By Mark HadleyFriday 30 Mar 2012
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Release Date: March 22
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel charms like Driving Miss Daisy and On Golden Pond. And, like these well-respected ensemble pieces, it brings to mind truths about old age that are both sad and stirring.
Set largely in the sub-continent, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel opens in a grey England where seven characters are coming to terms with the realities of old age:
• Muriel (Maggie Smith) is an embittered housekeeper who is need of a new hip but is told the wait will be six months, unless she is prepared to be ‘out sourced’ to another hospital.
• Evelyn (Judi Dench) is coping with the death of her husband of forty years, who has left behind a mountain of debts.
• Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is a High Court judge who realizes he has nothing to look forward to than the retirement parties he has come to loathe.
• Norman (Ronald Pickup) is an aged lothario who is facing another failed attempt to get a date.
• Madge (Celia Imrie) his Norman’s female counterpart who’s realized she’s become the life-support system for her children’s social life.
• And Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are coming to the bitter conclusion after 39 years of marriage that their daughter’s Internet start-up was not the best place to invest their retirement savings.
Together they assemble a litany of aged problems that resolve down to a single ache: the world no longer has a place for them. The desperate solution is to relocate to an Indian hotel that has apparently been newly refurbished as a resort for the elderly. The truth is that the standards of the Best Exotic Marigold have never risen higher than passable despite the best efforts of its dedicated manager Sonny (Dev Patel). But the hotel may yet do them a better service than the cockroaches that are replacing the mints on their pillows.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a story about finding a place to rest when the pressures of old age bear us down. The Western world may act as though cosmetics and diets could keep the years at bay indefinitely but a trip to the nearest retirement village should cure us of that. As Solomon puts it, a time will come for all of us “…when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim…” – the last couplet being a charming picture of what happens when we can no longer chew our food and our eyesight fails us. The residents of the Marigold also learn that unless they each learn some new way forward all they will be left with is a collection of missed opportunities, broken relationships and unseen horizons. As Judi Dench puts it,
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“There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it. Only a present that builds itself.”
Though I can’t support every choice the characters make, I can agree that having the courage to move forward is the best advice The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has in stock. Trying to recapture youth or live in the past only leads to bitterness for its guests and us. But as Sonny advises,
“In India we have a saying, ‘Everything will be alright in the end. So if it is not alright, then it’s not yet the end.’”
Of course the film’s characters do discover that there are better things ahead, and hope for even more, but their faith amounts to little more than wishful thinking. When the eloquent Solomon saw the end of life approaching, he advised we remember that everything turning out alright is a factor of steps we’ve taken before we get there:
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them” … Remember him – before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”