One of the pleasures of being home over a three day weekend is the luxury of time. Last weekend I took some of that luxury to attend a gem of a movie, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Directed by John Madden (who also directed “Shakespeare In Love”) it was well played by a notable cast of actors including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy. My daughter has suggested that I am besotted with Judi Dench, and honestly, I won’t deny that. But I’m guessing that even if you are not, you will enjoy “Marigold Hotel.”
My friend and I were discussing the film at length afterword over dinner. The clerk who sold me the ticket guessed which movie we were there to see, no doubt because we fit into the demographic of the majority of the buyers. We wondered if you have to be “of a certain age” to appreciate this movie? I don’t know. Certainly the starring cast was, for the most part. But it seems to me that the themes were about life: taking risks, life change, loss, friendship, resilience, coping with disappointment and facing the sometimes difficult truth about yourself.
The story is about 7 British people of retirement age, who for financial and other reasons answered an ad for The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India. It was touted as a beautiful, ancient palatial residence for “the elderly and beautiful.” Strangers to each other, they make the long, arduous journey to Jaipur, only to discover that the pictures of the hotel were photo shopped and the promised luxury was a figment of the young owner’s (Dev Patel) imagination.
The setting of India becomes almost another character with its beautiful, blinding color and what appears to be an overwhelm of the senses. It is the backdrop yet a vivid catalyst for the rather staid characters, presenting an unexpected challenge for their accustomed lifestyles, preferences, prejudices and dreams.
Especially interesting to me was how the different characters coped with their surprise and disappointments at what they found in Jaipur. All of them, with the exception of the judge who had been born and raised there, must have been overwhelmed. The unhappy wife who with her husband had lost their life savings which they invested in their daughter’s start-up business, hated India and refused to leave the hotel. Her husband, making the best of it, ventured out and returned daily to report the beauty and novelty of the teeming city. Evelyn, who was shocked to discover that her late husband had squandered their money and left her with nothing, ventured forth and found her first ever job.
The judge, who had grown up in the city, was returning to find the gay lover of his youth. He had spent his life regretting that he had done nothing while his lover and family, in service to his wealthy family, were sent away in disgrace. Having imagined that this had ruined his lover’s life, he had returned to find him if possible, and to make amends for his silence.
Like the characters in this story, the plans we make sometimes turn out to have a very different outcome than we planned. Ironically there are gifts that only come with disappointment and failure. The risks we take may not be as grand as choosing to retire in India. Like Madge and Norman, we may still long for relationship and romance. Or like the unhappily married couple, we may be adjusting to living with diminishing circumstances. We may even live imprisoned by old regrets. Certainly we all have shortcomings of our characters that we may face (or not). The great news is that we can discover and develop our resilience and learn new skills at any age.