Author: Lena Pupejko Keywords:
Retirement, old age, adventure, nostalgia, wisdom
Film title: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Director: John Madden
Screenplay: Ol Parker, based on These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach
Starring: Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, Dev Patel
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox (UK); Fox Searchlight Pictures (USA)
Cinema Release Date: 24 February 2012 (UK); 4 May 2012 (USA)
Certificate: PG-13 (USA); 12A (UK) Contains strong language, moderate sex references and racist remarks
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When a bunch of retired Brits arrive at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India, it becomes a rather extraordinary experience. They travel so far in the hope of enjoying the luxuries of a retirement resort in Jaipur, only to find out that the hotel is nowhere near their expectations: it is a half-dilapidated building that has preserved only a shade of its former glories. The hotel is managed by young, enthusiastic, ever-optimistic Sonny (Dev Patel), who enticed his new guests by a photoshopped view of the future. On their arrival, some of the guests make to leave the hotel, but Sonny encourages them that 'everything will be good in the end, and if it's not good, it's not yet the end' – which largely becomes the motto of the film. The off-beat humour and splendid performances by the cast make this feel-good story an enjoyable experience.
Coming from all walks of life, the characters share one thing in common: they are trying to escape from the sorrows of retirement and the stings of prejudice towards the elderly back home. Being strapped for cash, they all hope that the less-expensive amenities in India won't break the bank.
Amiable, genteel Evelyn (Judi Dench) is going through the heartache of bereavement. Having lost her beloved husband, she has had to sell their home to pay off his debts. Quarrelsome couple Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) have lost their money having invested it in their daughter's internet start-up. Gay High Court judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson) has retired abruptly and returned to India, where he spent his first eighteen years. Xenophobic Muriel (Maggie Smith) must have her hip replaced, which can be done immediately in India. Grandmother Madge (Celia Imrie) is sick of babysitting, and hunting for a single wealthy man, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) is a lonely, aging die-hard, actively looking for the love of his life.
All of them have experienced the disillusionment and prejudice that go along with the old age. And all of them have experienced moments of frustration from approaching later years, whether it be the panic button in a retirement apartment which drove Jean mad, or the feeling of being useless and written-off which has hardened Muriel. 'We are a group of self-deluding old fossils traipsing around as if we are on some bloody gap year, humiliating ourselves,' shouts Jean in despair.
India opens a whole new world for them: chaos, colours, sun, noise, smells, streets teeming with people, the hustle and bustle of the busy city – a whole variety of experiences which give a new perspective on life for the pack of British retirees. While Jean stubbornly sticks to her grumpiness, seeing only squalor and poverty around, other hotel residents are fascinated by what the country has to offer. 'I see colours, smiles, the way people see life as a privilege and not a right,' explains Graham to her. Being far away from the materialistic West, they learn to discover new horizons and appreciate a simpler lifestyle.
Their usual routine in the hotel is interrupted by Graham's sudden death from a heart condition. His death stirs some uncomfortable emotions in his friends, making them think about their own late years. 'When someone dies, you begin to think about your own life. I don't want to grow older, I don't want to be condescended, to become marginalised and ignored by society,' writes Evelyn in her blog.
These feelings are shared by the others in the party, and certainly by a great number of elderly people in many cultures. In the Western mentality, we are used to measuring our success and worth by the things we do and the position we hold. So when people retire and are suddenly left to their own devices, they can easily feel useless to society. Having much more time at their disposal, some of them are at a loss about what to do with it, and long for the days of their youth. Thus Norman pretends to be young in the hope of finding his new flame. Others become nostalgic about the years gone by, and apprehensive that there are not so many left. Tuned into a pensive mood, Evelyn realises that, 'there's no past that we can bring back by longing for it. Only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.'
For the party travelling to India, an exotic culture becomes a key to finding vigour, which gives them a fresh start in their lives. And they make the most of it. If only our lives were as easy as in a comedy! Pack your bags, off you go towards adventures, and your life will be sorted. The reality, however, is likely to look more like a drama. People in their old age are more often confined to their daily routine, lingering on happy memories of their past, wishing they could bring back their youth. But real life can turn out to be more exciting than a romantic comedy, even for people in their eighties.
This was the experience of a well-known historic figure – the prophet Moses. The Bible tells about an extraordinary turn in his life at his old age. God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. It wasn't until he was eighty that God commissioned him with this great task. 'What a joke! Me? An old shepherd going to Pharaoh?' he must have thought as he wandered in the desert tending a flock of sheep. Society may think you are no longer useful when you've become weary and grey-haired; we may think ourselves inadequate, and not trust ourselves with tasks of any importance – but not God. He never writes people off in their old age.
It is often the late season of our lives that teaches us things we are slow to learn in our youth. It was when he reached his late years that Moses came to realise how swiftly life passes: 'Seventy years are given to us!
Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away' (Psalm 90:12). That's why he prays that God would grant him wisdom to know how to spend the precious time he is given on earth: 'Teach us to realise the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom' (Psalm 90:12).
At the end of the day, wisdom is a treasure more precious and desirable that any adventures. And it is more accessible than the delights of India. 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom', says the Psalmist (Psalm 11:10) to those who wonder where to find it. Wisdom will not leave you wanting. If this is what you pursue, as Sonny says, everything will indeed be good in the end!
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Author: Lena Pupejko
© Copyright: Lena Pupejko 2012
Unless stated otherwise, Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT) copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.