- What aspects of Frances's encounter with Villa Bramasole reveal that she is destined to own that property?
- What special place in the world have you been drawn to? Do you think God circled it on the map for you, and what difference does that make to your relationship with it?
3. Uncertainty as a Blessing
"Life is. I am. Anything might happen. And I believe I may invest my life with meaning. The uncertainty is a blessing in disguise. If I were absolutely certain about all things I would spend my life in anxious misery, fearful of losing my way. But since everything and anything are always possible, the miraculous is always nearby and wonders shall never, never cease." So observes Robert Fulghum in Maybe (Maybe Not): Second Thoughts from a Secret Life.
- What role does Katherine, the flamboyant English woman, play in Frances's life? What enables her to live with and even relish uncertainty? Identify the emotions you feel when Frances meets Marcello and is convinced that he is the lover she deserves.
- Are you the kind of person who goes with the flow or are you someone who fears you will lose the way unless things are mapped out for you? What religious or spiritual ideas have you been taught that block you from seeing the uncertainty in your life as a blessing in disguise? What spiritual principles help you embrace uncertainty?
4. A Bearer of Hope
In a key scene in Under The Tuscan Sun, Mr. Martini tells Frances of a section of train track that was built in the Alps between Austria and Italy even though no locomotive existed that could negotiate the pass. He wants her to let hope carry her into the future rather than fear.
- What scenes in the drama best reveal Frances's fears about the future?
- Who has been a bearer of hope in your life when you felt that the odds were stacked against you? Have you ever tried to play this role in another person's life? What happened? What books, films, or songs have lifted your spirits and given you the hope to carry on in troubled times?
5. Loneliness as a Spiritual Teacher
In The Fruitful Darkness, Joan Halifax writes: "Steven Foster once said to me that loneliness is the teacher of giving. Aloneness teaches us how we are really connected to and interdependent with everything."
- What incident helps turn Frances around and pull her out of her obsession with her loneliness?
- Share a story from your life that illustrates how loneliness can be a spiritual teacher.
6. Your Four-Chambered Heart
In The Four-Fold Way, Angeles Arrien writes: "Many native cultures believe that the heart is the bridge between Father Sky and Mother Earth. For these traditions, the 'four-chambered heart,' the source for sustaining emotional and spiritual health, is described as being full, open, clear, and strong. These traditions feel that it is important to check the condition of the four-chambered heart daily, asking: 'Am I full-hearted, open-hearted, clear-hearted, and strong-hearted?' "
- How are these qualities of the heart evident in Frances's actions and feelings?
- Try the Native American practice of checking on the condition of your heart. What spiritual practices have you keep your heart full, open, clear, and strong?
7. Seeing a Larger, More Truthful Picture of Life
"When we expand the boundaries of our attention, we see a larger, more truthful picture of life, a life that is continuing to support us throughout our difficult moments," Gregg Krech advises in Naikan.
- What epiphany does Frances have in the last scene of the film? Discuss Under the Tuscan Sun as a movie about the education of a woman's heart.
- Talk about the ways in which you have come to a deeper appreciation of the spiritual truth that our lives are supported by grace and that sometimes the wishes we have come true only in unexpected ways.
The heart sees better than the eye.
This guide is one in a series of more than 200 Values & Visions Guides written by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Text © 2003 by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Photos © Touchstone Pictures. This guide is posted as a service to visitors to www.SpiritualityandPractice.com and may not be photocopied, reprinted, or distributed electronically without permission from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. For this permission and for a list of other guides in the Values & Visions series and ordering information, email your name and mailing address to email@example.com.