Facing the autumn of one’s life can be challenging in many ways. Coming to terms with the realities of having fewer, rather than more, years ahead, as well as the increasingly debilitating effects of age, are daunting enough. But what if the means to live out those remaining days in comfort are in peril, too? This combination of elements might seem deflating or overwhelming to some, but, with one’s independence, dignity and survival at stake, the more adventurous and innovative among us may elect to take some extraordinary, uncharacteristic or even drastic measures to make the most of those circumstances, as seen in the delightful new comedy, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”With retirement looming, seven British seniors weigh their options for what lies ahead:
* For Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench), the golden years look a lot bleaker than she had once anticipated. The lifelong, recently widowed housewife is forced into selling her residence to pay a backlog of debts left by her deceased husband, saddling her with a very uncertain future.
* Retired housekeeper Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) needs hip replacement surgery but faces a six-month wait unless she’s willing to try something a little more radical – not an easy decision for someone very set in her ways and her outlooks.
* Bored with his career and his life, Judge Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) can no longer continue with an existence that leaves him unsatisfied and longing for something more fulfilling. His search for genuine happiness clearly requires more than what his current routine can provide.
* Career civil servants Jean and Douglas Ainslie (Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy) approach retirement community living with mixed feelings. Jean believes she deserves something better than what’s on offer and doesn’t hesitate to make her dissatisfaction known. Douglas, meanwhile, tries to assuage her, agreeing to pursue other options if doing so will help keep the peace in their increasingly precarious relationship.
* Spunky skirt-chaser Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) feels like a spry 40-something, even if his chronological odometer indicates otherwise. Nevertheless, how he feels, and how others react to his advances, such as the actual 40-somethings he tries to court, are two entirely different matters. Maybe it’s time for Norman to turn his attention elsewhere.
* Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) loves her family, but she tires of the demands they regularly place on her time, such as frequent requests for babysitting her young grandchildren. As someone who wants to enjoy life more in her remaining years, she yearns to take off and be a free spirit while she can – something she just might do.
Given their prevailing circumstances, the retirees each decide they need to pursue alternate paths. In doing so, they all stumble upon advertising for what seems to be the perfect solution to their respective situations – the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. The ads for this affordable but luxurious facility promise its guests grand accommodations in a classic setting in the lively, colorful Indian city of Jaipur. Everyone jumps at the opportunity, making reservations to move into this elegant pleasure palace. But there’s just one catch: the hotel is nothing like what’s in its promotional materials. In fact, the decrepit structure is not far from collapsing, its walls propped up by assorted forms of jerry-rigging and the infectious, if sometimes-unrealistic enthusiasm of hotelier Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel).
Sonny struggles incessantly to keep his faltering business afloat. He does all he can to appease his disgruntled guests, many of whom are ready to turn back upon arrival, and his overbearing mother (Lillette Dubey), who constantly criticizes Sonny, forever flaunting his brothers’ success in his face. He also strives to please his girlfriend, Sunaina (Tena Desae), an educated, upwardly mobile young woman whom he worries will leave him for someone more financially stable. It’s quite a full plate for the wily young entrepreneur.
But, thanks to a hefty dose of Sonny’s charm and the newfound friendships that spring up among the recent arrivals, the guests decide to stay. They thus embark on new journeys of personal discovery, some on their own and some by way of interactions with the hotel staff, the locals or each other. Their individual odysseys end up offering them possibilities for fresh starts unlike anything they could have possibly imagined before they left England.
At some point in our lives, fresh starts are welcome developments in the wake of unrelenting sameness, though, admittedly, embracing such changes can become more difficult for many of us as we age. As we allow the beliefs that shape our realities through the conscious creation process to settle in and become comfortable, we’re more likely to look askance at possible upheavals in our routines, summarily rejecting them even before examining what they have to offer. We might even try justifying our resistance with arguments like “we’re too old for this sort of thing.” But are fresh starts only meant to be the provenance of the young?
The very emergence of such manifestations indicates that there’s some part of us deep down inside that wants to usher change into our lives, no matter how old or young we are, but the more we resist those impulses, the more imposing, even threatening, they’re likely to appear in subsequent iterations. They may ultimately give rise to circumstances that appear as if change is being foisted upon us, with unwanted consequences and overwrought drama coming along for the ride.Is this really how we want change to take hold in our lives? Must we become so dissatisfied with our situations that we allow ourselves to become ill, jaded or burned out before we’ll even consider making alterations to our existence? Do we truly want change crammed down our throats?
In many ways, this is where the guests of the Marigold Hotel find themselves at the film’s outset. They’re at the point where they’ve put off making change for so long that they now find themselves, metaphorically speaking, with their backs up against the proverbial wall. Their inner selves are telling them that change is imperative and that the only real decision they need to make is to choose how to react to the impending circumstances.
Many of us have come to fear change, that the disappearance of the familiar will leave us sad, disoriented or less well off than we’ve grown accustomed to being. But it need not be that way at all. Change just means doing something differently, and it doesn’t automatically equate to things being worse than they have been; it could indeed be the start of something far better than we could have possibly imagined but that we have not previously permitted to materialize. Allowing change of an especially positive nature can be truly life affirming, especially for those nearing the ends of their corporeal journeys. After all, as many of us have no doubt experienced, basking in the illuminated brilliance of sunny autumn days can be some of the most rewarding times of the year. The residents of the Marigold Hotel come to see this for themselves, once they’re willing to allow it to happen.Conscious creation theorists like author Jane Roberts, speaking through her noncorporeal channeled entity, Seth, maintain that our lives are all about being in “a constant state of becoming.” Our lives, like those of the Marigold Hotel guests, truly are journeys, explorations of discovery and becoming who we were genuinely meant to be. To make the most of that experience, we would be wise to leave ourselves open to maximize the scope of our personal adventures, especially in the waning days of those expeditions. Let us hope that we all have the wisdom to make that possible for ourselves, to discover the joy that Evelyn, Muriel, Graham, Douglas, Jean, Norman and Madge find for themselves in their own respective adventures.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a charming release, full of life, vibrancy and gentle humor. Its exquisite cinematography and mesmerizing soundtrack combine to paint a lush portrait of an exotic land in all its beauty and all its challenges. The excellent ensemble cast blends well together, though the writing sometimes fails them when it comes to the degree of interaction the principal characters have with one another (even though they’re each following their own paths, it would have been nice to see those paths cross one another a little more than they do). The script also falls prey to a certain degree of predictability, but then that’s compensated for by an equal measure of surprise, offsetting that minor shortcoming.
The picture is already getting some Oscar buzz, though, realistically, I think it’s being released far too early in the year to be remembered by Academy voters later on. Nevertheless, if 2012 proves to be another weak year for movies, it could be a contender in some of the technical categories, as well as for some of the performances, particularly those turned in by Wilkinson, Nighy and, of course, Dench.
This picture serves as a valuable reminder that time passes in this life far faster than most of us often realize and that, because of that, we’d better make the most of it while we can, especially when the hourglass is running out. In life as in the movies, I’ve found that some of the most rewarding moments come toward the end of the picture. And to get the most out of them, it’s up to us to savor those times before the credits roll.
Copyright © 2012, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.